Surprise apology to Micronesia over Forum leadership election row

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Troika Plus dialogue
in a virtual meeting, dubbed the Troika Plus Pacific dialogue, on Monday, the Micronesian leaders heard apologies from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the outgoing Secretary-General, Dame Meg Taylor. Image: RNZ

RNZ Pacific

Micronesian leaders have received an apology from their colleagues in the Pacific Islands Forum.

In what has been described as a frank and open political dialogue on Monday the Forum leaders aimed to heal the wounds caused by the selection of the Cook Islands’ Henry Puna as the new secretary-general of the agency.

Micronesia’s leaders believed they had a commitment that their candidate, Gerald Zackios from the Marshall Islands, would be named secretary-general.

In February, the five Micronesian members of the Forum announced they would leave in protest at the selection.

But in a virtual meeting, dubbed the Troika Plus dialogue, on Monday, the Micronesian leaders heard apologies from Papua New Guinea’s James Marape, Fiji’s Voreqe Bainimarama, Samoa’s Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Mailielegaoi and the outgoing Secretary-General Dame Meg Taylor.

The leaders expressed regret and acknowledged that the situation could have been managed differently and better.

‘Secure regional solidarity’
The Forum chair, Tuvalu Prime Minister, Kausea Natano, reminded the leaders the dialogue was to listen to the concerns and issues of the Micronesian presidents and to “secure the solidarity of our region.”

Nauru’s President Aingimea was deeply thankful and moved by the depth of sincerity in an apology that he said “resonates deep within my heart.”

“Leadership is shown at times like this and to the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Prime Minister of Samoa, and the Prime Minister of Fiji, you have shown yourselves to be able leaders; wise leaders, in bringing words like this to us here,” he said.

Marape appealed to Micronesia not to leave the Forum and encouraged the leaders to “break bread” and right the wrong.

He reiterated his choice in voting with Micronesia at the election of the PIF secretary-general, and urges that in the interest of regional solidarity the election of the secretary general should be on rotation even if it was not a written agreement, for what he describes as for brotherhood.

Samoa’s Tuila’epa said the meeting came at an opportune time and that more time for discussion could have reached an appropriate way out.

Are apologies too little, too late?
Palau’s president says apologies from some Pacific Islands Forum leaders this week is a step in the right direction but more action is needed.

The apologies follow the public falling out with Micronesian states earlier this year over their preferred candidate for the Forum’s secretary general’s post, Gerald Zackios, being snubbed for Cook Islands’ Henry Puna.

On Monday, the leaders of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa acknowledged the situation could have been managed better.

Surangel Whipps Jr says he believes they are genuine and heartfelt, but that the Micronesian leader’s position remains the same and they need more than an apology to return to the Forum.

“I don’t think any of us are coming back to the Forum unless we see change. We’ve made that position clear and that continues to be our position, and I think the Troika understands that. So, we’ve officially withdrawn and I would assume that no one’s going back unless change happens.”

RNZ Pacific’s correspondent in the Marshall Islands, Giff Johnson, says the apologies are probably too little, too late.

“Given the feelings that were expressed around the time of the vote, a couple of months back, and just the fallout that developed … in some ways it was perhaps unfortunate that people had painted themselves into a corner on it, in the lead-up to the secretary general vote,” he said.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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