QUESTIONS have now been raised about the conduct of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) in implementing decisions made by Forum ministerial meetings.
As PACNEWS reports one of those decisions was the endorsement by Forum Trade Ministers of the appointment of a new Chief Trade Advisor (CTA) to assist Forum Island Countries in the negotiations of PACER Plus with Australia and New Zealand.
In October 2009, the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade assured regional trade ministers that his office would expedite the appointment of New Zealand academic and trade expert, Dr Chris Noonan as CTA. He was to join a special unit within the Secretariat initially before taking up his appointment in Vanuatu.
Three months later, Dr Noonan's appointment is still not formalised.
He told PACNEWS from his Auckland office that "arrangements proposed by PIFS for OCTA and his employment as CTA are not satisfactory for me personally and for Forum Island Countries."
"I believe if I accepted the proposed changes, it would not make the office of OCTA independent as mandated by Forum Trade Ministers in October last year.
Dr Noonan said while negotiations on his contract are still continuing, he's concerned with the proposed time frame for PACER Plus negotiations to begin in February.
"Judging by the contract they are offering me, my role and the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor will not be independent. There is no guarantee that the OCTA will be able to provide independent advice nor able to get staff and other resources required in time to perform its functions.
"But the CTA and OCTA will be under the direct control of the Director Economic Governance of the Forum Secretariat.
"If I am appointed, I will need to recruit technical advisors and consult and strategise with FICs on negotiating positions. We will not be able to do that in the short time we have, said Dr Noonan.
Responding to concerns raised by Dr Noonan, former PIFS Director of Economic Governance, Dr Roman Grynberg questioned what he calls 'attempts by the Forum Secretariat to block the development of an independent office of OCTA.'
'How long will it be before the Pacific Island ministers and leaders finally realise that the Forum Secretariat, under the current executive and management team, is not there to serve them but to give them advice that Canberra and Wellington want? Rather than the body that once helped the islands the Secretariat is now simply another instrument of Australian and New Zealand power in the region, Dr Grynberg claims.
He went on to say that 'It is better to have no CTA than a CTA which has no voice and legitimacy and can be dismissed at any time that he upsets the Australian and New Zealand trade negotiations. All this will do is give a fig leaf of legitimacy to the PACER + negotiations rather than give the islands a real voice.'
Dr Grynberg, who was employed by the Forum Secretariat until March last year said the concept of the OCTA was developed during his tenure to help the islands because 'we did not believe that the Secretariat would represent the island's interests and would always bend to Australia and New Zealand's demands.'
"Now rather than have an independent adviser the contract Professor Noonan has been offered says he can be removed in five days and is directly answerable to Dr Bowman a former AusAID trade official, and now
Director of Economic Governance at the Forum, Dr Grynberg said.'
He urged leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) to 'remove this very important post from the Forum Secretariat and have Dr Noonan transferred to the MSG.'
"I also call on the European Union, which has removed funding for this post at the Forum to provide this to the MSG which is at the moment the only independent voice the islands have, Dr Grynberg said.
Comments have been sought from the Pacific Islands Forum Media officer, Johnson Honimae..PNS