Bainimarama criticism of Forum unfair, says academic | Pacific Beat

Bainimarama criticism of Forum unfair, says academic

Bainimarama criticism of Forum unfair, says academic

Updated 2 December 2013, 18:10 AEST

An attack on the neutrality of the Pacific Islands Forum by Fiji's interim prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, was not based on fact, according to Dr Malakai Koloamatangi, Pacific Director at New Zealand's Massey University.

In a recent speech, Commodore Bainimarama accused the Forum of being dominated by Australia and New Zealand, and of becoming what he called unprofessionally politicised. He said Fiji has been shunned and isolated by the Forum, and turned to other international partners as a result.

But Dr Koloamatangi says such criticism is unfair.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speakers: Dr Malakai Koloamatangi, Pacific Director of New Zealand's Massey University

KOLOAMATANGI: This issue has been around ever since Fiji was suspended from the Forum, and indeed perhaps before that as well. So this is just the latest in this series of pronouncements, if you like, by the Prime Minister.

I think on the surface of it, it probably isn't justified in terms of it was a blunt statement and it didn't sound like it was made on the basis of facts and in all probability, it would be difficult for an organisation, a regional one at that to be dominated by a single or indeed two countries, as is being alleged in this incidence. So I think it reality, it's not a true reflection of the way things are and it's probably an unfair comment as well.

HILL: Well, the Pacific Islands Forum itself hasn't really reacted at this or said anything. Why do you think that is?

KOLOAMATANGI: I think, I mean there are a number of reasons, one is Forum itself is not actually the Forum, it's a grouping of Pacific leaders, so if they are going to say something, although, of course, it has a Secretary-General, but I'm guessing that the Secretary-General takes his brief from the leaders, the Pacific leaders who are actually, they're the ones who make the decision around this. So it's not a one person organisation as it was, it belongs to the whole of the Pacific. And so that's probably one of the reasons. The other reason is, of course, the Forum Secretariat is based in Suva and it's undiplomatic, I think, to be responding to something that your hosts say, even though it might not be true. So there are numbers of reasons and in fact, even though Fiji is formally suspended from the Forum, it still receives technical support from the Forum. So it's not as if it's a clean break between Fiji and the Forum.

HILL: So could the Forum Secretariat's physical location in Suva, the capital of Fiji, be playing a role in whether they respond to these sorts of allegations?

KOLOAMATANGI: Yeah, I think so. I mean that's one. I think there's a more important reason in the fact that the Forum is a region organisation and it's supposed to be above the national politics and so, although, of course, the Fijian Prime Minister is criticising the Forum in terms its regional approach and in terms of the alleged domination by New Zealand and Australia. But I think the Forum's been around now since 1971. It's a mature organisation. From what I've seen of the Forum in the past, the capacity of it has grown markedly being staffed by people of intelligence and capability from throughout the region. So it's probably a truism that most of the employees from the region are perhaps the cream of the crop from the region.

Also, of course, we must bear in mind, that many of the employees of the Forum are actually Fijian nations and so it's not a black and white issue I don't think.

HILL: Does this raise the issue of whether the Forum Secretariat should be physically located in Fiji under the current circumstances, if this is the kind of thing that's going to happen?

KOLOAMATANGI: That debate again is not a new issue, it's been raised before and with other regional organisations that have their headquarters in Suva. And because of the instability in Fiji's recent political history, people have been talking about whether it is the right place to be.

Of course, Fiji is blessed with some natural attributes, such as geographically, it's the most central of Pacific Islands, the transportation, it's a transportation hub, it's where regional organisations are and so on and so forth. So in terms of that, we need to be careful, but certainly there has been some issue with locating regional organisation in a place that is not seen to be stable politically.

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