Rotation by sub-regions of Forum leadership pushed; secretary general from Micronesia in 2024


A house divided against itself cannot stand; hence, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Micronesian bloc have mended their fences as the body has advanced significant reforms, among which is the rotation of leadership of the secretary general seat.

In a two-day dialogue between the Micronesian bloc and the Forum held in Fiji from June 6 to June 7, Federated States of Micronesia Pres. David W. Panuelo, Palau Pres. Surangel S. Whipps Jr., and Republic of the Marshall Islands Special Envoy John Silk, met with Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Vorege Bainimarama, Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and they have agreed on a set of proposed reforms to the Forum.

President Panuelo and Prime Minister Bainimaram sign relevant documents at the conclusion of the meeting in Suva. Contributed photo

In a statement to his constituents, President Panuelo heralded the breakthrough in the negotiations with the PIF. “A black cloud has disappeared from the Pacific with sunshine after a fresh rain in
its stead. We—the Micronesian Presidents Summit and the Pacific Islands Forum—have collectively
found a way to make keep our Pacific family unified, to make it stronger against external and
internal pressures, and with Micronesia’s appeals respectfully heard and addressed by our brothers
and sisters in Polynesia and Melanesia. To be clear: we have won. All of us have won; Micronesians,
Polynesians, Melanesians all; because we, the Pacific, have achieved a means of making our Pacific
Islands Forum truly represent us all.”

The attendees talk about the issues wanting resolution during a dialogue held in Suva, June 6-7. Photo by PIF Secretariat

It may be recalled the the Micronesian bloc had planned to secede from the Forum last year when incumbent Secretary General Henry Puna edged out Micronesian-bloc-backed Gerald Zackios in the 2021 election for the seat which the bloc believed should have gone to their candidate owing to a gentleman’s agreement.

This succession by rotation in the position of the secretary general is among several reforms approved by the attendees of this high-level dialogue.

“I give my thanks to my dear brother Prime Minister Bainimarama, who has extended to our country and our sub-region peace, friendship, cooperation, and love in our common humanity while capably demonstrating his knowledge of our perspective and contrasting with his own. I also give my thanks to my dear sister Prime Minister Fiamē, my dear brother Prime Minister Brown, and my dear brother Secretary-General Puna, who have done the same,” said Panuelo in a statement.

FSM President Panuelo with Palau President Whipps Jr.

Bainimarama, who’s the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, offered the reform package for consideration by the Micronesian Presidents Summit. Panuelo said this proposed package in its original form “showed recognition and appreciation for the perspective of the Micronesian Presidents Summit as originally stated in the Mekreos Communique.”

In the Suva dialogue, the proposed reform package was approved by the attendees. FSM, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Nauru have reached out to Kiribati for its approval of the said reforms.

Meanwhile, Panuelo also extended his gratitude to Palau’s Whipps Jr. whom he said “eloquently described both the importance of unity and how trust plays a role in our region’s enduring sovereignty and freedom.”

He also thanked Silk, “who has ably represented his President, our dear brother H.E. David Kabua. I also give my thanks to our dear brothers [H.E. Lionel] Aingimea and [H.E. Taneti] Maamau of Nauru and Kiribati for their solidarity. It is my hope that we can reach Kiribati soon, before the meeting in July.”

Panuelo also expressed his gratitude to the Australian government for its assistance in providing logistical support “as well their absolute dedication to ensuring that the matters of the Pacific are solved by the Pacific; this is a profound demonstration of trust and respect.”

He said when he spoke with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong last week, he was reminded of the kindness, sincerity, and love “that I knew Australia and its people are all about.”

He praised Wong for being a capable diplomat, and he looks forward to the strengthening of the FSM-Australian relations. He also commended Australian Ambassador to FSM Jo Cowley “who has been a true friend to our Nation, our people, and to me personally.”

The FSM will rescind its denunciation of the Pacific Islands Forum and looks forward to the reform
package being adopted in full in July, 2022.

The proposed reforms

The dialogue resulted in the body solidifying its support behind a previously held agreement that the equal representation of the three sub-regions of Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia is essential.

They agreed that there shall be two deputy secretary-general positions, to be filled by representatives from sub-regions disparate from the secretary general.

The proposed reform package also stipulated that the members of the Forum agree to rotate both the forum chair and secretary general seats by sub-region, with a Micronesian filling the secretary general’s seat in 2024 for a five-year term.

They are also in agreement to create the position of a Pacific Ocean Commissioner, a role whose duties are distinct from the secretary general. They also agree to immediately fill this position whose office will be based in Micronesia. The Pacific Ocean Commissioner is to serve for a term of three years and shall report directly to the leaders.

It was also put forward by the body to have a Forum sub-regional office in Micronesia.

Those present in the dialogue agreed to disseminate and discuss the revised copy of the reform package with all leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum and that all senior officials consider and agree on the implementation of agreed elements cited above.

They also agreed to consider the final iteration of the package at the next Forum leaders’ meeting on July 12-14.

Meanwhile, the FSM will rescind its denunciation of the Pacific Islands Forum and will look forward to the approval of the reform package in July.

The dialogue was conceived to resolve major reform issues in the organization

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