Fiji will again top the agenda at the Pacific Islands Forum (PILF) meeting that begins in the Marshall Islands this week. Having being suspended from the forum following the December 5th 2006 military coup, the government of Frank Bainimarama downplayed the situation saying the decision was made on external pressures from the Australian and New Zealand governments.
Despite Fiji’s suspension from PILF, the Bainimarama government embarked strategically to win over Pacific island states through establishing the Engaging the Pacific, the Melanesian Spearhead Group and forming and hosting the inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) this year, casting further shadows of doubt over the relevance and impact of the PILF.
Fiji’s growing influence over pacific nations, particularly over other small island states to question the credibility of the Forum Secretariat gained momentum based on the Australian and New Zealand governments’ reluctance to engage with the Bainimarama government and their stance to continue pressure to keep Fiji suspended from the forum.
What the Bainimarama government termed “cheque book” diplomacy to buy out other pacific nations like Samoa, Tonga and Nuie further solidified the influence of the two “big brothers” Australia and New Zealand now have on the Forum which was initially established to enhance the economic and social well-being of the people of the South Pacific by fostering cooperation between governments and between international agencies, over the years the Pacific Island leaders themselves started to question the relevance and independence of the Forum.
Establishing the PIDF this year has given the Bainimarama government more backing for either returning to the Leaders Forum or influencing other member states to completely withdraw from the Forum based on the outcomes.
At the conclusion of the PIDF in August 2013, while announcing the setting up for the PIDF Secretariat, Frank Bainimarama echoed what he believed was also the sentiments of the 23 Pacific states in attendance… ”We have no interest in establishing a competing bureaucracy. Indeed my fellow leaders and I agree that our guiding philosophy will be the antithesis of most bureaucracies -“less is more and more for less”. The Pacific doesn’t need expensive facilities. We need results. The Pacific doesn’t need an army of overpaid officials. We need committed, publically-minded individuals ultilising scarce resources to maximum effect. The Pacific doesn’t need any more top-down solutions. We need to harness the common sense of our people at the grassroots, listen to them as we identify their needs, and work up.”
It is expected that on the outskirts of the forum, talks will focus on Fiji’s new constitution and whether these can be considered credible steps to welcome Fiji back into the Forum, failing which, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat may just find itself in the middle of a wrangle that it may not be able to recover from and could eventually disappear into the abyss or irrelevance.