Oct 17, 2018 Last Updated 6:03 AM, Oct 9, 2018

Parcels of hard drugs washing up on the shores of some remote and isolated islands in Fiji, the numerous arrests of drug dealers in Tonga and now the detention of what’s believed to be an armoured boat in the waters of Papua New Guinea have all the tell-tale signs that drug cartels in the Asian and American continents have taken their game up to a whole new level.

It must be fair to say that they have declared an all-out war on all that dare stand in their paths, whatever or whoever that may be. As shown in the recent incident on remote Bidibidi Island off the eastern coast of mainland Papua New Guinea (see page 11), these gangsters and the cargo they transport will spare nothing and will go to any length in order for their fiendish objective to be achieved.

It goes without saying that given the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and how spread apart some of our islands are, our borders are porous and the proper policing of our waters a near impossibility.

Take the small island republic of Kiribati for instance. For an island nation that lay claims to a maritime boundary that is as big as the size of continental United States, it only has one single patrol boat to police all of its waters. One small diesel powered boat. Bigger countries like Fiji fare no better, as aging boats over the years had reduced its fleet to one.

Certainly it is an unacceptable state of affairs and surely something that is not lost on the drug cartels of Asia and the Americas.

The closest leaders of the Pacific came to addressing the scourge of hard drugs and the use of the Pacific as a drugs transhipment point in their Boe Declaration on Regional Security in Nauru early this month is their affirmation for an expanded concept of security which addresses among other things transnational crime.

Sad to say the region will have to do more, way much more if they are to curb this menace. If the cartels have raised the bar, then the region needs to raise their’s way further and farther. It calls for an all hands on deck approach, and there is no time to lose.

While securing a lot of patrol boats would help, there are other solutions that are not as expensive but very practical still. Collaboration and coordination is crucial. The Forum Fisheries Agency currently runs a very successful ocean surveillance centre which relies on a very comprehensive network of satellite and aircraft imagery. Of course their core role is to stop illegal fishing in our ocean, but surely it should not be difficult to extend that already working system into the war against drugs.

Inter-island ships and aircraft, especially those aircraft that fly domestically (since they tend to fly in lower altitudes than international bound planes) can be roped in as well in the fight against this seige.

National and international drug and security agencies need to be talking and working together more often both at policy and operational levels. Opening up your sea borders to pleasure boats for example may bring in that much desired foreign exchange, but one has to be ever alert about the undesirable cargo or hangers on that tend to follow in their wake.

THE controversy surrounding the ejection of China’s head of delegation from a meeting between Pacific leaders and donor partners at the 49th Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru was unfortunate as much as it was avertable.

Of course in saying that, we are not attempting to condone the seemingly unruly and disrespectful behaviour of the  Chinese diplomat when he reportedly hijacked the discussions at the Forum Dialogue to complain bitterly about the way his delegation had been treated by the host country. His so called crime was that he spoke when it was not his turn to speak, and some say, refused to stop his intervention when told to do so by the chair.

Yes there were other ways and avenues the disgruntled delegate could have followed to raise his grievances.

Yes he could have personally raised his government’s concerns directly with the Forum chair or with the secretary general of the Forum, without the need to be dramatic about it by shouting and stormed around the conference hall before making his exit.

Or he could have got his key allies in the Pacific, and there are quite a few of them, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa to name but three, to address this matter swiftly and amicably.

In fact the latter did take place, according to people close to the matter under discussion. Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama telephoned (as he was in Fiji and did not attend the summit) the host of the Forum and President of Nauru, Baron Waqa to convey Beijing’s displeasure at the way their delegation had been treated.

Samoa’s Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegao also weighted into the disputation by sending off a strongly-worded letter to Waqa and threatening to call off the summit if the Chinese delegation were not accorded the same courtesies as the rest of them. This letter was dispatched a day or two before the actual Forum proper began, so he was still the Forum chair.

Papua New Guinea on the other hand voted with its feet so to speak. The treatment of the Chinese delegation was given as one of the reasons Prime Minister Peter O’Neil opted to – like Fiji’s Bainimarama – give this year’s Forum a miss, sending instead his foreign minister Rimbink Pato.

But all these theatrics, if we can call it that, are in our view unnecessary and avoidable. You cannot really blame China if you start shifting the proverbial goal post midway through the game, or actually a few days before leaders were due to arrive in Nauru for their annual conclave. You do not issue guests with their entry visa only to inform them a few weeks later that the issuance was a mistake and that it would be withdrawn, which practically meant that all members of the Chinese delegation to the 49th Forum had to travel without their diplomatic passports and would be treated like any ordinary visitor to Nauru, stripped of all the VIP courtesies and privileges.

You also do not change the speaking rules at the eleventh hour by telling China that they are not entitled to address the meeting because their delegation head is not a cabinet minister and accordingly, non-ministers ouught to submit their presentations to the chair and are not entitled to address leaders.

One does not fly thousands of kilometres from Beijing to the tiny island in the Pacific Ocean only to be told that they have been stripped of their VIP status and would not be able to address the meeting! It is no wonder the head of delegation for China was exasperated if not bitterly annoyed.

No one needs to be Enstein to guess the reasons behind this poor treatment. Nauru, as host of this year’s Forum recognises not China but Taiwan. The auditorium in which the leaders were meeting in Nauru was built by Taiwan. In fact the Boeing 737-200 jets that flew in many of the Forum delegates were also donated by Taiwan.

Be that at it may, no government delegation ought to be treated in such an appalling if not mediocre way.

When a group of Pacific journalists (including the editor of this magazine) were detained at Jackson International Airport as they arrived for the 46th Pacific Islands Forum that Papua New Guinea was hosting in 2015 because they did not have the journalist visa on their passports, a call was made for the Forum Secretariat to work on a template that features minimum standard requirements all interested hosts of the Forum must agree to and abide by.

Waiving journalist visa should be included in that template. So should be the offering of VIP courtesies and privileges to all state delegations.

Taipei may find Beijing contemptible but both capitals are long standing donors and therefore partners of the 19 countries and territories that are members of the Pacific Islands Forum, and much as they disliked each other, both have a place and role in our part of the Ocean.

With another ally of Taiwan, Tuvalu destined to host next year’s 50th Forum Leaders’ summit, no one can rule out the likelihood of this on-going spat between the two Chinas to reach the shores of Funafuti. And we should not expect such diplomatic tit for tat to end unless a hosting of the Pacific Island Forum’s minimum standard requirement template is adopted and strictly adhered to.

WE wish the Director-General of the Forum Fisheries Agency, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, every success in the challenging task ahead.

With years of experience in the agency and the intense talks around fisheries each year, she is well placed to take over from the outgoing James Movick.

Much like her predecessor, Tupou-Roosen is a smiling, polite Pacific Islander – well-spoken, confident, friendly and unassuming.

But beneath that tropical exterior is a steely resolve to get the work done and an attitude that no challenge is unsurmountable.

In negotiations with Distant Water Fishing Nations like the United States, Japan, China and Taiwan, Tupou-Roosen has not been intimidated by posturing and threats.

The most recent talks on tuna at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in Passay City, the Philippines, dragged into the early hours of the morning – forced to a large extent by the refusal of larger nations to make concessions for the owners of the resources.

The success of the negotiations for the Pacific was due largely to the work of the FFA team of which Tupou-Roosen was an integral part, preparing to step into the new role.

Marine Domain Awareness

Tupou-Roosen will commence her new appointment in November 2018 as head of the 17-member agency which comprises Australia, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Regional Fisheries Minister have expressed their wholehearted support for the new appointee, confident that she has been prepared sufficiently through years of on the job training.

Fisheries has been recognised as a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral issue with huge potential to provide economic opportunities at national and regional level.

An area which will demand Tupou-Roosen’s immediate attention will be Marine Domain Awareness and the securing of maritime boundaries.

Twenty per cent of the world’s ocean falls in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Pacific Island Countries and Territories.

That portion of the ocean is under increasing threat as demand for tuna grows in the developed world whose own fish stocks have been severely depleted.

While the Pacific has generally spoken with a single voice on fisheries management, the pressure from outside the region – mainly China with its quest for resources – has started to affect solidarity.

Tupou-Roosen will need to negotiate and maneuver between nations if the Pacific is to remain united and demand recognition for its tuna stocks as well as securing the best possible price.

Curb human rights abuses

She will also need to take up the request by Forum Fisheries Ministers to address continued human rights abuses on fishing vessels operating in the Pacific region.

This will include the improved labour standards for all crew. Looking towards the WCPFC meeting the issues Tupou-Roosen will take up on behalf of the region include:

• Maintaining the strength of the tropical tuna measure and progressing the high seas limits and allocation process;

• Agreeing a Target Reference Point for the South Pacific albacore tuna stock that promotes recovery from economic overfishing and progressing the Harvest Strategy Workplan;

• Establishing a more structured approach to addressing SIDS Special Requirements through a Strategic Investment Plan;

• Advancing anFFAproposalfor animproved Compliance

Monitoring Scheme that ensures WCPFC members’ compliance with WCPFC measures while addressing procedural unfairness and disproportionate burden on SIDS inherent in the current measure.

It is not an easy task, but we are confident that Tupou-Roosen is more than suited to the challenge and will acquit herself well.

THE Solomon Islands celebrated 40 years of independence this month.

Despite four decades of tumultuous and often debilitating national events the Happy Isles remain positive that the best times are yet to be seen and positive changes to the economy are on the horizon.

Producer of leaders and luminaries

In order to overcome its unfortunate past, the Solomon Islands will need to draw on the wealth of wisdom and knowledge that exists in its remarkably well-educated society.

Through its history as a British protectorate and later as an independent nation, the country has ensured that potential leaders received the best education possible at home and abroad.

This investment has paid off for the Pacific which has benefitted from the work of such Solomon Islands luminaries as Dr Jimmie Rodgers – anaesthetist and former Director-General of the then South Pacific Commission.

Dr Rodgers’ term at the SPC was a period of rapid reform in regional institutions. He led the organisation through what is now recognised as the single largest reform process of a regional organisation in the Pacific.

In doing so he set the platform for the long-term viability of the region’s leading technical agency.

More recently, Hawaii-based scholar Dr Tarcisius Kabutaulaka has assumed the role of his country’s leading academic and regional voice on conflict.

He is the Director of the Centre of Pacific Island Studies at the Univeristy of Hawaii and has written extensively on governance, natural resources development, conflicts, post-conflict development, international intervention, peace-making, Australian foreign policies, and political developments in Melanesia in general, and Solomon Islands in particular.

Any discussions of Solomon Islands leaders would be incomplete without mention of Dr Transform Aqorau, former CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and instrumental in the protection of fishing stocks for Pacific people.

His no-nonsense stance at international meetings ensured a fair price for tuna sold by the region’s major producers and gained reluctant respect from the representatives of Distant Water Fishing Nations.

While these men may not stand for elections, they show the calibre of leaders produced by the country.

One person who will stand for elections is former Foreign Affairs Secretary, Peter Kenilorea Junior, son of the country’s founding Prime Minister.

Kenilorea Junior has worked at the United Nations for 18 years working in the areas of good governance and the eradication of corruption, financial abuse and mismanagement.

These are some of the biggest challenges which face the Solomon Islands today.

In 2000 the people of the Solomon Islands went through perhaps their darkest hour so far when the country descended into communal violence.

Brighter future is ahead

Ethnic war started due to the huge rural to urban drift and absence of a credible land tenure system and housing. Families were displaced, people were killed, law and order descended into chaos and the economy hit a brick wall.

Six years later frustrations overflowed again with attacks on the Chinese community.

With the intervention of its neighbours through the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, order was gradually restored and governance structures rebuilt.

Today the country stands on the cusp of a brighter future supported by a growing private sector.

Although small compared to other regional countries and internationally, the private sector is still the mainstay of the economy because it is where jobs are created and it is where goods and services are being marketed.

Dennis Meone of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned, however, that while potential exists, the correct priorities must first be put in place.

He pointed to the need for continuing policy dialogue between government and private sector and a collective vision for the national economy spanning 20 to 40 years.

If the private sector and government can cooperate, investments should go ahead with the benefits spreading to even the most remote communities.

Tourism is one of the largely untapped industries in the Solomon Islands but its visitors bureau has launched a huge global campaign to attract tourists.

The public and private sector will need to collaborate to build more rooms, provide transport and grow food which can supply the hotels and feed visitors.

If the Solomon Islands can reduce the cost of holidays, tourists will visit.

Finally there is the issue of extractive industry and the devastation it can wreak on the environment. This is another area in which the government and private sector must collaborate closely for the benefit of the nation.

If the people of the Solomon Islands can set their priorities and work together their journey to happiness and prosperity will be assured of an excellent outcome

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.

Guide to the 49th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting – Nauru 2018

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