FRENCH OFFICIAL DISMISSES NOTION OF PACIFIC PULLOUT

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Budgetary support for French Polynesia up 42 percent

By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, July 21, 2008) – French State Secretary for overseas Yves Jégo, who has on Sunday embarked on a five-day visit in French Polynesia, has denied suggestions that France waas pullin out of its French Pacific territory.

Jégo arrived in Tahiti on Sunday (Saturday Tahiti time, GMT-10) and was officially welcomed at the airport by local President Gaston Tong Sang and his full cabinet.

In one of his first statements to local media, the French government member stressed that contrary to local perceptions, the metropolitan "real" expenditure to French Polynesia, per capita, had increased by some 42 per cent over the past three years.

"I don't know whether those who are talking of pull-out do have those figures. If they don't, I can provide them."

Jégo however admitted that even though during his first visit to French Polynesia, he was bringing "financial news", there was also a need to "reform a number of schemes, to ensure adaptation in a changing world".

Jégo said the emphasis should be placed on solving French Polynesia's "economic and social" problems so as to ensure future development.

A similar message, in the form of clarification, was delivered some two weeks ago by incoming new French High Commissioner to French Polynesia, Adolphe Colrat, who, early July, stressed that France had spent some 1.33 billion Euros (2.1 billion US dollars) in 2006 and another 1.42 billion euros (2.25 billion US dollars) in 2007.

But the disquiet was also triggered by the launching, earlier this month, of the French Defence White Paper, which recommended drastic cuts into the French Forces, and, in the Pacific, would mainly affect an estimated 1,100 soldier sin French Polynesia's infantry regiment in Arue (Tahiti island).

As an onset to his visit, Jégo also started his round of encounters with local figures with a 45-minute interview with French Polynesia's President Gaston Tong Sang.

Speaking to local media after the one-to-one talks, Tong Sang said he had told the French minister that French Polynesians were "proud to be French" and intended to enter into a "new era of flawless cooperation" with metropolitan France.

"For many years, we've been talking about the need to turn a page on the way local politics work here. We have to shift away from a hand-out culture to a development culture …so as to generate more sustainable jobs", Tong Sang said.

Talks with local legislative Assembly Speaker, Oscar Temaru, were reported to have focused on the independence issue, the pro-independence leader said.

He told local media France, in his view, was "not playing the role of actor in the decolonisation process of our country".

Unlike New Caledonia's, another French dependency in the Pacific, French Polynesia is not on the United Nations list of countries to be decolonised.

Temaru said he believed that if the votes of metropolitan French citizens who reside in French Polynesia were to be taken out of the local voting registry ("because then are entitled to vote only six months after they have arrived here"), the pro-independence vote would win.

During his visit, Jégo will also take some time to meet union representatives.

A number of local unions have called on a general strike to coincide with Jégo's visit.

The strike is said to be motivated by the rising cost of living.

The State Secretary, who hold the rank of an assistant minister in the French government (under the Ministry of Home Affairs) is also intending top meet local religious leaders, such as Monsignor Hubert Coppenrath, Archbishop of Pape'ete and the Protestant Church (Mao'hi) President, Father Taaroanui Marae'a.

During his visit, Jégo is also to further discuss the implementation of a five-year, 435-million euros (677 million US dollars) development pact co-funded by French Polynesian authorities and metropolitan France which was signed in Paris at the end of May this year between President Gaston Tong Sang and French Head of State Nicolas Sarkozy.

The French government's contribution to the aid package is 40 percent.

The rest of the funds (18.5 percent) comes from the French Development Agency AFD and the European Union's Development Fund (EDF).

The five-year grant is scheduled to go mainly to social housing projects (46 percent), health (15 percent) and higher education (9.3 percent).

Another chapter (6.3 percent) relates to civil safety and protection and in particular the construction of cyclone and tsunami-proof shelters.

The funds come in addition to France's direct injections into French Polynesia, which is estimated to be in excess of 1.5 billion US dollars per year.

During the signing ceremony at the Paris Elysée Palace in May, Sarkozy insisted on his wish to instil a "new era" of cooperation between metropolitan France and its Pacific territory.

"This renovation, we wish it to be profound, to enable French Polynesians to put an end to ancient practices that have damaged the image of this extraordinary territory", Sarkozy told French media after the ceremony, saying political behaviours in French Polynesia, as of late, have "not been in accordance with the Republic".

Sarkozy also alluded to the notion of "reciprocal duties" between France and its overseas communities, while also recognising French Polynesia's contribution to French national sovereignty through the control of its nuclear deterrent power.

French Polynesia was the scene, especially in the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa, of a nuclear testing programme that took place first in the open air, and later underground, between 1966 and 1996.

"After several months of inertia and instability, which have been detrimental to the development of this community, the new contract will bring responses to the practical hardships of our fellow citizens' daily lives, in accordance with the President of the Republic's commitments", Sarokzy's office stated at the time.

Tong Sang, on his part, pledged full commitment to improving the principles of transparency and good governance in French Polynesia.

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