Jun 20, 2018 Last Updated 1:22 AM, Jun 20, 2018

By appointing from within the Pacific to provide able and inspirational leadership, agencies like the SPC and the FFA continue to showcase and celebrate locally grown talent and expertise.

There is a changing of the guards in three of the Pacific’s regional institutions, and the region as indeed the world awaits to see who will step up the mark to not only offer leadership but to showcase all that the islands have to offer.

Of the three opportunities, one has already been sorted with the announcement by the University of the South Pacific that Kenyan-born but Canadian educated Professor Pal Ahluwalia is its new Vice Chancellor and President, succeeding Fiji-born and the first USP alumni to be VC and President of the USP, Professor Rajesh Chandra. Chandra has served his maximum 10 years as head of the regional university. Professor Ahluwalia joins USP in November before Chandra finishes in December.

First woman head of FFA?

Two other regional organisations are in the process of finalising their new director generals or in the case of the Pacific Community with the SPC acronym, DG Dr Colin Tukuitonga is continuing on as DG until his application to head the regional Asia-Pacific office of the World Health Organisation is determined this October. The SPC – the oldest inter-governmental agency in our part of the world - has not begun the process of finding a replacement for Dr Tukuitonga, Niue-born medical doctor turned public administrator who studied medicine at the Fiji School of Medicine in Suva.

Honiara-headquartered Forum Fisheries Agency is close to finalising its new boss, and indications are that history may be in the making for the regional fisheries body will most likely be headed by a woman. Dr Manu Tupou-Rossen is currently head of the FFA’s Legal Division and her appointment has been recommended by the Forum Fisheries Committee. It will now go before the Pacific Fisheries Ministers Meeting next month for a final decision. Precedent is such that the ministerial will confirm and not change the recommendation of the committee.

Tuna being a much sought after commodity in world trade today, and it being the main if not the only key lucrative resource for many of our Forum member states, it appears member countries would prefer to keep the leadership of our tuna flagship organisation within themselves. Dr Tupou-Rossen, Tongan born and nominated by her own government would be a welcome change to FFA. Such a preference for local leadership could be traced right back to 1981 when Philip Muller of Samoa was made FFA Director, succeeding Dick James of the UK.

The Pacific Community on the other hand had its fair share of Pacific and nonPacific leaders. It appointed its first Pacific Islander to head the SPC in January 1970 with the appointment of Samoan Afioga Afoafouvale Misimoa.

It reverted briefly to a non-islander as DG after former Vanuatu President Ati George Sokomanu’s term in 1996 with the appointment of Robert Dunn of Australia before the leadership returned – and has remained – in the Pacific since 2000. That was the year history was made when Lourdes T Pangelinan of Guam became the first woman head of a Pacific regional organisation.

By appointing from within the Pacific to provide able and inspirational leadership, agencies like the SPC and the FFA continues to showcase and celebrate locally grown talent and expertise. It just confirms that we in the Pacific can hold our own on the international stage, punching way above our weight.

Celebrating Pacific talent, expertise

There is not doubting that in making the decision to select Professor Ahluwalia as the new head of the USP, the university council was acting on what it felt was best for the organisation. Already the response to his appointment has been warm and welcoming. His experience in research and innovation is something USP should use to the fullest.

“A much overdue and new wave of enthusiasm, expansion and scholarly respect might be about to happen at USP,” wrote a former USP academic when news of Professor Ahluwalia broke.

Another commented on social media: “A Pacific Islander may have been the preference for some but this change in USP’s stewardship is rather exciting and eagerly awaited by many. Professor Pal certainly has a mammoth task ahead to not only lift morale at USP but put to action the rhetoric of the last 10 years of creating the centre of excellence that USP envisions for itself, as it should.”

We can only offer our warmest of congratulations to Professor Ahluwalia and we wish all Pacific Islanders -- men or especially women -- putting their foot forward for positions of leadership in our regional organisations the very best.

Relying on the much-touted global climate finance mechanisms provided for under the Global Environment Fund or the Green Climate Fund is like waiting for a rainstorm in a drought stricken land. One knows rain is coming but no one has a clue as to the exact time heavens will open up and for rain to fall in bucket-loads

Has the government of Fiji stumbled on the proverbial King Solomon mine with its issuance of sovereign green bond as the preferred way of accessing what has been until now the elusive billions in dollars of climate financing?

That is certainly the hope the government of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has pinned on this rather creative and certainly innovative way of raising capital to fund adaptation projects in an island nation that is at the frontline in the battle against the adverse impacts of climate change.

It’s surely out of the box type of thinking.

First launched in October last year, the response to these sovereign green bonds was massive: its 5-year bond for instance was three times oversubscribed. Majority of the buyers were Fiji based but a few offshore investors were among the buyers as well.

New monies from green bonds

Taking advantage of his attendance at last April’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, Bainimarama launch the listing of his government’s green bonds in the London Stock Exchange’s international securities market.

The plan is these bonds would generate US$50 million for Fiji’s public treasury, new monies that would otherwise had not been made available had it not for the issuance of sovereign green bonds. Money raised would for example fund the reinforcement of seawalls around Fiji’s only cannery that provides work when in full operation for some one thousand of mainly women workers.

The Fijian Government is also proposing to create stronger water and sewer utilities as well as what it is calling “energy efficient” public lightings on the five new towns it is planning to create. It is also planning to strengthen school buildings and community centres that were rebuilt after they were destroyed by Cyclone Winston in February, 2016. Winston was the strongest ever-tropical cyclone to make landfall in the southern hemisphere on record.

The gains are easy to see. One thousand workers, 90 per cent of them women have security of work because the cannery – their employer – can continue to operate for 20 or 50 more years due to the reinforced seawalling that was funded by money raised through green bonds. Thousands more dollars would be saved from a public utility that is not easily destroyed whenever a natural disaster strikes.

If no green bonds were issued, these public projects would have been funded from the normal operational expenditures of government, hard pressed as they are already with the ever mounting debts to settle and almost infinite list of public initiatives to fund.

In Fiji’s case, there is a runway NCD public health crisis where it is estimated that 1 in 3 people in Fiji suffer from. Education and capital projects of road and bridges maintenance or construction are never ending.

Besides, relying on the much-touted global climate finance mechanisms provided for under the Global Environment Fund or the Green Climate Fund is like waiting for a rainstorm in a drought stricken land. One knows rain is coming but no one has a clue as to the exact time heavens will open up and for rain to fall in bucket-loads. Small island states especially of those in the Pacific have complained long and hard about waiting for those funds to ‘rain in bucket-loads.’ Not only do they have to work through layers upon layers of bureaucracy, but waiting for the actual money to be released once approvals have been given is just another long, frustrating story.

Interests grow on green bond

As shown in Fiji’s case, issuing sovereign green bonds increases the funding pie, as it were. Now private sector money can flow into the public funding pool, providing yet another new source of finances for public agencies. It is indeed a classic example of public private partnership.

So can green bond financing also work for the other islands of the Pacific that are also at the forefront of the battle against sea level rise and adverse weather conditions? The answer from proponents of green bonds like the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation is a resounding yes.

World Bank expert on green bond Aaron Levine confirmed in our story on page 25 that interests about Fiji’s incursions into the green bond market has been received from countries in the north as well as the south Pacific. Perhaps it may be worth their while for small Island states like Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu to study the relevance and suitability of sovereign green bonds to their peculiar needs and status.

Experts say global green bond market is the way to go. There is only one way the graph is heading, and it is certainly not downward. The growth of the market has been rapid the World Bank says, with over 1500 issuances in 2017 valuing US$155.5 billion. That is a 78 per cent increase when compared to 2016.

In fact in welcoming Fiji’s foray into sovereign green bond financing, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said the island nation has demonstrated that emerging economies could create green capital markets. The onus will therefore be on these economies – big and small – to show political will and exercise financial prudence in accessing much needed finances in a phenomenon that they didn’t cause but are destined to become its first casualties.

 

We Say

“We need to realise something: Either we speak up now and draw a clear line under freedom of speech, or we write it off in the Pacific region”

IT’S becoming far too common: Journalists and whistle blowers are being singled out and silenced as governments throughout the region allow the Pacific to slide down the slippery slope of repression. Either we act now to stop it, or we accept that in ten years, the region’s media may look a lot more like the People’s Daily News than the Sydney Morning Herald. Australia is no exception. Even now, the Coalition government is considering draconian new laws that would outlaw activity that is necessary to the proper functioning of a democracy.

In every country of the world, social media is eroding people’s sense of the truth, and undermining its importance in their daily existence. In the Pacific islands, the threat is real. [In February], three veteran journalists, all of them with spotless reputations, were detained by police on suspicion of inciting unrest. They had published the news that a magistrate who ruled against the government’s interest in a labour case had been sacked.

They were held for hours, and their phones and laptops were seized. As this editorial is being finalised, Samisoni Pareti, Netani Rika and Nanise Volau are facing the possibility of charges of incitement to sedition. This action by police, presumably with the blessing of the Fiji First government, is inexcusable. There is no possible justification for it. It is a direct assault on free speech and the freedom of the media to question the actions of public officials. We have to ask: Are the days of dictatorship in Fiji truly past? In Kiribati too, as details emerged about the tragic—and possibly preventable—sinking of a passenger ferry, we heard that a New Zealand television news crew had their gear confiscated.

This is just not on. Yes, the news media are often the bearers of bad tidings. Yes, sometimes they are the ones who dig these stories up. Yes, sometimes they make mistakes. None of this justifies punishing people for speaking their mind. The danger is greater than it has been in a decade. Media freedom pioneer Marc Neil-Jones suffered assaults, imprisonment, deportation and constant threats as he fought to build and preserve media freedom in Vanuatu. He did not do it alone.

Every time he suffered another affront, an uproar spread across the region, making it clear to the government of Vanuatu that there would be consequences for their ill-advised actions. Now, government and civil society leaders will gather in Nauru, and not a peep is heard about their government’s serial abuses of freedom of speech and human rights. Fiji subverts the entire media establishment, and nothing is said. Kiribati outright says ‘stop reporting on this story’, and aside from the usual angry squawks, nothing happens.

The very governments who claim to defend democracy and western values don’t seem as married to them as they once were. We need to realise something: Either we speak up now and draw a clear line under freedom of speech, or we write it off in the Pacific region. The right to express oneself is not granted by governments. Constitutions don’t give these rights either. They recognise them. These rights existed before we were born, and they will continue to exist whether we admit it or not. The only question, really, is how high a price do we have to pay to exercise them? Detention? Imprisonment? Deportation? Assault? This is not an abstract discussion.

The truth matters more than ever, and media professionals across the Pacific need to understand that time is not on our side. Across the globe, people are beginning to see the damage caused by Facebook’s pernicious influence on people’s perception of what’s true. It’s felt in small communities more intensely than anywhere else. A few unprincipled and unrestrained people are playing fast and loose with the truth, and ruining people’s lives in the process.

If our professional media associations were doing their job, they would set an example for others to follow. Instead, they cower, just as they’ve done in the face of government repression. And now, the worst excesses of social media are being used as justification for even more suppression from these same governments. If we don’t reaffirm this now, if we don’t repeat this chorus loud and long, we will lose our democracy. In New Zealand and Australia, in Fiji, in Kiribati, in Nauru—across the entire region— media professionals need to stand up and speak in defence of the truth.

We need to set an example for others, show them how responsible, principled, fair and fearless reporting comes about. Nobody is going to do this for us. If we don’t act, our governments will. And that won’t end well for any of us.

- Condensed version of editorial republished with permission of Dan McGarry and Marc Neil-Jones, Media Director and Publisher respectively of the Vanuatu Daily Post newspaper. The Vanuatu daily first published this on 16 February, 2018.

So what’s stopping our 22 countries and territories of the Pacific from giving women 50 per cent or more of positions in national leadership? Why can’t we have 10 or 11 more Hilda Heine, the current President of Marshall Islands?

PLAIN and simple, the Pacific has a long way to go in the work of gender mainstreaming. Indeed in spite of the many colourful and enthusiastic rhetoric about women rights delivered in much fanfare over the years by our politicians and bureaucrats, statistics from the islands around the region tell the same story. A story that is bleak at best and depressing at worst. 

It is nothing sort of unbelievable that just a year short of four decades after the adoption of CEDAW, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, women and girls in the Pacific are still lagging behind in whatever indicators one cares to apply. In our national parliaments for instance, women currently make up only a mere 7 per cent of the total number of legislators in the Pacific. Just 40 women MPs out of the current 559 we have.

When you take this, and add figures of women in governments, boards and businesses, total women representation is at 15 per cent. Ours is the lowest in women representation in the world, according to UN Women. Story is not expected to change in the number of women entrepreneurs or those holding chairpersons or director roles in boards of corporations. Similar story is found in women’s participation in paid employment.

Up to the Pacific’s north-west, at the Federated States of Micronesia, 56 per cent of their women were part of the island’s labour force in 2000. By 2010, the number has dropped to 28 per cent. In the larger Melanesian island of Vanuatu, 71 per cent of women were in paid employment in 2000, but this fell to 61 per cent one decade later.

The FWRM in their contribution to our Status of Women in the Pacific Report special feature in this edition quoted a study by Professor Wadan Narsey that shows females in the labour force do less paid work per week on average than males, although females do far more unpaid household work.

The end result is that females do 6 hours per week more total work per week than do males. Maternal mortality is, well, work in progress. Some island states register zero maternal mortality ratio per 100,000 births, but only because their population does not even surpass the 1000,000 mark.

These include countries like the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. Papua New Guinea on the other hand, in 2010, recorded a maternal mortality rate of 710 and Kiribati has a 215 ratio. Compare that with Fiji which is at a low 59.5.

This of course is in no way to belittle the humongous effort women and gender focussed groups especially in the civil society movement have put into improving the status of women in the islands over the past decades, and longer. Most countries and territories are nearing the goal of universal primary education for both girls and boys.

Five in ten girls in the Pacific demonstrate having the expected numeracy skills, as a recent numeracy study shows. Four countries – Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa and Solomon Islands -- now have ministries specifically for women. We should not kid ourselves though.

Even those four nations, if a recent World Health Organisation study is to be believed claim very high rates of domestic and sexual partner violence. That WHO study puts Kiribati with the highest prevalence of lifetime physical and/or sexual partner violence at 70 per cent.

Fiji is a close second at about 68 per cent and Solomon Islands at a close third at around 67 or 68 percentage. The thing is this: With women making up half of our population, imagine what each of our countries are missing when only a very small number of them are being given the opportunity to take up leadership roles in all levels of our society, be in national governments, corporations, churches, sporting bodies or villages.

So apt and timely is what Sandra Bernklau, the UN Women’s Pacific Regional Technical Specialist told this magazine that when “you withhold 50 per cent of the population, you withhold 50 per cent of the economic and other potential in a country.” So what’s stopping our 22 countries and territories of the Pacific from giving women 50 per cent or more of positions in national leadership? Why can’t we have 10 or 11 more Hilda Heine, the current President of Marshall Islands?

What is stopping island nations from having thousands more successful business women like Mere Samisoni, founder and owner of Fiji’s Hot Bread Kitchen chain, or Rosemary Leona, owner of hotel and kava businesses in Vanuatu? Is it wishful thinking to believe that in the next decade, there will be hundred more women like Dr Cecilia Nembou, current Vice Chancellor of Divine Word University in Papua New Guinea? Or Dame Meg Taylor, current head of the Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Forum, or Lourdes T Pangelinan who was actually the first woman from the Pacific to lead a regional organisation when she was appointed Director-General of the SPC in January, 2000.

Why do names like trade unionist Rosine Streeter of New Caledonia, the Reverend Sereima Lomaloma of the Anglican Church in Fiji or professional tennis player Abigail Agivanagi Tere-Apisah of PNG have to be lone figures in their professions? Or perhaps the question should be, when will you the electorate say enough is enough, and that you won’t settle for nothing less than seeing concrete actions on the ground that offer a lot more opportunities and spaces or platforms for our girls and women to pursue and excel in.

Male politicians can start walking the gender talk by letting women take up at least 50 per cent of their electoral candidates, appoint women to 50 per cent or more director of company positions and that more than half of all business or entrepreneurial loans are reserved for women. Only with such concrete, practical and measureable measures on the ground could lead one to agree that there is genuine and real efforts to exploit and maximise the huge potentials women and girls can offer to the development of humanity and our various human endeavours in the Pacific.

 

 

We say

It is hard to believe that in a region surrounded by sea, legislation has not been created, or enforced if they exist to ensure greater protection for those who travel between the islands.

THE sinking of the Kiribati inter-island carrier, Buti Raoi, will go down in history as one of the Pacific’s greatest disasters at sea. Because it will take time to determine how many people were aboard the wooden catamaran, it is possible that as many as 90 people perished when the tiny craft sank between Nonouti and Betio.

The most tragic aspect of this event is – that like many disasters before – this tragedy could have been avoided. In ports around the Pacific vessels of all shapes and sizes put to sea for treacherous journeys without the slightest regard for passenger safety. Many of these craft are dangerously overloaded with freight and crew, carry no two-way radio, flares, medical kits or emergency supplies of life jackets.

Yet they travel hundreds of miles, sometimes far from the sight of any who might afford help in the event of an emergency. Maritime authorities and police in most island countries lack the resources to effectively enforce the rules – where they exist – to ensure compliance with safety measures.

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“Instead of a spirit of revenge there will be forgiveness, in place of hatred there will be love, compassion over vindictiveness, honesty over corruption, humility over tyranny, faith over cynicism, geniality over bitterness”

Conceding that it is utopian to wish for Pacific leaders to recommit themselves to making the adjective meaning of the noun Pacific a reality this year, we have to wonder nevertheless whether is it really too much to ask that leaders strive for something much more simpler and quite basic. That for 2018, they will strive to become better in what they do.

That they will listen more, understand better and work smarter. That in place of plotting day and night to see to the fall of their political foes, they will conspire instead to improve the lot of their citizens, especially of the many who are far less fortunate than them.

That school-leavers will be offered real and serious opportunities to find decent work, be it in offices, factories, farms or sports grounds, and that our senior citizens get to spend most of their time enjoying their twilight years....

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