20 Apr 2024

Baron Waqa negotiating - No start date for incoming Pacific Islands Forum boss yet

11:34 am on 20 April 2024
Former Nauru president Baron Waqa arrives in Rarotonga for the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum from 6-10 November 2023.

Former Nauru president Baron Waqa arrives in Rarotonga for the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum from 6-10 November 2023. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Lydia Lewis

The incoming head of the Pacific region's main political body is yet to sign his contract, almost six months after the 2023 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders meeting in Rarotonga.

Former Nauru president, Baron Waqa, who is to take on the high-level diplomatic post has been heavily criticised for his treatment of refugees, and other issues.

PIF deputy secretary general Esala Nayasi said contract negotiations were still underway when questioned by RNZ Pacific when the handover from Henry Puna to Waqa will take place.

Nayasi also could not give a handover date on when the former Nauru leader begins his term in Suva.

"We are now taking forward these discussions through the process in our own direct consultations with Baron Waqa through the office of the Forum chair where the starting date of the secretary general will also be confirmed," Nayasi told RNZ Pacific.

Nayasi said the deadline for Waqa's starting date is "anytime soon, depending on how long the negotiations will take place".

"I can't confirm because it depends on the negotiations. The negotiations of that contract has not taken so long - it is the appointment you are referring to."

"The process is an internal process between a Secretariat, in support of the forum chair and the incoming secretary general."

Following our interview with the Nayasi, we received an email from the Secretariat requesting that "the portion of the interview regarding the incoming [secretary general]" be removed as "there are a number of things that need to be addressed/ironed out."

RNZ Pacific has respectfully declined.

When asked questions about the lingering issues of Waqa's treatment of judges on Nauru in the past, and what part could the Forum play concerning those issue?

Nayasi responded, "he has not started in office yet so it will be an issue he can probably respond to once he has resumed his work."

He said he has not met with Waqa on his trip to Nauru, where he is currently visiting and holding consultations.

"The PIFS team will hold consultations with government officials and stakeholders on a variety of topics, including raising awareness and appreciation for Pacific regionalism and the Pacific Islands Forum's role in Pacific regionalism and consult with Nauru on the Secretariat's work, including key policies, processes, and initiatives; and what improvements can be made to ensure Nauru can benefit from the Secretariats work," a media spokesperson said.

'No comment'

Waqa has previously said criticism of Nauru is an attack on its sovereignty.

When asked about Nauru's behaviour at the last Forum Leader's meeting in the Cook Islands, where the Nauru delegation left before the conclusion of the meeting, Nayasi said he "had no comment".

In April 2023, Palau President Surangle Whipps Jr said that the Micronesian leaders had wanted "the best man or woman for the job" and there was "still time to ask more questions from Nauru about this candidate."

However, in an interview with RNZ Pacific at last year's meeting, he said he has now addressed his concerns directly with Waqa in-person in Rarotonga last year.

"I asked him [Waqa] that there was concerns about what had happened in the past, and he said one of the things is there was a lawsuit or, you know, he was exonerated for that. There was also questions by the media and it depends on perceptions on anything," Whipps Jr said.

"What's important is each each country is different and especially in small communities, sometimes privacy needs to be respected and protected.

He said sometimes what is reported in the media "is untrue."

"There's always two sides of the story, so it's important to hear from both sides. Waqa is here, the other leaders are here, they can ask him questions because we need to be transparent.