22 Jul 2013

Marshall Islander to lead the new Pacific mayors network

5:27 pm on 22 July 2013

A new Pacific regional mayors network, linked to Commonwealth countries, has appointed a Marshall Islands mayor to lead the organisation.

The president of the Marshall Islands Mayors Association, James Matayoshi, has been elected president of the newly established Pacific Island Local Government Associations Network, or PILGAN.

PILGAN has a secretariat based in Fiji, that is connected to the Commonwealth Local Forum.

James Matayoshi, the five-term mayor of nuclear test-affected Rongelap, spoke to Leilani Momoisea about what kind of voice the network will have, and what doors his appointment will open for the Marshall Islands.

JAMES MATAYOSHI: It's going to be a voice for all the island countries, mayors association and provinces, councils, to learn from one another as well as serve the interests here in the Pacific, because you look at upper-level organisations like the United Nations and all big donors like the European Union, we're small compared to other competitors in terms of accessing grand opportunities and those kinds of support. Particularly, we have our own unique issues that we address in the small island countries, such as climate change, food security, et cetera.

LEILANI MOMOISEA: And what does it mean for the Marshall Islands, having you head this organisation? What doors is it going to open specifically for the Marshall Islands, do you think?

JM: Well, we normally deal directly with the United States government, but in this instance we were very fortunate that the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, which deals with Commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand, the European Union, to be a part [of that]. So it's really an opportunity for us to participate with our other South Pacific island countries to address issues of mutual interest to all of us.

LM: Is the Marshall Islands sometimes overlooked because of its close relationship with the United States? It's sometimes overlooked by these other nations?

JM: I believe so. And this is the contrast we would like to work on to ensure we are recognised as not just part of the direct relationship with the Pacific countries, but as a whole, joining the rest of the Pacific Island brothers' countries and their association, to be served as a block so we have a stronger voice in addressing our issues here.