THE FIJI TIMES – Vishaal Kumar 24 February, 2021, 11:30 pm
PACIFIC Islands Forum members can withdraw at any time because the organisation is still very much a voluntary association of independent states.
This was the view expressed by renowned Fijian academic and director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Canterbury, Dr Steven Ratuva.
He made the comments while presenting a submission on the 2005 Agreement Establishing the Pacific Islands Forum to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence yesterday.
Dr Ratuva said the states could withdraw at any time, as seen recently when five Micronesian states began the process of withdrawing after the appointment of the secretary-general.
He said the Pacific collectively had faced numerous challenges over the years.
“One is the criticisms of the small island states that there had been bit of domination by big countries like Australia and New Zealand – that they had money, the political power, economic leverage and other means of domination and this had created a bit of anxiety within the forum itself,” Dr Ratuva said.
“The second issue is the imbalance of balance of benefits.
“Some of them had argued that some of the regional projects, like Air Pacific for instance was original, and had become nationalised by Fiji.
“So there is still a bit of resentment there when you talk to people in private but of course in public, they may have different views.”
Dr Ratuva also said some had argued that the University of the South Pacific being based in Fiji tended to have more benefits flowing into Fiji.
“Thirdly, the problem of consensus. The forum is always operated on the basis of consensus unlike in the United Nations (UN) where you vote.
“Each country had a vote. For the forum they decided, we will do it the Pacific way by having a consensus just like in a village meeting.
“The problem with consensus is that if you have one or two powerful voices, whatever they said everyone would agree especially when they have money and power.
“This has been one of the problems. This came to a head when they had to decide on the next secretary-general.
“Usually it was done through consensus but this time around they had to be forced to vote because five countries were pushing their own agenda.
“The consensus principle was broken and so this means that the forum now has to re-adjust itself ethically, morally and politically in terms of facing the future now that one of their fundamental principles had been broken.”
He said another challenge faced by the forum was the intra-regional conflict within the forum countries themselves.
“In Vanuatu, just after independence, a group tried to succeed and the forum was involved in terms of putting down the rebellion.
“In Bougainville, there was a civil war where the forum was also involved to some degree and for Fiji, the coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006, the forum was caught in the dilemma of what they were going to do.”