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FSM’s president: Micronesian should be next Forum secretary-general

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PALIKIR, Pohnpei (FSM Information Services) — On Oct. 2, 2020, David W. Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia,  virtually joined Thomas E. Remengesau Jr., president of the Republic of Palau, David Kabua, president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Lionel Aingimea, president of the Republic of Nauru, and Taneti Maamau, president of the Republic of Kiribati, for a special meeting of the Micronesian Presidents Summit.

They want to ensure that the subregion’s candidate to the position of secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum, Gerald Zackios of the Marshall Islands, is upheld per the PIF’s gentleman’s agreement of rotating leadership on a regional basis.

Analogous to the European Union or the African Union, the PIF is the regional entity representing the Pacific Island regions of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia, and historically has been used to promote regional solidarity to include emphasizing the Pacific’s stance on issues of import at the United Nations.

PIF leaders agreed that the secretary-general position shall be determined on a rotational basis, yet the last five secretary-Generals have served from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Samoa, Tuvalu (in an acting capacity), and Papua New Guinea once more, with Micronesia being in the role only once. Per the gentleman’s agreement of rotational leadership, it is the Micronesian subregion’s turn, and the Micronesian presidents submitted their candidate to the PIF in September 2019: Gerald Zackios, ambassador of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the United States of America, and former minister of foreign affairs.

The Micronesian presidents broadly rejected the submission of candidates submitted past the formal deadline, and view the aspiration of any other nominee as one in a series of slights against the Micronesian subregion, such as the Micronesian subregion’s shock and confusion in August 2019 when the only Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific or CROP agency in the North Pacific, the Pacific Island Development Program/East-West Center, which the Micronesian subregion broadly endorsed, and which the FSM specifically views as essential to its development, was threatened to lose its status as a CROP agency.

 FSM President David Panuelo virtually joins the Micronesian Presidents Summit. FSMIS photo

“It would be awful if our unity doesn’t materialize into the successful bid for Gerald Zackios,” President Panuelo said at the leaders retreat. “Ambassador Zackios is the proper choice per our gentleman’s agreement for sub-regional rotation. Our solidarity and integrity in the PIF are strengthened by this agreement, and to me this issue is non-negotiable. I don’t want this to lead to fragmentation of our PIF, but it might do that. The Micronesian subregion is as much a part of the Pacific as Polynesia or Melanesia, and if they are unable to adhere to the Pacific Way of respect for others, including respect for our gentleman’s agreement, then the consequence is that we simply don’t engage with them or allow ourselves to be pushed around by people with ulterior motives in the PIF Secretariat. If this agreement is not honored, I see no benefit to remaining in the PIF.”

The language in the joint communiqué reads as: “Presidents discussed the selection process and appointment of the next PIF secretary-general and reiterated their firm commitment to the appointment of Micronesia’s candidate, Ambassador Gerald M. Zackios, in line with the gentlemen’s agreement for sub-regional rotation. Presidents agreed that the solidarity and integrity of the PIF is strengthened by the gentleman’s agreement, that this issue is one of respect and Pacific Unity, and that it is non-negotiable for member states. Presidents agreed that in the Pacific Way, a gentleman’s agreement is an agreement, and if this agreement is not honored, then the Presidents would see no benefit to remaining in the PIF.”

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