PRIME Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo landed in Palau last night in time for today’s opening of the 45th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting.
Mr Lilo has been on a three-legged trip in the past weeks that took him to Cuba and Indonesia, before flying into the northern Pacific nation of Palau.
The prime minister’s presence at this year’s forum, which will see the absence of Australian and New Zealand prime ministers, is expected to give added support to the country’s candidate for the Forum’s secretary general job.
Solomon Islands fielded in Dr Jimmy Rodgers, who is the former head of the New Caledonia-based Secretariat to the Pacific Community.
Dr Rogers will be up against Fiji’s Kaliopate Tavola, Papua New Guinea’s Dame Meg Taylor, and the Micronesian Leaders’ nominee for the top job, Tony de Brum of Marshall Islands.
The new secretary general, who will be appointed on Thursday during the Leaders’ retreat, will replace outgoing head Neroni Tuiloma Slade of Samoa, who will end his second term in October this year.
Regional observers said Dr Rodgers has the highest chance of the three candidates because of his regional experience and familiarity with issues affecting the Pacific.
“Dr Rodgers and Fiji’s Tavola are two highly experienced candidates when it comes to matters pertaining to the region,” one observer, who asked not to be named, told the Solomon Star.
“But Mr Tavola has already had his hands full. He has other engagements with the Melanesia Spearhead Group as well as the Africa Caribbean Pacific (ACP) where he was an eminent person,” the observer said.
He added PNG’s candidate Dame Taylor, while she’s got international experience, has very little knowledge of the region and is not well-known to Pacific leaders.
“Leaders during their deliberations on the appointment normally look for candidates that understand the region, who are known to leaders, and those that they can easily relate to.
“Dr Rogers fits that bill,” the observer said.
Speaking ahead of today’s opening, outgoing secretary general Mr Slade said the selection of his successor will be one of the key decisions Forum leaders will make.
He added leaders will also discuss regional security issues, including concerns with organised international and cross-border crime.
Besides, leaders will also consider the serious crisis of non-communicable diseases, the effects of which on Pacific communities are yet to be fully assessed and appreciated.
Prime Minister Lilo is leading a seven-member delegation to the meeting.
By OFANI EREMAE