The wounds of last year’s rift at the Pacific Islands Forum have been reopened after a dramatic walkout by Nauru President David Adeang, followed by a no-show for the leaders retreat on Aitutaki.
Samoa’s Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa yesterday raised concerns over the process in which ex-Nauru president Baron Waqa had been endorsed to become the next secretary-general of the PIF and wanted that to be discussed during the retreat.
According to reports and sources on the ground, Adeang then got up and left as he believed this meant Waqa’s new role was in question despite being confirmed as the person to lead the regional organisation at a special Forum leaders meeting in Fiji in February.
The Fiji Times reported that Adeang “stormed out”.
Now a cloud of doubt hangs over the Forum on what happens next, with the rest of the leaders on Aitutaki where ‘heart-to-heart’ conversations are expected to be had on key issues such as climate change, regional security and economic development, and seabed mining.
According to some reports, Fiji’s Prime Minister Stiveni Rabuka had been approached by the Forum chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown to mediate the situation.
However, Rabuka told media on Aitutaki: “Nobody has been approached. We have not been approached.
“It’s [Nauru’s] sovereign choice. I was hoping that with the [meeting] theme of ‘our voices, our choices, our Pacific Way’. We should all have been here.”
Asked if he would support Waqa’s appointment, Rabuka said: “He’s not been nominated. Once it comes up, we will vote.”
Waqa’s candidacy for the secretary-general position was part of a raft of measures agreed by the Forum leaders to heal a rift that threatened to sink the regional body.
But since his candidacy was confirmed, Pacific political commentators and academics have criticised the move due to his leadership record as Nauru’s president.
When pressed by media on whether the Forum was back to square one when the Micronesia bloc had decided to leave the regional body, Rabuka said: “Sort of. Yeah. I don’t know Baron Waqa. And they should have been here.”
‘We’ll get through it’
Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr has confirmed Nauru has opted out of the retreat and has asked the rest of the Micronesian leaders to represent them.
According to unconfirmed reports, Adeang is unhappy that questions have been raised about the selection process of Micronesia’s candidate Waqa.
“I think they’re not here they have their reasons and it’s good to get it directly from them,” Whipps said.
“But we’re here. They said: ‘You represent us’. So, we’re here as Micronesia and even though they’re not here, they said: ‘Please represent us’. So, all the rest of Micronesia is here.”
Asked if it was a snub by Nauru, he said: “Maybe just misunderstanding, but we’ll get through it.”
“I think it is just discussions that need to go on so wait until after the retreat.”