‘Marginalising our own brothers and sisters’: the disrespect Micronesia has been shown is a tragedy for the Pacific – Surangel Whipps Jr

The PIF is the Pacific's leading regional body, mostly made up of small island states along with Australia and New Zealand Mike LEYRAL AFP/File

THE GUARDIAN – Fri 19 Feb 2021 19.00 GMT

Judith Nielson Institute

Micronesia had no choice to but to abandon the Pacific Islands Forum after being ‘thoroughly and publicly disregarded’, the President of Palau writes

The flags of the nations of the Pacific Islands Forum, and of the forum itself. The forum has lost all of the Micronesian members – nearly one-third of the total – over a fractious selection for secretary-general. Photograph: Mike Leyral/AFP/Getty ImagesSupported by

What becomes of an organisation when it disregards one-third of its membership? What happens when “we” stops being inclusive?

As the eldest of four, I have always felt responsible for the safety, security, and well-being of my siblings. In my family, “I” has always been synonymous with “we”, the collective, being one inclusive family and ensuring no one is left out. This is what I understand to be the Palauan way; this is what I understand to be the Pacific Way.

This is how I have always envisioned the Pacific family, as siblings working together. It has been painful to me, personally, to see this mentality fall out of the Pacific Islands Forum, our pre-eminent regional grouping.Pacific Islands Forum in crisis as one-third of member nations quit

For two years, Micronesian leaders prepared for their long-awaited turn to lead the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

When they met on the margins of the 2019 74th UN General Assembly, Micronesia’s upcoming decision to appoint a new PIF secretary-general was one of the most pressing subjects of discussion.

The selection of the PIF secretary-general is a consensus decision, and by longstanding agreement, PIF’s three sub-regions – Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia – take turns putting up a candidate.

Other candidates are sometimes nominated, but in the end, “consensus” has historically prevailed. In the last cycle, other candidates were withdrawn in favour of Dame Meg Taylor, the consensus candidate from Melanesia.

This cycle, it was Micronesia’s turn.

In 2019, the Micronesian leaders unanimously nominated Gerald Zackios, Marshall Islands’ Ambassador to the United States, as Micronesia’s candidate for PIF secretary-general.

President Tommy Remengesau, Jr of Palau, who was the Chair of the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit (MPS) at the time, encouraged all Micronesian leaders to stand in solidarity with their region’s interests and to support their consensus candidate.

However, as the appointment process drew closer, it became clear that PIF members outside Micronesia were less than committed to the established process. Strong PIF members, including Australia and New Zealand, indicated their interest in additional candidates.

As the decision approached, the PIF leadership remained deaf to Micronesian concerns.

Over the continuous protests of our leadership, the PIF secretary-general selection was repeatedly postponed.

To add insult to injury, the deadline to nominate secretary-general candidates was also extended, over the formal objections of all five Micronesian members, allowing multiple candidates to compete with Micronesia’s even after they had missed the boat.Advertisement

The opportunity of this wrongful deadline extension was widely exploited to put up new candidates, and in the end, non-Micronesian candidates were nominated from countries including Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, and the Cook Islands.

In light of these troubling developments, Micronesian leaders gathered again in Palau in September 2020 and ratified the Mekreos Communique.

Mekreos firmly reminded all PIF members of the established agreement on subregional rotation.

Furthermore, it warned all other members that Micronesia saw no value in participating in the forum, should it fail to honour the existing agreement on subregional rotation.

Surangel Whipps Jr is the President of Palau

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