Fiji academic says new Forum funding formula needed
A Fiji based academic says a new formula for the funding is needed for the Pacific Islands Forum.
The Director of Politics and International Affairs at the University of the South Pacific says a new formula for funding is needed for the Pacific Islands Forum.
Sandra Tarte says she hopes the upcoming PALM meeting in Japan will give Pacific leaders a chance to find a way forward after Fiji's prime minister said he would not attend this year's summit in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Bainimarama wants New Zealand and Australia ousted as members or their influence diluted by the inclusion of other donor nations but he is yet to attract public support from other Pacific leaders.
There has been criticism from New Zealand's John Key and Samoa's Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who again raised the suggestion that the Forum administration should move to Apia.
Don Wiseman asked Dr Tarte whether it is all just a storm in a teacup.
ST: You're right that Fiji has said that it won't go back to the Forum but I don't think that it's saying it's not interested in the Forum in its entirety. I think it's more the fact that since it was suspended in 2009 it has moved on with its own foreign policy and its own regional diplomacy. Other changes have also taken place in that period, partly at the instigation of Fiji and partly due to other factors. Fiji has basically called for changes to the way the Forum operates. In particular, the leaders' meetings and the operation of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. It's made two alternative and contrasting claims saying it either wants Australia and New Zealand not to be present within the Forum in the future or it would like other development partners to join Australia and New Zealand so everybody is there. The fact remains that Fiji won't go back and is staying out of the Forum until changes are made. I guess the question is then should Fiji be making those demands from outside of the Forum? Is it genuine about its commitment to wanting change or should it move back into the Forum and then work for change from within. It has been trying to get other countries onside but so far that doesn't seem to have worked particularly well so whether Fiji needs to find another way of convincing its other neighbours about the changes it's calling for. I think the good thing perhaps about all this is that it has created a climate where there is now questioning, there is now rethinking of a number of regional organisations but the Forum in particular is being subjected to this. It is challenging the way things have been done so that perhaps can be seen as a positive sign. You are probably also aware that the Pacific leaders will be meeting in Japan later this month for the seventh Palm Summit and Fiji is invited back to that one. It was not invited while Japan had certain bans on high level contact with Fiji. We will see Fiji attending that one and Mr Bainimarama will himself be going. That will be an interesting meeting because it may in fact set the tone for what a Forum with Fiji back in may look like in terms of the dynamics of that meeting.
DW: Do you think Fiji actually does want eventually to resume association with the Forum?
ST: Mixed messages perhaps have been coming out on that. The Foreign Minister has been in the past been upbeat about Fiji becoming a member or at least resuming its role in the Forum. The Prime Minister has been a little less enthusiastic and they are continuing to promote the Pacific Islands Development Forum as what they see as perhaps as an alternative to the Pacific Islands Forum. I think, the fact that this is the only meeting of Pacific Island leaders does exist, it is important that Fiji does resume its place at the Forum. The Pacific Islands Development Forum does not as yet attract many leaders. Maybe that will change in the future but its focus and its agenda are somewhat different. As a meeting place for leaders in one room, it is important that Fiji resume that and I think we'll see perhaps in the next 12 months some clearer signs of whether Fiji will recognise that and move forward on that.
DW: Are you surprised that the concerns that Mr Bainmarama has raised over the financing of the Forum and the fact that New Zealand and Australia have undue influence as a result of that, that the other nations haven't embraced this and we end up with the New Zealand leader saying who's going to pay for it if we're not there. That surely is supporting Bainmarama's argument isn't it?
ST: There are certain sensitivities over this and perhaps no one wants to be confronted by the reality that there are huge anomalies in terms of the funding situation for the Forum and on the other hand claims for greater control and countries perhaps not willing to come forward with additional funding in order to share more of that. I think certain arguments have been made that if this is to be a Forum that is generally representative of the Pacific Island countries which they have ownership over then perhaps a new formula needs to be found for funding for the regional organisation. Just as is happening with the idea of the MSG or the PNA although PNA is more user-pay kind of situation. No one really wants to be I think asked to pay up more and there's the question of whether New Zealand and Australia should no longer be members but continue to pay as they do needs to be addressed honestly and perhaps hasn't been yet until now.
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