Green Party appoints new Regional Coordinator

Green Party has appointed Chief Suacent Secor as its Regional Coordinator (RC) on Ambrym Island, with a special message to target 2020.

President of Ambrym Green Regional Executive, John Roy David and National Treasurer, John Terry, jointly endorsed Chief Secor’s appointment last week.

In the letter, they said, “We would like to congratulate and welcome you to our big family – the Green Families in Vanuatu and around the world”.

The letter encouraged the new RC to work closely with his Executive to implement and execute the common principle beliefs of Green Party in Vanuatu.

 The Party is confident his presence in the Green Team on the island will promote trust and confidence among the people to secure a seat in general election of 2020.

A sea change in Vanuatu politics?

When people speak of a sea change, they generally intend it in a positive way. But the phrase itself comes from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. It’s in a passage telling a young man that his father has drowned, and that the ocean has transformed him utterly. In other words, he’s never coming back.

Will Joe Natuman be able to come back politically from this conviction? We don’t know yet.

The story of how the Deputy Prime Minister came to be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice is an important chapter in the annals of governance in Vanuatu. In December of 2014, the Daily Post reported on a letter, dated September 19 of that year, from Prime Minister Joe Natuman to Acting Police Commissioner Aru Maralau, ordering him to cease investigation of CID officers on suspicion of mutiny.

The Prime Minister wrote, “I am strongly reiterating my instruction to you as the Acting Commissioner of Police to stop investigations by the CID officers immediately. My Government is working endlessly to make sure the Vanuatu Police Force is united and the different groupings within the force patiently await a time and date to be set by the Government to carry out the exercise of uniting the Vanuatu Police Force again.”

This order was deemed unlawful and rescinded by Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini when he was Acting PM during a visit by Joe Natuman to Fiji.

But the Daily Post reported, “The Acting Commissioner however suspended the Police investigators because he claimed the mutiny case was no longer in the public interest and that the officers ignored a ‘lawful order’ from Prime Minister Natuman.”

Two weeks after that story ran, Leader of the Opposition Moana Carcasses filed a criminal complaint against Mr Natuman, alleging a number of crimes, among them conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. In the end, the Public Prosecutor decided that this allegation was justified and began criminal proceedings.

Mr Natuman never denied the facts of the case. He argued however that he was doing the right thing. “I wrote that letter…” he explained in a public statement, “to try and reconcile the two factions within the force and bring unity and harmony to what should be the heart of our security system. Unfortunately [the Police Service] has been seriously compromised and corrupted by politicians.”

Regardless of his motivations, or of the motivation of those who filed the criminal complaint, it is not the role of the political leaders of this—or any—country to meddle with the criminal justice system.

It was political interference that brought the Vanuatu Police to this impasse in the first place. More interference, no matter how well-intentioned, was not the answer.

Joe Natuman says that he acted in good faith, and in what he felt was the national interest. There is no reason to disbelieve him. He has not obscured his role in the affair, nor has he tried to shift responsibility onto the shoulders of others. It was his decision, and he has owned it from the start.

But that means owning the consequences, too. He did that yesterday. The question is, what will he do in Parliament?

If we look at this as the opposite book-end to the 2015 bribery trial, then it is worth asking if this marks the end of an era of ‘Big Man’ politics, where rank has its privileges and responsibilities, and neither is bound so much by the law as by what is politically achievable.

There are some who will argue that these days are not so far in the past as we might want. The glass-half-full crowd, though, will list all the new MPs who have made the running as technocrats rather than relying only on social stature and rank to get them past the post.

 The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But it appears that the country is—for now, at least—moving clearly in a direction where voters value the ability to use the tools of governance over the exercise of unchecked power.

One thing that is certain: Joe Natuman has accepted that he acted outside the law, and that there are consequences to be faced. The entire nation is waiting to see how far he feels these consequences should reach.

On social media, public sentiment was broadly supportive of his decision to plead guilty. While some commenters didn’t hesitate to describe Mr Natuman as a criminal, many expressed respect for his having owned up to the crime. This is quite similar to public reaction to then-Finance Minister Willie Jimmy when he pled guilty to bribery charges.

Can Joe Natuman retain his status as Deputy Prime Minister, or as Member of Parliament? The law doesn’t require that he vacate these positions, but it’s difficult to conceive of a scenario in which he would remain in either post without exposing the government to widespread criticism.

It’s also difficult to imagine how charges under the Leadership Code could be avoided, even if he were to make a unilateral commitment to withdraw from politics.

The question looming over all of this: Whither the Vanua’aku Pati? The founding party of the nation is now facing a deciding moment. A couple of weeks ago, Johnny Koanapo, currently one of its higher-profile members, launched an appeal on social media for former supporters to return to the ideals that founded the country: “I believe people must now seriously consider reclaiming their loyalty to the bigger parties that once walked this road so that we can put this country back on track of stability again. The Vanua’aku Pati is renewing its resolve to take this path. All who left the Party are invited to come back. Vanua’aku Pati Kam bak.”

The Vanua’aku Pati is a key member of the current coalition, and although VP support is not likely to waver, the loss of the Deputy Prime Minister’s post, and the inevitable jostling that would accompany the succession, could have an effect on PM Charlot Salwai’s government.

Going into 2020, though, it seems that this guilty plea has only strengthened perceptions about the fairness of the rule of law, and the importance of electing people who know how to exercise their power within its boundaries.

I Won’t Resign – Yet: Natuman

Deputy Prime Minister (DPM)and Minister for Tourism, Trade, Commerce and Ni-Vanuatu Business Joe Natuman has pled guilty to two counts of obstructing or interfering with the execution of a criminal process, contrary to section 79 (c) of the Penal Code [CAP 135].

Natuman was joined by the other defendant in the Criminal Case 188 of 2016, former Acting Police Commissioner, Aru Maralau, who also pled guilty to one count of complicity to obstruct or interfere with the execution of a criminal process contrary to sections 30 and 79 (c) of the Penal Code.

Natuman and Maralau entered guilty pleas yesterday morning ahead of the initial trial date which was set for March 15 and 16, 2018. The sentencing is scheduled for March 16.

In 2016, their case was committed to the Supreme Court by the Chief Magistrate, Felix Stevens after a Preliminary Inquiry confirmed they have a case to answer to.

The charges were brought against the Deputy Prime Minister in 2014 when he was Prime Minister.

On September 19, 2014, Natuman, in his capacity as the Prime Minister and the Minister responsible for Vanuatu Police Force instructed the then Acting Commissioner of Police, Maralau to stop a police investigation team from carrying out an investigation into a mutiny case involving senior police officers. Following the mutiny saga, Maralau assisted in suspending the investigations.

Moana Carcasses, who was the Leader of Opposition in Parliament at the time filed a complaint against Natuman and Maralau.

During a ‘no case’ submission in relation to this criminal case last December, the court heard that the initial motive behind the then Prime Minister’s actions and decision was made for the best interest of the Vanuatu Police Force, to unite the Force.

DPM Natuman is not the first Member of Parliament (MP) to plead guilty while occupying a ministerial portfolio. In 2015, then Finance Minister Willie Jimmy became the first Vanuatu MP since independence to plead guilty on two counts, one under the Leadership Code.

The Deputy Prime Minister will continue to hold the position of DPM and the portfolio of Tourism, Trade, Commerce and Ni-Vanuatu Business, following an agreement with the Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai, after he pled guilty to the charges in court Tuesday morning.

Natuman told Daily Post yesterday afternoon that he will hold the offices until his sentencing on March 16.

“Depending on how heavy or light the sentence will be, it will then be up to the Prime Minister or even myself,” he said on his future.

The DPM added he pleaded guilty in court on advice from his lawyers Tuesday morning to a charge over an incident in which he acted in good faith, but did not realize it was against the law.

Section 3 (1) of the country’s Members of Parliament (Vacation of Seats) Act, which can be viewed on the PacLII website states: “If a member of Parliament is convicted of an offence and is sentenced by a court to imprisonment for a term of not less than 2 years, he shall forthwith cease to perform his functions as a member of Parliament and his seat shall become vacant at the expiration of 30 days thereafter: Provided that the Speaker, or in his absence, the Deputy Speaker, may at the request of the member from time to time extend that period for further periods of 30 days to enable the member to pursue any appeal in respect of his conviction, or sentence, so however that extensions of time exceeding in the aggregate 150 days shall not be granted without the approval of Parliament signified by resolution”.

Subsection (2) asserts: “If at any time before the member vacates his seat his conviction is set aside or a punishment other than imprisonment is substituted, his seat in Parliament shall not become vacant as provided by subsection (1), and he may again perform his functions as a member of Parliament”, followed by (3): “For the purpose of subsection (1) no account shall be taken of a sentence of imprisonment imposed as an alternative to or in default of the payment of a fine”.

Press Release: ULMWP

United Liberation Movement for West Papua in Port Moresby fulfils prerequisites for MSG Membership

United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) expresses deep gratitude to Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and the PNG Government for inviting the ULMWP to the 21st Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Leaders’ Summit between 10 and 15 February 2018 in Port Moresby.

ULMWP Spokesperson Jacob Rumbiak hopes its application to become a full member will be realized at this meeting, because “it is the aspiration of all West Papuans to join this organisation of our Melanesian brothers and sisters”.

“Becoming a full member of MSG is not merely a political desire, but more importantly about reconnecting ourselves with our Melanesian family” he added. “This is all about respecting human dignity and family issues. It is not a political game. We are part of the great Melanesian family”.

West Papuans applied for membership of the MSG in Noumea (New Caledonia) in 2013 but were rejected on grounds that they were not united. The application was represented in 2014, but PNG Prime Minister O’Neil recommended more work on critical membership-criteria issues.

Later in 2014, the Vanuatu Government facilitated a meeting of West Papuan leaders in Port Vila, where the people united under the coordination of an elected ‘United Liberation Movement for West Papua’ on 6 December 2014.

At its most recent meeting in Vanuatu, in December 2017, the ULMWP reformed its leadership structures to reflect the formation of Executive, Legislative and Judicial functions. It published its short, medium, and long-term political and social agendas, and demonstrated the unity of the iconic West Papuan military.

“Now, all our friends from around the world, our families in Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, alongside Papuans from Sorong to Samurai, are praying for good news from Prime Minister O’Neil and the other MSG leaders.” 

© Scoop Media 

Melanesian Arts Festival Committee Resumes Pre-Festival Planning Process

Source: SSNews

The Solomon Islands Melanesian Arts Festival National Organizing Committee (MAFNOC) has resumed its pre-festival planning process for 2018 this week.

Solomon Islands will host the 6th Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival (MACFest) from July 1 to 10 this year on the theme “Past Recollections; Future Connections.”  The event is programmed to coincide with the country’s 40th Independence Anniversary.

MACFest was one of the outcome resolutions of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Ministers meeting in Honiara late last year. During Ministers summit the group also agreed upon MSG countries to provide assistance to support the host country.

The main Committee will be supported by a number of technical sub-committees in various areas including Events, Accommodation, Catering, Health, Security, Quarantine & Customs, Media & Promotions, Protocol, Finance and Logistics.

MAFNOC Chair and Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Andrew Nihopara said the Committee is working hard to ensure that all tasks are completed a month before the event.

This week the Committee has focused attention on its budget to ensure the limited funds provided by the Government are strategically spent to host a better and successful festival.

Approximately 2000 delegates from the five MSG countries (Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia) will be attending the event. The Solomon Islands will have 300 delegates. Also there will be invited delegates from West Papua, Timor Leste, and Torres Strait Island of Australia. West Papua has been granted an observer status at the MSG meeting.

The Solomon Islands was the first MSG country to host the Melanesian Arts Festival in 1998. After this inaugural event, the festival has been held every four years on rotational basis in the five Melanesian Countries.

The Festival was conceived in 1995 by the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) to promote and preserve Melanesian cultures, traditions, values and contemporary arts in the region.

Festival Timelines:

1998 – Solomon Islands

2002 – Vanuatu

2006 – Fiji

2010 – New Caledonia (Kanaky)

2014 – Papua New Guinea

2018 – Solomon Islands

What to expect at the Melanesian Spearhead Group summit


The last time the leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) got together was in 2016, for a special leaders summit held in Honiara. A number of key issues were left unresolved after that meeting, most notably whether to endorse the next iteration of the MSG Trade Agreement, and who should qualify as group members.

We should expect the membership issue to take up most of the group’s political and diplomatic energy again this week when its leaders convene on Wednesday for a summit in Port Moresby. The discussion centres on how the group will deal with the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), and whether it should be made a full member of the MSG.

The ULMWP currently holds observer status in the group. Of the five full members of the MSG (Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste, or FLNKS), the ULMWP has the unwavering support of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and the FLNKS. The inability to reach consensus on membership arises from the ambivalence and prevarication exhibited by PNG and Fiji, reflecting influence from Indonesia. Indonesia’s ability to influence the MSG and frustrate the ambitions of the West Papuans has been enhanced since it was made an associate member of the group in 2015.

The ULMWP is optimistic that its bid for membership will be accepted by the MSG leaders when they meet. The movement claims to have addressed all the issues that PNG’s Peter O’Neill raised in 2015, which included a stipulation that the ULMWP – at the time known as the the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) – strive to unify all pro-independence groups, and that the movement should consult with Indonesia on MSG membership.

Since then the organisation has undergone a significant period of consolidation, restructuring and overall professionalisation. This includes a recent change in leadership, with Benny Wenda taking on the role of chairman in 2017.

The government in Vanuatu has also donated the ULMWP an office building. This gives it a physical base in the heart of Melanesia, and essentially places the ULMWP cheek by jowl with the MSG, whose secretariat is also in Port Vila. Wenda is expected to attend the leaders summit in Port Moresby, at the invitation of O’Neill. The government of Vanuatu has indicated that it wishes to include Octovianus Mote, another senior figure from the ULMWP, as part of its official delegation.

Much more prosaically, the 2018 MSG Leaders Summit will need to address ongoing challenges associated with the group’s finances. This summit will mark the transfer of its chair from Solomon Islands to Papua New Guinea, a move due to have taken place in the middle of last year but delayed because of the PNG elections. There was no MSG leaders meeting during 2017.

A lot of strategic planning for the MSG and its secretariat has been undertaken. There are papers tabled that address restructuring of the secretariat and a remuneration review.

However, this all turns on the question of political will. There is a long-standing issue around the inability or unwillingness of the sovereign state members to pay their share of funding on time, or even at all. Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are all facing fiscal constraints.

Yet the real issue is politics. If the organisation is hamstrung because of impasses such as the membership issue, it is difficult for leaders to demonstrate, both to their governments and electorates, that supporting the MSG is a good use of precious resources.

Of course, Indonesia could offer to pick up the bill for MSG running costs, which would be of little consequence to them financially. But the political sensitivities around that option make it unlikely.

The past few years have seen the MSG move from a renaissance period to one of frustrated inertia. The situation is such that a couple of years ago I suggested the Gordian knot as a suitable logo for the organisation. There are a number of strands to the tangle in which the MSG finds itself, and there have been several attempts to unravel them. The test for this summit will be whether the knot tightens or finally starts to give way. 

Vanuatu: flailing, not drowning


On Monday The Australian published an article titled “Pacific nations drowning in Chinese debt”. It suggests that a large number of recent “white elephant” projects are becoming an unsustainable burden on Pacific Islands countries.

Although this contains a kernel of truth, it’s not accurate to suggest that these nations’ problem is that they are “drowning in debt”.

In Vanuatu, at least, the issue is not overall debt load – not yet, anyway. The latest IMF debt assessment rates Vanuatu’s risk of default as “moderate”. Relative to other developing nations, its debt to GDP ratio is manageable.

Vanuatu’s immediate problem is cash flow. In 2012 a single sentence was changed in a key piece of legislation, with the result that new loans no longer required parliamentary approval. Projects could now be signed off at the ministerial level. Within months, new projects, and new loans, were being announced at an alarming rate.

Within a couple of years, Vanuatu had added hundreds of millions of dollars to the liability column. Happily, an Australian-funded governance program, coupled with a domestic commitment to avoid deficit spending, had built a financial regime that kept the government living well within its means. Vanuatu’s debt in 2013 was modest at just over 20% of GDP.

By 2020, however, Vanuatu’s debt service payments will have risen significantly. The nation now has to manage an impending cash flow crunch. The Department of Finance and Treasury has staffed a debt management unit and given it a place at the policy table. In late 2017, the Council of Ministers approved a rise in the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate from 12.5% to 15%, effective 1 January 2018.

VAT revenues should rise by approximately 20% above their normal growth rate by 2020. In addition, Vanuatu’s controversial passport sales programs have become its largest source of non-tax revenue, adding tens of millions of dollars annually to general revenues. Driven by this unanticipated windfall, revenues have run well ahead of expectations for past three years.

Debt is not the problem some people make it out to be. But that’s cold comfort when we look at the overall development picture.

The country has embarked on an ambitious gambit, using infrastructure investment to catalyse a transformation of the national economy. In the past few years, Vanuatu has either started or completed the construction of two large-scale wharf facilities and about half a dozen smaller ones; two major roads; the rehabilitation of another 100-plus kilometres of cyclone-damaged roadway; major repairs and upgrades to three airports; a new conference centre; a sports facility that recently hosted the 2017 Pacific Mini Games; the complete rehabilitation of its flagship secondary school; and an urban development project that has literally transformed the capital.

These are only the headlines. There are also private sector–driven plans to construct a brand new international air terminal, a new 400-room resort, and a massive new subdivision outside the capital, dubbed the “Emerald City”, aimed at Chinese citizens seeking rest, relaxation, and residence in the tropics.

The government’s gambit is that growth will come soon enough to meet Vanuatu’s spiralling debt service commitments; however, that is not assured. A single cyclone could throw plans off balance.

Some loans the nation has taken on are extremely concessional in nature. For example, the US$70 million Japanese-funded Port Vila wharf project features a 0.55% interest rate, a 10-year grace period, and a 40-year repayment window.

In contrast, a similar wharf in the northern port of Luganville, funded by the China EXIM Bank and built by the Shanghai Construction Group, cost about $15 million more, features a 2% interest rate, a 5-year grace period, and a 20-year repayment window.

Worse, concerns over the kind of bollard installed on the Luganville wharf led cruise lines to cancel dozens of visits, creating millions of dollars in opportunity costs and knocking the northern town’s plans to become a tourism hub into a cocked hat.

Efforts are underway to mitigate the problem and allay safety concerns. Just this week, the Voyager of the Seas, a 300-metre-long cruise ship, was able to berth safely during a test visit.

An ANU study published by the Development Policy Centre shows that successful infrastructure investment depends more on the recipient country’s capacity than on the source of funds. Not all projects are created equal, and few countries have grounds to brag about their performance.

The tit-for-tat rhetoric coming from both China and Australia does the issue injustice. It is not only inaccurate but also, more importantly, denies the agency of Pacific Islands nations themselves. Without a voice in this discussion, these nations are certain to be saddled with more failed infrastructure projects in the future. 

ULMWP Can Pass Muster: Foreign Minister

PM Charlot Salwai speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new ULMWP headquarters in Port Vila. The land grant was facilitated by then-Lands Minister, and now Foreign Minister, Ralph Regenvanu. Dan McGarry
PM Charlot Salwai speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new ULMWP headquarters in Port Vila. The land grant was facilitated by then-Lands Minister, and now Foreign Minister, Ralph Regenvanu.
Dan McGarry

In a brief message yesterday, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu responded to an Indonesian spokesman’s claims by Indonesia’s First Secretary for Political Affairs in Australia that West Papua‘s ‘game is up’.

Radio New Zealand reported earlier this week that Mr Sade Bimantara said that the “United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s bid to be a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead group has reached a dead end.”

In the interview with RNZI’s Johnny Blades, Mr Bimantara opined “I don’t think they qualify to be a full member of the MSG. They are not a state, and as opposed to Kanaks, they are not on the C24 (UN) Decolonisation Committee, they are not on the list, West Papua. And also the separatist group does not obtain full support from all the West Papuans. And West Papua and Papua is also politically free, so there’s no reason for the MSG to accept them as full members.”

This was disputed yesterday by Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister. In an email exchange with the Daily Post, Mr Regenvanu wrote, “Well, that’s for the MSG Leaders to decide once the application is presented to them.

“Technically, the ULMWP can meet the new criteria just agreed upon.”

The issue, he wrote, would not be decided by the technicalities outlined by Indonesia’s spokesman. “The question is only whether a political compromise can be achieved by the MSG Leaders before the next Summit at which the application for membership will be considered.”

“Vanuatu is working on achieving this political compromise,” he concluded.

Mr Regenvanu has been an outspoken supporter of West Papuan Independence movement. One of his last acts as Lands Minister before he took up the Foreign Affairs portfolio was to facilitate a grant of land to provide the United Liberation Movement for West Papua a permanent headquarters in Port Vila.

A ULMWP statement following the announcement of Mr Regenvanu’s appointment to the portfolio said that it “is certainly a very effective state policy closely linked to the direction of the effective support of… Vanuatu for the West Papuan independence struggle.”


West Papua membership issue still unresolved at MSG

Leaders of Melanesian Spearhead Group countries have referred a West Papuan application for full membership in the group to its secretariat for processing.

The leaders had their summit this week in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby.

A long-pending application for Spearhead membership by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua is to be processed under new guidelines for membership.

Johnny Blades has more.

Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders at their 2018 summit: (left to right:) Fiji's Defence Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Victor Tutugoro of New Caledonia's FLNKS Kanaks Movement, PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill, prime minister of Solomon Islands Rick Hou, and Vanuatu's prime minister Charlot Salwai. Photo: Twitter / Ratu Inoke Kubuabola
Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders at their 2018 summit: (left to right:) Fiji’s Defence Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Victor Tutugoro of New Caledonia’s FLNKS Kanaks Movement, PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill, prime minister of Solomon Islands Rick Hou, and Vanuatu’s prime minister Charlot Salwai. Photo: Twitter / Ratu Inoke Kubuabola


JOHNNY BLADES: So the MSG – whose five full members are Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia’s FLNKS Kanaks Movement – has been wrestling with this matter of full West Papuan membership for a number of years. Shortly after forming, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua was granted observer status in the MSG in 2015. But since then, they’ve been lobbying strongly for more representation at the MSG, this subregional body, arguing it is the best first avenue for addressing their long-running grievances with Indonesian rule. Yet there’s been an impasse within the group over whether to grant the West Papuans that full membership. You’ve got Vanuatu and Solomon Islands and the FLNKS very much supportive of it, or who in recent years have indicated their support, whereas PNG and Fiji have basically opposed it. It seems like they are more toeing the line of Indonesia who of course is an associate member in the group. Indonesia has opposed the Liberation Movement taking such a part in the MSG.

DON WISEMAN: And this is why the leaders back in 2016 requested the MSG secretariat to clarify guidelines around membership?

JB: Yes, it was found that the guidelines on membership weren’t clear – or at least that different interpretations on what they meant were creating a problem around this West Papua matter. So a special committee was established to develop new guidelines. This has been done, and after almost two years, the MSG leaders this week formally approved the criteria. This is the criteria under which the United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s bid for membership is to be processed by the MSG secretariat.

DW: So what does this mean for the West Papuan membership application?

JB: Well, in the short term, more waiting. It’s unclear whether this is just another way to defer the decision for an indefinite period. And is it a technical decision to be made, or a political one? Or a bit of both? It’s still a bit confusing.

DW: What is Indonesia’s response to this?

JB: At the summit, Indonesia delivered a warning to the MSG member states not to meddle in other countries’ matters. Their delegation head, Desra Percaya, said “we remind member states to continue to focus on the principles of MSG, the core principles, and to refrain from meddling in other countries` businesses”. That’s interesting though because the MSG’s founding principle really was to work towards the entire decolonisation of Melanesia.

DW: And the Liberation Movement?

JB: They remain hopeful, and have always been very respectful of MSG leaders’s decisions on this ongoing matter. But ahead of the summit, they had submitted their short, medium, long-term political and social agendas and demonstrated again that they’ve got sort of unity of representation of all the major West Papuan groups. But coming out of this summit, I think there is some frustration among some MSG member governments that this West Papua issue remains at this stage. I think the leaders are all in broad agreement that the MSG states should work together towards more regional, economic co-operation, and they’ve all outwardly happy with the re-structure now being undertaken by the secretariat, which has been poorly financed in recent years. But the West Papua issue remains a sticking point. And Vanuatu’s prime minister Charlot Salwai has told local media that he’s worried that that founding principle of freeing all melanesian peoples from colonialism has sort of got lost along the way. So he wants the MSG to take a more active role in putting the focus of the group back on self-determination of Melanesia. And he cited the case of the Kanaks (in New Caledonia). He says MSG should work with the Papuans and the Indonesians more closely to get them together as it were to progress the issue forward, as has been the case with france and the Kanaks. And that’s a nod to the fact that there’s a self-determination referendum due to happen in New Caledonia later this year.


West Papuan MSG bid at a dead end, says Jakarta

Indonesia says the United Liberation Movement for West Papua‘s bid to be a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead group has reached a dead end.

MSG leaders meeting in Port Moresby this week referred the Movement’s application to the group’s secretariat for processing under new membership guidelines.

Leading delegates at the 2018 Melanesian Spearhead Group summit in Port Moresby, including Charlot Salwai and Rick Hou, prime ministers of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands (third and fourth from the left) and West Papuan leader Benny Wenda far right). Photo: Supplied
Leading delegates at the 2018 Melanesian Spearhead Group summit in Port Moresby, including Charlot Salwai and Rick Hou, prime ministers of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands (third and fourth from the left) and West Papuan leader Benny Wenda far right). Photo: Supplied

The Movement already has observer status at the MSG but the group’s leaders have been divided on whether to allow it full membership.

Indonesia’s government says that the Agreement Establishing the MSG, which was revised in 2015, stipulated that members must respect the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs of states.

It says that based on that, the membership application of the Liberation Movement “will not succeed”.

However, following this week’s summit, Vanuatu’s prime minister Charlot Salwai urged the MSG to stat focused on its founding goal of political independence for all Melanesian peoples.

“This is the raison d’etre for this group, and it must not be diluted in our wider consideration,” Mr Salwai told local media.

“I therefore encourage the MSG to work in collaboration with parties concerned and encourage dialogue between Indonesia and West Papua to progress the issue forward, as this has been the case with France and FLNKS (the body repesenting New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanaks which is a full member of the MSG).”

But Jakarta says that the self-determination choice of West Papuans has been finalised with incorporation into Indonesia in the 1960s, describing the Liberation Movement as a “separatist” group. It has warned MSG member states not to meddle in others’ soveriegn affairs.

According to a spokesman for Indonesia’s embassy in Australia, Sade Bimantara, the Liberation Movement’s bid is at a dead end.

“I don’t think they qualify to be a full member of the MSG,” he said.

“They are not a state, and as opposed to Kanaks, they are not on the C24 (UN) Decolonisation Committee, they are not on the list, West Papua. And also the separatist group does not obtain full support from all the West Papuans.”

Sade Bimantara said West Papuans were politically free under Indonesia’s democratic system.

“Those claiming to represent the West Papuan people, the ULMWP, they do not truly represent the people. They only represent themselves. They have their own narrow political goals, and their narrow self-interest,” he said.

However, the Liberation Movement remained hopeful that the MSG would accept it as a full member. Its chairman Benny Wenda

“I want to send my people a message that this is another positive,” he said of the MSG’s referral of the application for processing.

“Step by step, we are in the right diorcetion, so please pray. We hope that the secretariat will discuss our application very soon.”