Micronesian States Withdraw from Pacific Islands Forum Over SG Position

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Pacific Islands Forum Leaders group photo 2018. Photo: PIFS

The leaders of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Nauru say they will follow Palau in withdrawing from the Pacific Islands Forum.

In a statement released after a meeting of the Micronesian leaders yesterday, Nauru President, Lionel Aingimea said they,  “collectively express their great disappointment with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General appointment process.”

That process saw former Cook Islands Prime Minister, Hon Henry Puna voted in over Micronesia’s candidate, Marshall Island’s Ambassador to the US, Gerald Zackious.

“The Micronesian Presidents jointly agreed to forthwith initiate the formal process of withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum respecting their national processes and will act swiftly like the Republic of Palau” the statement concludes.

Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr was the first to announce his country’s decision to withdraw from the Pacific Island Forum, supported by the Palau National Congress – Olbiil Era Kelulau.

Micronesian leaders are claiming that a “gentlemen’s agreement” to rotate the SG position between Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia had been violated.

What should also be noted is that the Forum’s Deputy Secretary General appointed in May 2020, Dr Filimon Manoni, is from the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The Micronesian candidate for Secretary General would have meant the top 2 positions at PIFS are held by one member country.

The Voting

The position of Secretary General of the Pacific Island Forum has always been selected by vote of Forum Leaders, if there is no consensus. However, the lead up to the meeting was contentious with Micronesian leaders insisting there was an agreement to rotate the Secretary General post, and that it was the turn of Micronesia.

Gerald Zackios had the backing of five Micronesian countries but could not get support from the 17 Pacific leaders at the retreat.

Fiji withdrew its candidate Ratu Inoke Kubuabola but leaders still could not reach consensus and two rounds of voting were carried out.

In the first round of voting Mr Puna polled seven votes with Mr Zackios on six, and Solomon Island’s Jimmie Rodgers on three, while a single vote went to Tonga’s Amelia Siamomua.

Ms Siamomua withdrew and in the second round of voting Mr Puna polled nine votes to eight against Mr Zackios and no votes to Jimmy Rodgers

The Forum

Leaders of the 7 founding members of the South Pacific Forum, Wellington, 1971. Samoa PM Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Lealofi IV is second from the left, standing. 

The Pacific Islands Forum is the region’s premier political and economic policy organisation founded in August 1971 at a meeting initiated by New Zealand in Wellington, under the banner of “South Pacific Forum”.

That first meeting of the South Pacific Forum comprised seven countries: the President of Nauru, the Prime Ministers of then Western Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, the Premier of the Cook Islands, the Australian Minister for External Territories, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

It was reported to have been, “a private and informal discussion of a wide range of issues of common concern, concentrating on matters directly affecting the daily lives of the people of the islands of the South Pacific, devoting particular attention to trade, shipping, tourism, and education”.

Afterwards this meeting was held annually in member countries and areas in turn.

In 1999, the 30th South Pacific Forum decided to rename the organization to the Pacific Islands Forum, to better account for areas outside the South Pacific such as the Northern Pacific.

It comprised 18 members: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

The Micronesian exodus will see 5 member states removed, with 13 remaining.  Three of the five Micronesia States – FSM, Palau and Marshall Islands are all US-related States.

The Forum’s Pacific Vision is “for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, so that all Pacific people can lead free, healthy, and productive lives”.

The Pacific Islands Forum works to achieve this by fostering cooperation between governments, collaboration with international agencies, and by representing the interests of its members.

The Forum organises annual meetings with key Dialogue Partners at Ministerial level to foster cooperation between governments, private sector and NGOs, as well as collaboration with international agencies.