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By Mere Tuqiri

SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 28, 2000 - Islands Business Magazine/PINA Nius Online)---Amidst growing political instability, Bernard Dowiyogo, Nauru's latest leader, is confident he can provide the much-needed leadership the country needs.

Dowiyogo, who has been a member of the Nauru Parliament since 1973, accepts the challenges and is committed to the process of economic reform, which he says is essential to Nauru's welfare.

Through his choice of cabinet members and other appointees, Dowiyogo believes he has laid a firm foundation, counting on experience, talent and range of interests.

A follower of Australian Rules Football, Dowiyogo won the presidency in a close run in the 18-member parliament, ending former president Rene Harris' six-day reign. Harris had earlier defeated Dowiyogo by a single vote, 9-8.

Dowiyogo has been vocal on environmental issues such as nuclear testing, fishing, climate control and plutonium shipments. During the 66th council meeting of the Asian-Pacific Parliamentarians Union (APPU) held in Nauru in May, Dowiyogo said he was concerned about Japan's shipment of radioactive waste through the islands of the Central Pacific. He pointed to a lack of appreciation over the fragility of the island economies dependent on fishing and tourism. The union offers Asia-Pacific countries a forum to raise issues relating to the region.

Here's a summary of an interview conducted by Islands Business with Dowiyogo:

* On policies: "My government accepts the new challenges faced by Nauru. We are committed to improving the conditions of the people of Nauru in the long term through sensible, sustainable economic and financial strategies. Undoubtedly, the shorter term will be a time of hardship relative to a more prosperous time when export of phosphate was double current levels and the national population only half the present levels. It was two years ago, after considerable discussions and planning assisted by multilateral organizations, that my government acted to downsize the public service by at least a third. We enhanced revenues from exports by streamlining expenses in the Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC) and stabilized the debt-ridden portfolio of the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust (NPRT). In three to four years the NPRT should be debt-free and in a position to devote a portion of its annual investment income to augment government fiscal revenues. I intend to revive and improve the Economic Reform Committee structure, composition and its terms of reference. There had been some step-back from the reform program that I had initiated in my previous government. It is my intention to see that whilst containing public expenditure, a proper balance is achieved in the community health education and will enable government to improve medical and hospital services on the island.

"In order to improve the Nauru economy and create new employment opportunities, we will encourage development in the private sector. As a matter of priority, we are committed to restructuring the operations of the small offshore financial agency and restoring confidence in the Bank of Nauru."

* On economic reforms: "Recent experience has shown the enormous impact on the people of the Economic and Financial Reform programs. This has not consistently received the high levels of public support needed mainly due to it not fitting with community requirements. In the future, there will be a more sensitive approach to correct the impact of rigorous financial management on the community."

* About his cabinet and Nauru's political problems: "Through cabinet and other key appointments, I believe I have successfully drawn together a wide mix of interests without neglecting experience and talent. There are many difficult tasks ahead of us that will demand careful and considerate decision-making by a unified political leadership. This, of course, cannot take place without political stability and I am sure I have laid firm foundations to achieve this."

* On Nauru's Grand Pacific Hotel (GPH) seizure by the former Fiji Government: "Nauru has spent millions of dollars on public trust money in leasing this site and has spent approximately a million dollars on the site in the past 24 months primarily to complete the land reclamation project. It has every intention to continue negotiations with interested parties to further develop the GPH. Nauru will not settle for less than restoring the GPH to its former splendor as a national heritage in Fiji. Nauru regrets the unilateral action undertaken by the Fiji government. The excellent relations between our two countries have traditionally been marked by our common Pacific heritage, not least by the Pacific tradition of consensus decision-making by our leaders. I am confident we can continue this tradition in a mutual effort to secure the longer-term political and commercial interests of the people of Nauru and Fiji."

* On plans to rehabilitate the island: "In preliminary feasibility studies, it is estimated that the task of rehabilitating two-thirds of Nauru will take 25 years. Its careful development and planning will require considerable financial and human resources.

"Nauru has a rehabilitation and development agreement secured with Australia in 1994 that should assist this endeavor, complemented with our own resources. Nauru will be looking to its neighbors to augment its small labor pool particularly in engineering and the trades. I believe Nauru's friends and neighbors will cooperate."

* On climate change issue: "Climate change and sea-level rise pose real and fundamental threats against territorial integrity and national sovereignty for low lying states such as Nauru and some of our closest neighbors. It is a global problem that demands universal action by all major polluting countries, but especially the developed countries that have contributed most to present levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Nauru and other small islands states can ill-afford to wait for substantive action by the international community whilst the sea rises and continues to encroach upon our homes and our water table to threaten our existence. Despite the treaty's obvious shortcomings, Nauru calls upon all major polluting countries, in particular those countries that have the resources and the technology to do so, to effect the Kyoto Protocol in the most effective way."

* On Nauru's money laundering problem: "Let me state in no uncertain terms that Nauru does not condone nor does it permit the use of its offshore facilities to help legitimize criminal proceeds. I am sure Nauru's closest development partners will be surprised to learn of accusations laid against this small country being able to absorb up to $US100 billion. In recent years Nauru has cooperated closely with the Asian Development Bank and the international firm Price Waterhouse Coopers to strengthen our economic and financial operations. I am sure no clearer entities, who were given carte blanche authority to study Nauru's books, had the slightest occasion to raise this issue. Nevertheless, my government is committed to our continued participation in the international drive to combat money laundering and, subject to financial and other limitations and constraints, urgently to take requisite steps to reform and improve Nauru's offshore banking regime to conform to international standards for preventing and punishing money laundering. As a small island developing state, the region will share with Nauru the acute limitations placed upon our people in achieving national goals and aspirations. And in this regard, my government welcomes any assistance that would assist the endeavor.

"Nauru is cooperating closely with the United States and my government is hopeful that real and early action on reforming and strengthening financial processes in Nauru will be facilitated through further cooperative endeavors. I am particularly hopeful we can together obtain verification of the claim by Russian authorities that Russian criminal elements have arranged through Nauru the flight of capital from that country. This is a spectacular, albeit unsubstantiated, claim that has resulted in Nauru being blacklisted by several major banks.

"This has damaged not only Nauru's reputation, but also severely restricted Nauru's ability to undertake normal transactions such as meeting debt repayments. The effect is akin to an economic sanction-one that my government and people cannot understand, let alone accept on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations."

For additional reports from Islands Business, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Magazines/Journals/Fiji Islands Business.

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