The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade says the suspension of Fiji from the 16 member group was a ‘traumatic’ experience for member countries.
“Suspending a member has never happened before and I hope it will never happen again, said Slade.
“Leaders need to finalise the situation and come to a proper political decision on the matter during this Leaders gathering in Palau.
Slade, who completes his six year term in office in October this year, is optimistic the decision by the Leaders this week ‘will return the region to normality’ and ‘restore Fiji back to its legitimate place in regional affairs.’
He hopes that the region will ‘learn and build on the experience’ from Fiji’s suspension.
Speaking to journalists in Koror at the regional media workshop organised by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and Oceania TV (OTV), the outgoing Secretary General confirmed that Fiji will be one of the issues high on the agenda of the 45th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meetings here in Koror this week.
“The desired outcome would be the lifting of Fiji’s participation in Forum meetings and other activities and for full engagement and normalisation of the situation.
“I should emphasise that the suspension relates only to participation in Forum meetings and activities. Fiji has always remained a member of the Pacific Islands Forum. It never lost that membership status, according to SG Slade.
However, the final determining factor of Fiji’s return will be free and fair elections conducted on 17 September this year.
“Last year, Leaders decided to revisit the situation after free and fair elections in September, Slade explained to regional journalists.
Fiji on the other hand has maintained it will only return to the Pacific Islands Forum if Australia and New Zealand’s role is reviewed. Fiji wants the region’s two metropolitan powers to remain as a donor partner and not a full member of the organisation.
In addition, the creation of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) is a demonstration by Fiji that it will not return immediately, if it’s invited back, possibly in 2015.
Meanwhile, despite Fiji being out of the Pacific Islands Forum, the country supported the nomination of its former Foreign Affairs minister and diplomat, Kaliopate Tavola as one of the four candidates vying for the Forum Secretariat’s top job.
“That’s how we understand it – that Tavola is the nominee of Fiji, said Slade.
Slade said the unwritten rule that a Fiji national cannot become a Secretary General of the Suva-based Secretariat has changed over the years.
“These are understandings on the arrangement but we are dealing with the Forum that is now in its 45th meeting since the Forum evolved from the 1970s. Some of these understandings have grown over time. At one time, there was an understanding that Australia and New Zealand cannot provide a Secretary General but that rule has gone out the window. I think these understandings or unwritten rules are affected by development over time, Slade explained to PACNEWS.
In 2004, after the appointment of Australian, the late Greg Urwin to the office of Secretary General, Forum Leaders agreed that each member country is entitled to nominate a candidate if they wish.
This week, Forum Leaders will appoint a new Secretary General to replace Tuiloma Neroni Slade.
The four candidates are Dr Jimmie Rodgers of Solomon Islands, Dame Meg Taylor of Papua New Guinea, Tavola of Fiji and Fabian Nimea of the Federated States of Micronesia.
“This is matter is left entirely to Leaders. Information has gone to Forum Chair, the President of the Republic of Marshall Islands, who I believe has circulated that to Leaders for their own consultations.
The decision is based on consensus. In the event that this is not reached, the decision will be put to a vote, said Slade.
By PACNEWS Editor, Makereta Komai in Palau