Micronesian countries challenge PIF to appoint their joint candidate or face mass withdrawal from PIF

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Five Micronesian leaders have challenged the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) membership to appoint their joint candidate for the Secretary General of the regional grouping – or face a mass withdrawal from PIF.

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Palau make-up the Smaller Island States (SIS) group within the Pacific Islands Forum.

Meeting in Palau’s capital, Koror last week, the five leaders threw down the gauntlet – challenging the rest of the 13 PIF member countries to ‘respect the gentlemen’s agreement’ and appoint Ambassador Gerald Zackios of Marshall Islands as the next head of PIF to replace Dame Meg Taylor of Papua New Guinea.

In a strongly worded statement, FSM President, David W.Panuelo said Micronesia’s position is not negotiable and the only devastating consequence would be the break-up of the regional political body.

“I don’t want this to lead to fragmentation of our PIF, but it might do that. The Micronesian subregion is as much a part of the Pacific as Polynesia or Melanesia, and if they are unable to adhere to the Pacific Way of respect for others, including respect for our Gentlemen’s Agreement, then the consequence is that we simply don’t engage with them or allow ourselves to be pushed around by people with ulterior motives in the PIF Secretariat.

“If this agreement is not honored, I see no benefit to remaining in the PIF, said President Panuelo at the end of the one day Micronesian Leaders’ Summit.

“Pacific Island Forum Leaders agreed that the Secretary-General position shall be determined on a rotational basis. The last five Secretary-Generals have come from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Samoa, Tuvalu (in an acting capacity), and Papua New Guinea once more, with Micronesia being in the role only once. Per the Gentleman’s Agreement of rotational leadership, it is now the turn of Micronesia.”

President Panuelo said the five leaders have rejected submission of candidates past the formal deadline of 19 June 2020 – against the call from the chair of the Forum and Prime Minister of Tuvalu to extend the nomination deadline period.

“The Micronesian Presidents broadly rejected the submission of candidates submitted past the formal deadline, and view the aspiration of any other nominee as one in a series of slights against the Micronesian subregion, such as the Micronesian sub-region’s shock and confusion in August 2019 when the only CROP Agency in the North Pacific, the Pacific Island Development Programme/East-West Centre, which the Micronesian subregion broadly endorses, and which the FSM specifically views as essential to its development, was threatened to lose its status as a CROP Agency.

The FSM leader said it would be awful if Micronesia’s unity does not materialise into the successful bid for Ambassador Zackios.

“Ambassador Zackios is the proper choice per our Gentleman’s Agreement for sub-regional rotation. Our solidarity and integrity in the PIF are strengthened by this agreement, and to me this issue is non-negotiable.

The language in the Joint Communique reads as: “Presidents discussed the selection process and appointment of the next PIF Secretary-General and reiterated their firm commitment to the appointment of Micronesia’s candidate, Ambassador Gerald M. Zackios, in line with the Gentlemen’s Agreement for sub-regional rotation. Presidents agreed that the solidarity and integrity of the PIF is strengthened by the Gentleman’s Agreement, that this issue is one of respect and Pacific Unity, and that it is non-negotiable for Member States. Presidents agreed that in the Pacific Way, a Gentleman’s Agreement is an agreement, and if this agreement is not honored, then the Presidents would see no benefit to remaining in the PIF.”

The outgoing President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau has been a strong advocate for the sub-regional candidate. Ahead of the Micronesia Leaders’ Summit last week, President Remengesau suggested pulling out of the Pacific Islands Forum if the rest of the Pacific Leaders ignore Micronesia’s turn.

“We must therefore pursue every available option to ensure that these prior commitments are kept, now and in the future. If necessary, we must discontinue our participation in Pacific Island Forum activities until this issue is resolved,” he told Islands Times last week.

Kiribati and Nauru leaders supported the call for the Forum leaders to honour the “gentlemen’s agreement” that the next secretary general would be provided by Micronesia.

Nauru President Lionel Aingimea said the sub region has always abided by the rules of the PIF and now it’s the forum leaders’ turn to fulfill that commitment.

“Through the gentlemen’s agreement we expected that this year will be Micronesian’s turn to put up their candidates – anything less is a contrary to our customs and culture which bind us as one Pacific family,’ he said.

Kiribati President Taneti Maamau emphasised the critical importance of the solidarity, and that the sub region is “resolute’ in its decision that it is Micronesian’s turn to provide the SG.

“We must remain vigilant and be prepared to consider any effort our collective way to deliver on this outstanding commitment,” he said.

Zackios is up against Fiji’s Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, the Cook Islands’ former Prime Minister Henry Puna, Tongan economist Amelia Kinahoi Siamomua and the former head of the Pacific Community Jimmy Rodgers from Solomon Islands for the SG position.