PNG Defends Election Of New Forum Secretary General

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Government responds to editorial in Fiji Sun critical of process

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, August 7, 2014) – The PNG Government was yesterday forced to defend the selection process that resulted in the election of Dame Meg Taylor as the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Foreign Affairs Minister Rimbink Pato said the appointment of Dame Meg was done in a transparent manner after the Suva-based Fiji Sun newspaper published a scathing editorial and article criticising PNG for using its financial might to woo support from the other Pacific Island states to secure the votes.

According to the newspaper, PNG had "reneged" on its decision to support former Fiji foreign minister Kaliopate Tavola for the top regional job despite agreeing in unison with Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in a show of Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) solidarity.

The newspaper alleged that PNG secured the votes to install Dame Meg by offering "a K500 million inducement" to the region’s small island states in the lead-up to the PIF Leaders Summit in Koror, Palau.

But Mr Pato said Dame Meg’s nomination was done with the full knowledge of all PIF nations, including MSG members, and relevant discussions were held between leaders and ministers.

While Fiji had put forward its own candidate through Mr Kaliopate, Mr Pato said there were technical irregularities with the application as Fiji remains suspended from the PIF.

"While Fiji did nominate a candidate, this application was not successful due to technical irregularities in the application, compounded by the fact that Fiji is currently suspended from the Forum," Mr Pato said.

"It should be pointed out that after the Micronesian candidate withdrew, the two contenders for the position were from the Melanesian countries of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. "In order to ensure transparency, PM O’Neill and PM Darcy Lilo of the Solomon Islands did not participate in the deliberation and decision that resulted in the selection of Dame Meg Taylor.

"The relationship between Papua New Guinea and Fiji is strong and deep, with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill going to significant lengths to maintain engagement with Fiji during recent regional discord."

However, a PNG Government official confirmed PNG did agree to support Fiji’s candidate and that message was communicated to Suva through the Department of Foreign Affairs but the decision did not have Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s blessing.

Consequently, the PM appointed the State Enterprise Minister Ben Micah as his special envoy to travel to Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in June to seek their support for Dame Meg.

It appears the absence of Mr Pato from a crucial MSG foreign affairs minister’s summit prior to Mr Micah’s trip was costly, as the country was represented at the DFAT assistant secretary level and consequently PNG lacked the leverage to promote its candidate.

This latest diplomatic wrangling between Suva and Port Moresby could threaten the future of the MSG, warned the PNG Government official.

However, Hawaii-based Solomon Islands academic, associate professor Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, says Fiji has more to lose if it left the MSG due to the millions of dollars worth of PNG investment in Fiji.

"This includes – but not restricted to – the Lamana Development Company Ltd investments with the Grand Pacific Hotel, the Mineral Resources Development Company (MRDC) investments in the Pearl South Pacific (Fiji) hotel at the Pacific Harbour and Bank South Pacific (BSP)," he stated in a commentary for the New Zealand-based online news portal Pacific Scoop.

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