23 January 2018

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION REPORT ON NORTHERN MARIANAS

COMMONWEALTH 
OF THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS
WHO Country Cooperation Strategy 
2018–2022

OVERVIEW 

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is one of five inhabited United States island territories. It spans 464 square kilometres and comprises four inhabited islands (Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Pagan) and 10 uninhabited ones. The population was 53 883 in 2010, with 90% of people living in the capital of Saipan. The Constitution of the Commonwealth was adopted in 1977. The three branches of the Government are Executive (headed by the governor), Legislative (Senate and House of Representatives) and Judicial. The Commonwealth’s gross domestic product rose by 3.5% in 2015, a 0.7% increase on 2014, according to data compiled by the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis. Economic growth is attributed to flourishing tourism, the gaming industry and the amusement sector. 

HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT 

Public Law 16-51 (2009) transferred the national health system to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation (CHCC), a public entity that is headed by a chief executive officer. The Corporation consists of a primary hospital, a modernized haemodialysis facility, a community health centre, rural health centres in Rota and Tinian, public health services, and behavioural health services. There are also four private health clinic groups. The majority of the physicians are from the United States of America, and there are five times more nurses than physicians. The Government is supportive of increased training opportunities for local health-care staff. The Medicaid programme, a federal–state shared insurance for the poor, covers only American citizens. Poverty is a major determinant of health. The 2010 population census found that 34% of the population were uninsured for health care. Almost the same percentage holds true at the present time. The Medical Referral programme provides logistical and other support to people needing off-island tertiary care, for example in the Philippines or Hawaii. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were the leading causes of death from 2011 to 2014. Diseases of the circulatory system accounted for 252 deaths (33%), cancers accounted for 133 (18%), endocrine, nutritional and metabolic disease accounted for 54 (7%), and diseases of the respiratory system accounted for 52 (7%).

READ THE FULL REPORT AT THE WHO WEBSITE.

21 January 2018

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION REPORT ON GUAM

GUAM
WHO Country Cooperation Strategy 
2018–2022
OVERVIEW 

Guam is an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States of America in the western Pacific Ocean. Guam has an estimated population of 162 000 spread across 19 villages. The majority of people live in the northern part of the island. Guam is one of five Pacific island jurisdictions of the United States of America with a civilian government and a governor elected by popular vote. Guam’s economy is forecasted to continue a moderate expansionary trend, driven by military-related activities, tourism, construction, trans-shipment services, food processing and textiles. 

HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT 

The Department of Public Health and Social Services is responsible for public health policies. Guam Memorial Hospital, which is located in the village of Tamuning, provides a broad range of health-care services to residents and people from neighbouring islands, such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. The United States Naval Hospital Guam provides health services primarily to military personnel, but also provides voluntary community services to the civilian community. The Guam Regional Medical City, a private hospital, started its service in 2015 in the north of Guam. Non communicable diseases (NCDs) and communicable diseases were identified as important health challenges in the Guam community health assessment in 2014. The rate of NCDs continues to increase. In 2014, around half of deaths in Guam were attributed to heart disease (31%) and cancers (18%) such as lung and cervical cancer. However, fewer people are opting for cancer screening. Many people suffer from heart disease or are living with diabetes. Tobacco use is a major risk factor for these NCDs. Incidence of tuberculosis (TB) also remains high. 

READ THE FULL REPORT AT THE WHO WEBSITE .

15 January 2018

CARIBBEAN BANK FUNDING TO VIRGIN ISLANDS DISASTER RECOVERY




CDB approves US$65.5mn in loans, grants to support disaster recovery efforts in BVI

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – The board of directors of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has approved US$65.5 million in loans and grants to the government of the British Virgin Islands to assist with the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction of social and economic infrastructure, resulting from the cumulative effects of recent severe weather events.
Daniel Best, director, Projects Department, CDB noted, “The government of the British Virgin Islands’ preliminary assessment report estimates US$3 billion in damage and losses — the equivalent of three times the annual gross domestic product, from the passage of Hurricane Irma.”
“This project is a reflection of our commitment to providing and mobilising resources for recovery and reconstruction, and to improve climate resilience and socially inclusive infrastructure and institutions in our borrowing member countries,” Best added.
The rehabilitation and reconstruction project aims to strengthen the socio-cultural and economic preparedness and resilience of the population of the British Virgin Islands to future climate-related hazards, while supporting the population in re-establishing sustainable livelihoods. This will be achieved through:
  • The rehabilitation and reconstruction of critical social and economic infrastructure in the country’s transport, water and sewerage, governance, education and national security sectors;
  • The provision of technical assistance in design and construction supervision services; and
  • Institutional strengthening for psychosocial support and disaster mitigation.
The project will be supported through a US$65.2 million loan and a US$300,000 grant.
It comprises several components, including:
  • Rehabilitation and reconstruction of critical climate-resilient social and economic infrastructure;
  • Enhancement of institutional capacity for: psychosocial support and disaster risk reduction;
  • Upgrade/reconstruction of 3.9 kilometres of roads;
  • Construction of approximately 900 metres of coastal defences;
  • Construction/upgrade of 12 educational institutions and recreation facilities;
  • Rehabilitation of nine public infrastructures;
  • Rehabilitation of ten water and sewerage facilities;
  • Provision of information and communication technology equipment and other resources for 29 institutions; and
  • Training of 80 persons in providing psychosocial support services.
In October and November 2017, CDB approved three immediate response loans on highly concessionary terms, totalling US$2.25 million and an emergency relief grant of US$200,000 to the British Virgin Islands after the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and Tropical Storm José. These funds assisted the government in the provision of emergency relief supplies and humanitarian assistance, cleaning and clearing debris, as well as restoring critical infrastructure and essential public services.
The project is consistent with the bank’s strategic objective of promoting environmental sustainability and disaster risk management in its borrowing member countries, and its corporate priority of promoting disaster risk management and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

14 January 2018

GUAM TOURISM AFFECTED BY U.S-NORTH KOREAN TENSIONS

Newsweek

NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR MISSILE THREAT WRECKS GUAM’S HOPE FOR 2018 TOURISM BOOM

North Korea’s threats to launch a nuclear missile strike against the U.S. territory of Guam are expected to take a toll on the island’s tourism industry in 2018.
At least 40,000 fewer tourists are expected to visit Guam in the year ahead compared with 2017, according to local media reports confirmed by the Guam Visitors Bureau.
The fiscal year of 2017 was deemed to be the island territory’s best year in tourism, with as many as 1.56 million visitors from South Korea and Japan alone.
That number is expected to drop significantly, however, in the wake of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s renewed threats to target the Pacific island.
READ FULL ARTICLE IN NEWSWEEK 

12 January 2018

U.S. NUCLEAR TESTING "PUT THE POPULATION OF GUAM IN HARM'S WAY KNOWINGLY AND WITH TOTAL DISREGARD FOR THEIR WELL BEING"

The impact of nuclear testing in the region, according to (a 2012 U.S. report), “was the largest ecological disaster in human history."
________________________________________________

PACIFIC ISLAND TIMES






While North Korea renews its nuke strike threat, Guam renews its call for radiation exposure compensation

Three weeks after carrying out a powerful nuclear test in its own testing site on Sept. 3, North Korea warned it might detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean. If Pyongyang makes good on its constant threats, civil defense officials say, residents will have 14 minutes to duck and/or run for their lives. The Office of Civil Defense has thus renewed its guidelines on how to survive a possible nuclear strike, giving the community a crash course on the danger of exposure to radioactive elements. “Do not look at the flash or fireball—it can blind you. Take cover behind anything that might offer protection. Remove your clothing to keep retroactive material from spreading,” state the guidelines.

If North Korea’s hydrogen bomb detonation did come about, it certainly wouldn’t be the ocean’s first nuclear blast.

READ THE FULL REPORT IN PACIFIC ISLAND TIMES.




11 January 2018

VIRGIN ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE HEAD COMPARES BRITISH, FRENCH, DUTCH AND U.S. DISASTER RELIEF TO CARIBBEAN COLONIES

BVI NEWS.COM

UK further criticised for low-grade treatment


Chairman of the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association (BVICCHA) Louis Potter has joined the growing number of critics who have accused the United Kingdom (UK) of not doing enough for Overseas Territories.

He criticised the UK government for not implementing adequate measures to ensure the British Virgin Islands had relief funding in the event of a disaster such as Hurricane Irma.

“That [is something] they should have accomplished or they should have been working on long time,” Potter said in a recent interview with BVI News.


READ THE FULL REPORT IN BVI NEWS .




09 January 2018

CHALLENGE TO MEDIA'S DEFENCE OF COLONIALISM IN TERRITORIES


Pacific Daily News


As we crawl out of the dumpster fire that was 2017 for much of the United States and its territories, we inch cautiously into 2018 and hope for the best. As someone who has been working over the past few years to elevate the community consciousness about decolonization, I am most interested in what the coming elections and federal cases will bring in terms of changing the island’s political status.
What occupies my thought process is the role of the media in helping build that consciousness or impede it. The media institutions in any society don’t just exist to report or investigate. These institutions also, often in less perceptible ways, promote values and norms, usually on behalf of elite segments of society.
In a colonial context, these roles gain a colonial dimension. Both institutions and individuals often will be compelled to defend and naturalize the colonial status quo. In both explicit and implicit ways, the media will promote notions of the greatness of the colonizer and propagate a fantasy of American political belonging that may not really exist.
We see this in the media landscape in Guam. Guam isn't a state, yet the media functions in such a way as if Guam is just like any other part of America. You can replace certain words in your average story and suddenly it'll be set in Arkansas or Kansas.
This does a disservice to those who consume that media, as it promotes a mis-recognition of reality. It encourages them not to recognize the truth of our relationship to the U.S., but proposes patriotism and pride as appropriate responses to living in a contemporary colony.
The media isn't alone. We see the same inconsistency from both Adelup and the Legislature. One day there’ll be a press release condemning U.S. colonialism, the next day a resolution promoting the fiction that we are just like any other part of America.
The educational system is one of the most problematic sites for this type of intellectual framing. So much of what is taught is wishful American-centric lessons that range from stupid to harmful. There are many things that would overlap in curriculum on Guam and any corner of the U.S., but if the foundation of your curriculum is they are one in the same, colonial problems will emerge.
This can change, if only the media landscape of Guam take up resolutions like the rest of us. For instance, not every story has to highlight Guam’s colonial status, but this has to be a silent yet still fundamental fact. The media often portray Guam’s relationship to the U.S. as something we are failing to live up to, as if we are some rebellious and corrupt piece of American real estate.
We are owned by the U.S., a immoral relationship that shouldn’t be glossed over in today’s world. As such, the focus on decolonization not happening because of local leaders and problems misses the point. The U.S. has an obligation to assist in this movement, but for decades has largely been unhelpful or obstructionist. Any coverage of the delayed decolonization has to assign the karabao’s share of blame at Uncle Sam’s feet.
Let us hope that in the coming year the media resolves to abandon its role as defenders of the colonial status quo and work to become real guardians of truth. 


08 January 2018

JUNK FOOD AID IN PUERTO RICO DISASTER AFTERMATH

Dk logo med




by

When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the Houston food bank put out a list of most needed items for people to donate. On the list were foods like granola bars, peanut butter, protein in easy to open pouches or pull-top cans like tuna and canned chicken, as well as ready to eat canned items with pull-tops like fruit. Presumably, they were thinking that in a natural disaster people need food that is calorie and protein rich for maintaining energy. They also need food that is not too salty so as to make people thirsty (remember, access to clean drinking water can be an issue in these circumstances) and food that people will actually want to eat. 
This is worth noting—particularly because the exact opposite has been happening in Puerto Rico. While individuals and organizations have been trying to get all kinds of desperately needed food and supplies to the hurricane ravaged island, one company seems to think that any old junk food will do. 

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN DAILY KOS

05 January 2018

COOK ISLANDS, AS A FREELY ASSOCIATED STATE, JOINS AIIB


                                                        PACNEWS


The Cook Islands Government has welcomed confirmation by the Board of Governors of Cook Islands membership in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Confirmation of membership follows months of advocacy for membership by the Government, most recently in the margins of the Forum Leaders meeting held in Apia in September.

This brings total approved membership of the AIIB to 84 which include countries such as China, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

AIIB is a multilateral development bank with a mission to improve social and economic outcomes within Asia and beyond. Conceived in 2014 as an initiative of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, in 2016, the AIIB invested $1.73billion in 9 projects across Asia.

At present, options available to the Cook Islands Government for development finance include the Asian Development Bank (which the Cook Islands has been a member of since 1976), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Export-Import Bank of China. The Cook Islands isn’t yet a member of the World Bank (WB) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The obstacle being United Nations membership a prerequisite for WB/IMF membership.

The 2015 Cook Islands National Investment Infrastructure Plan (NIIP) outlines the Cook Islands infrastructure investments and maintenance priorities for the next 10 years. The plan outlines strategic priorities for all major infrastructure sectors – air, marine and road transport, water supply, sanitation, solid waste management, energy, telecommunications and information technology, education, health and other infrastructure.

“Pending ODA graduation requires our Government continue to diversify development finance options to support our country’s development agenda, including as relate to infrastructure,” said Finance Minister Mark Brown.
“Our approach to development finance will necessarily continue to be a blend of our own finances with ODA including climate finance, borrowing and equity investment. Membership of the AIIB offers us another option for that mix,” said Brown.

The Ministries of Finance and Economic Management and Foreign Affairs and Immigration will follow through with the AIIB Secretariat in the new-year to complete the necessary processes and documentation and it is intended the Cook Islands will participate in the 3rd Annual Meeting of the AIIB in June 2018.
AIIB membership is contingent on support from the existing membership. “We appreciate the support for our membership as confidence in our Government’s ability to meet our obligations as a member and contribute meaningfully to the shared objectives of improving social and economic outcomes for the people of member countries of AIIB,” said Brown.


04 January 2018

WORLD TOURISM ORGANIZATION HEAD CALLS FOR END TO 'PLANTATION' TOURISM


Stop Promoting Modern Day Plantations Called Exclusive Resorts, Says Rifai

Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai, has strongly urged Caribbean tourism stakeholders to stop promoting modern-day plantations called exclusive resorts.
He made the call in a no holds barred speech during day two of the UNWTO Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth, now on at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.
Rifai was obviously not concerned about ruffling feathers as he warned against the practice of building five-star resorts in three-star communities, where the citizens were not part of the transformation.
He insisted tourism stakeholders cannot continue to have their visitors in bubbles, where there are walls between the visitor and the community.
Rifai emphasised that it was not the model that the UNTWO was looking for.
According to him, the opportunities in tourism should carry the end result of inclusive economic growth, more decent jobs, the distribution of wealth, shared prosperity and respect for each other.
His comments were made in the presence of several all-inclusive hotel operators, the country’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, president of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, tourism minister Edmund Bartlett and several other dignitaries representing the industry.

03 January 2018

U.S. TO INVESTIGATE IMPACT OF CHINESE ECONOMIC INFLUENCE IN FORMER TRUST TERRITORY OF THE PACIFIC ISLANDS

The $700 billion 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Trump in mid December, calls on the Department of Defense (DOD) to investigate the growing role of China in former US territories in the Pacific. That is a recognition both of the islands’ importance to US global strategy, as well as the latest indicator that America’s decades long relationship with its former dependencies is a partnership under stress.
Strung across the Western Pacific, today’s Republic of Palau (ROP), Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) were liberated from the Japanese in the Pacific War and governed by the US as a UN authorized “trust territory” until the early 1980s. Since that time, these sovereign nations have enjoyed a unique status of “Free Association,” with the US, which provides for their defense as well as sending US bilateral aid that sustains public sector driven economies in the isolated, under-resourced, islands and atolls. Locals can, and in large numbers do, enlist in the US military.
The Compacts of Free Association (COFA) also provide easy entry for islanders coming to study, work, or simply live in the US. Their “eligible non-citizen status” affords them most rights, privileges -and even entitlements- otherwise reserved for native born Americans.
Because of their strategic location at the crossroads of the Pacific, the islands have a history of foreign rule, changing from Spanish to German to Japanese to US hands over the first five decades of the twentieth century. Today they are a defining feature of the Chinese “Second Island Chain” strategic concept of area denial, just as they once comprised the outer ring of imperial Japan’s similar pre-war “Line of Advantage.”
While DOD planners have long sought to control, or at least deny others access to, the islands, in practice US development policies have been criticized by Congressional watchdogs as wasteful, shortsighted, and ineffective. US funding, small compared to US foreign aid provided to other nations -but massive when tallied on a per-person basis for the tiny islands- mostly consists of block grants overseen by the Office of Insular Affairs at the US Department of the Interior.
Critics maintain the monies don’t always build local capacity, but rather tend to foster dependency by sustaining public services (and jobs) year-to-year. That has lead to frustration, even resentment, on both sides. Increasing aid and investment by the Chinese, on the other hand, is given with few obvious strings attached, and framed as a way for islanders to trade in “U.S. government handouts, which are scheduled to end in 2023 [for Micronesia and the Marshalls,] for the wide-open promise of Chinese-style capitalism.” The massive increase in migrants from these Freely Associated States (FAS) to Guam and Hawaii are seen as an indicator of the lack of educational, employment, and healthcare opportunities throughout the FAS.
“Congress and the Administration are to be commended,” said Neil Mellen, founder of Habele, a US educational nonprofit operating across Micronesia. “America is best served when her allies’ support comes from a position of strength, sovereignty, and real partnership, rather than mere dependency. Careful examination of our nation’s track record in the post-war Pacific, as well as the increasingly caustic role played by others, is long overdue.”
---30---
DOD Budget Sec 1259D -- "Study and assessment of United States security and foreign policy interests in the Freely Associated States of the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia."

01 January 2018

AGENT ORANGE USE BY U.S. MILITARY IN GUAM TO BE INVESTIGATED


RNZ

Soil tests for Agent Orange in Guam to start early 2018


The United States' joint military command in Guam is to begin collecting soil samples in early 2018 to investigate recent claims Agent Orange was used on the island.
A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52G-125-BW Stratofortress (s/n 59-2582) from the 72nd Strategic Wing (Provisional) waits beside the runway at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam (USA), 15 December 1972.

The Guam Daily Post reports officials from the Government Accountability Office visited the territory last week to speak with veterans and Guam's Environmental Protection Agency about the allegations that the highly toxic herbicide was used and or stored by the military on Guam during the Vietnam War.
Guam's Environmental Protection Agency had also been gathering information from veterans about where Agent Orange might have been used in order to pinpoint sampling sites.
A spokesperson for the joint US military command Lt. Ian McConnaughey told the Guam Daily Post the US Department of Defense keeps historical records of all its testing and storage of Agent Orange and none of the information indicates its storage or use on Guam.
However, he said Joint Region Marianas was working with the Guam Environmental Protection Agency and the US Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the claims that it was.
The Government Accountability Office findings are expected by May 2018.

30 December 2017

BRITISH POLITICIAN WANTS DIRECT RULE FOR CROWN DEPENDENCIES

BLOOMBERG 
POLITICS

Cites the abolishment of Turks & Caicos Islands Constitution and institution of direct rule in 2009 as precedent


By 

Thomas Penny

Vince Cable Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The U.K. should take direct rule over crown dependencies that encourage aggressive tax avoidance and fail to introduce transparent tax reporting, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said on Wednesday.

Responding to the leak of documents revealing the offshore investment and tax affairs of some of the richest people in the world, Cable said the so-called Paradise Papers reveal the need for Britain to extract a price for the protection it provides to the crown dependencies.

He accused Prime Minister Theresa May’s government of failing to force dependent territories to introduce open registers of beneficial ownership and said they should be given timetables to phase out “unacceptable practices” and become more transparent.

“What I would recommend and advocate is that the territories that depend on British protection should be required to observe basic standards,” Cable said in a speech in central London. “If they don’t comply then sanctions should kick in. We do have a fairly straightforward sanction, which is the institution of direct rule.”

Direct rule was imposed on The Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009 to tackle corruption, Cable said, and a similar model could be followed.


22 December 2017

KANAKY REFERENDUM PREPARATIONS INTENSIFY IN NEW CALEDONIA


ISLANDS BUSINESS/PACNEWS

Independence movement prepares for referendum

By Nic Maclellan





 Remembrance Day, November 11. French soldiers, sailors and police stand in ranks near Noumea’s war memorial at Bir Hakiem, to remember the fallen.
Across town, at Ko We Kara, members of the Union Calédonienne Party recall those who have fallen in the struggle for independence, as they gather at the 48th UC congress. Founded in 1953, the oldest political party in New Caledonia took up the call for independence in 1977.
These competing ceremonies open a crucial year for New Caledonia, just one year away from a referendum on self-determination.
Under the Noumea Accord, New Caledonia must hold the referendum before the end of 2018, with the vote likely next November. With newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron scheduled to make his first visit to the French Pacific dependency next May, the coming year will see increased political mobilisation and debate.
But more than 19 years after the Noumea Accord was signed, the French State has failed to resolve disputes over who is eligible to vote in this crucial decision on the country’s political status.
In early November, political leaders travelled to Paris, to try to forge a compromise on this longstanding dispute. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe hosted the Committee of Signatories, an annual meeting of the original signatories to the 1998 Noumea Accord, together with New Caledonia’s elected representatives to the French parliament and leaders of the major political parties represented in New Caledonia’s Congress.
The Paris meeting made crucial decisions about the electoral roll for the referendum, but there’s still a long way to go. With Prime Minister Philippe due to visit Noumea in early December for further discussions, the independence movement is starting to mobilise its forces.
Last month, the four political parties that make up the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) each held their own congresses. Leaders reported back on the outcomes of the Committee of Signatories, and began to mobilise their members for the year ahead.
The Party of Kanak Liberation (Palika), led by Paul Neaoutyine, gathered at Arama in the north of the main island, while Victor Tutugoro’s  Union Progressiste Mélanesienne (UPM) met on Ouvea in the outlying Loyalty Islands. The Rassemblement Démocratique Océanienne (RDO) – which links Wallisian and Tahitian supporters of independence – gathered in Dumbea. The largest congress was for Union Calédonienne (UC), the “older brother” of the independence movement, which met on the outskirts of Noumea from 11-13 November.
Despite improved inter-community relations under the Noumea Accord, the FLNKS still draws most of its support from the indigenous Kanak community. The independence movement has not made a strategic breakthrough to rally mass support from the European community or the large Wallisian and Tahitian population in Noumea and surrounding towns.
Relations between different pro-independence parties have been stretched in recent years, as they debate the best pathway to independence and the type of economy and society to be forged in a sovereign nation. As well as the four-member FLNKS, the smaller Rassemblement des indépendantistes et nationalistes (RIN) includes more radical parties such as Dynamique Unitaire Sud (DUS) and the union-backed Parti Travailliste (PT).
Within the FLNKS, long-standing debates between UC and Palika have led to sharp contests during electoral campaigns and differing tactics within government. In New Caledonia’s national Congress, pro-independence representatives sit in two separate parliamentary groups. The “Union Nationale pour l’Independance” (UNI) links Palika, UPM and RDO, while the “UC FLNKS and Nationalists” group incorporates elected members from UC, PT, and DUS.
Despite these differences, the looming referendum on self-determination is driving these groups together. In a symbol of unity that has not been seen for some time, the closing session of the UC Congress was attended by delegations from all these political parties, as well as representatives from the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), the USTKE trade union confederation and the Eglise Protestante de Kanaky-Nouvelle-Caledonie (EPKNC), the largest Protestant church in the country.
Re-elected as president of Union Calédonienne, Daniel Goa welcomed the diverse leaders from “the independence family” to the UC congress. Speaking to Islands Business, Goa said: “All the parties represented at the congress are on the same path. The timeline is very short and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Committee of Signatories

The Committee of Signatories was another welcome sign of convergence. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe won praise from most participants for his steady handling and attempts to find compromises between competing interests.
A central political agreement was to register thousands of people on New Caledonia’s general electoral roll – a legal prerequisite to participation in the 2018 referendum on self-determination. FLNKS activists have long complained that up to 25,000 Kanaks are not registered on the general roll, seen as a failure of the French State, given the responsibility of the administering power to ensure that the colonised people should vote in a decolonisation referendum.
In an interview, French High Commissioner to New Caledonia Thierry Lataste acknowledged: “We’ve been talking about the electoral roll for thirty years, but differences and disputes have continued to the present day. For two years, it’s been clear that there are many people – both Kanak and also other people with common civil status – that are not registered to vote on the general electoral roll, and therefore on the list for the consultation in 2018.
“The challenge has been to find these people, identify them, find their address and write to encourage them to register. The High Commission, which is neutral in this matter, must write to say you should register.”
Last year, the French High Commission wrote to nearly 9,000 people encouraging them to register, with a 25 per cent success rate in response. However members of RIN have argued that Kanaks of voting age should be registered automatically, without preconditions, as the “concerned population” under international principles of decolonisation.
The Committee of Signatories agreed on a process to register at least 7,000 Kanaks holding customary civil status under French law, together with another 3,900 people with common civil status (these are people with “material and moral interests” in the country who can also prove three years of residence based on evidence from the CAFAT social security fund). This latter group could include both Kanaks and non-indigenous voters, but French laws on privacy and data collection mean the French State has refused to reveal who is on this list.
Sylvain Pabouty of the DUS party said: “Every time the French State addresses this issue, they find more Kanaks who are not properly registered. The Committee of Signatories agreed that there are another 7,000. But there are 19,646 people with customary civil status in New Caledonia, so what about the other 12,000? It’s important to note that the figure of 7,000 Kanaks is just provisional, and needs further investigation – yet all registration must be completed by the end of the year.”
This call for automatic registration of all Kanaks of voting age has been opposed by anti-independence leaders, who question the numbers on unregistered voters and argue that non-indigenous New Caledonians should also be given automatic registration.
High Commissioner Lataste notes: “People in the non-independence camp argue that it’s not fair that for some this process is automatic, while for others it involves compiling a dossier of documents, searching for information from their parents etc.”
Lataste told Islands Business that despite agreement at the Committee of Signatories, the registration process needs further work. The political compromise must be legalised by changes to the 1999 French legislation that codified the Noumea Accord into law.
“Union Calédonienne believes this can all be resolved without modifying the organic law – the text which frames the elections,” Lataste said. “In contrast, the view of the French government and the other political parties is that we can’t introduce a change which is unknown in France without modifying the organic law.”
Beyond the issue of the electoral roll, the Committee of Signatories debated a number of outstanding issues, still unresolved in the final year of the 20-year transition established by the Noumea Accord in 1998. There will be further discussions in the New Year on the transfer of the remaining “Article 27” powers from Paris to Noumea (granting authority over higher education, TV and radio, and local municipal councils). Leaders also established a working group for the final transfer of ADRAF, the organisation responsible for land reform.

Mobilising voters

Once people are registered, political parties face the challenge of mobilising their supporters. The Kanak population is a minority in its own country, and current polling suggests a majority of registered electors will not vote for independence in November 2018.  
Beyond this, voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia for elections or the looming referendum. The country has a high abstention rate, and across the political spectrum, there are many who express a general disinterest in politics. For the FLNKS, a key challenge would be to mobilise support amongst younger voters who were not born during the troubled decade in the 1980s, and were not part of the renaissance of Kanak nationalism and widespread political and cultural mobilisation.
Over the last five months, an FLNKS team has been touring the country to present a draft framework for “a sovereign Kanaky-New Caledonia.” More than twenty community consultations have been held to outline proposed changes of government, society and economy after the 2018 referendum.
At some community meetings, there have been sharp questions about the lack of detail in the draft, which will be finalised this month. Some people fear the loss of French subsidies for pensions, health or welfare benefits. In response, FLNKS members have started to put out details of the economic options to replace French funding, but there’s a lot of work needed to mobilise wavering independence supporters in the Kanak community.
UC’s Daniel Goa noted: “Currently, about 40 per cent of Kanaks – or at least 30 per cent – don’t vote. So we must work at the level of the family, to provide information so these people can be found. We will find a way to reach out to each tribe, to each extended family, to contact people who are not registered to vote or who abstain. Our objective for 2018 is to mobilise the majority of electors who might participate.”  

Finding a way forward

Members of the UC-FLNKS and Nationalists group in the Congress are calling for full and sovereign independence.  The re-election of Daniel Goa as president of the largest independence party has re-affirmed the path that saw a UC boycott of the French legislative elections last June.
Palika spokesperson Charles Washetine also reaffirmed that “the Noumea Accord is a decolonisation process which must lead to the emergence of a new country called Kanaky-Nouvelle-Calédonie.”
However, Palika has called for dialogue in coming months over the concept of “pleine souveraineté avec partenariat” (full sovereignty in partnership with France). This would see Kanaky-New Caledonia as a member of the United Nations, with its own passport and sovereign status, but with ongoing relations with France. Palika leaders present this concept as a bridge between the independence movement and those settlers fearful of the model of “free association” promoted by the French State in the 1980s.
The Committee of Signatories established a working group to finalise the wording of the referendum question. Daniel Goa stressed that UC supports the three core elements outlined in the Noumea Accord: transfer to New Caledonia of the remaining sovereign powers (such as defence, foreign affairs, currency and justice), achieving a status of full international responsibility and the transition from citizenship to nationality.
“We’re satisfied with the question set out in the Noumea Accord,” said Goa. “We won’t budge from that. Every time we’ve revisited deals that have been struck, every time we’ve had to make concessions.”

Disunity on the Right

Even as the FLNKS works to unify its forces, there is chaos in the other camp. Anti-independence parties maintain a dominant position in New Caledonia’s political institutions, but are deeply divided as the country moves towards the decision on its political status.
Four anti-independence parties make up the so-called “Platform of Loyalists”: Calédonie Ensemble (CE), Rassemblement Les Républicains (LR), Mouvement pour la Calédonie (MPC) and Tous calédoniens (TC). But unity with other anti-independence forces is broken. A new extreme-right grouping, Les Républicains calédoniens (LRC), brings together leaders such as Sonia Backes, Philippe Blaise and Isabelle Lafleur.
The LRC leaders are angry at the CE and LR, which have tried to promote dialogue with the independence movement. They’re even angrier over the result of the bitter battle for New Caledonia’s seats in the French parliament, which saw CE’s Philippe Gomes and Philippe Dunoyer win both seats in the National Assembly last June and LR’s Pierre Frogier returned to the Senate in October.  
LRC leader Sonia Backes says: “We want to renew the political class, in contrast to the Platform, which today reunites all the old guard. We certainly have support from some veterans like Simon Loueckhote, Harold Martin or Didier Leroux, but they all want to push forward a new generation and won’t be standing for seats in the future.”
This rift amongst anti-independence politicians has – once again – paralysed the Government of New Caledonia. Dunoyer’s victory in the June National Assembly elections forced a spill of all government positions, and 11 new members were chosen by Congress on 31 August. But the members of the government have again been unable to choose a President from their ranks, even though anti-independence forces have a 6/5 majority in the government. The sole representative of the LRC in the government has refused to join the five members of the Platform of Loyalists to re-elect President Philippe Germain. With independence members abstaining, Germain cannot gain an absolute majority.
Germain has continued as caretaker President, attending the Forum leaders meeting in Apia and the Committee of Signatories in Paris, but without the authority to sign new commitments. With the government in caretaker mode, the 2018 national budget is yet to pass through Congress, stalling crucial initiatives in a politically sensitive period.  
High Commissioner Lataste has tried three times to break the deadlock, but as IB goes to press, LRC is holding firm. The five pro-independence members have said that it’s up to the parties of the Right to decide on their own candidate, leaving the Vice Presidency to the independence forces. Daniel Goa notes wryly: “Every time it’s the same – they fall out, then they want us to sort out their foolishness.”

 International monitoring

A delegation from the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) secretariat travelled to Noumea last month to meet with FLNKS leaders and discuss the path towards the referendum. MSG’s Ilan Kiloe told the UC Congress: “Our presence here today demonstrates our commitment to assist you, the Union Calédonienne party as well as the FLNKS, as a member of the MSG.”
Daniel Goa noted that the FLNKS is still looking for international support.
“The work that we’ve begun to clarify the voting list is not yet finished,” he said. “So between now and the end of 2018, we’ll be asking international institutions to call on the French State to meet its commitments. We’re looking internationally for this support, to the United Nations, to the Melanesian Spearhead Group and to the countries of the Pacific region.”
High Commissioner Lataste confirmed that France was open to international scrutiny of the self-determination vote in 2018.
“The French State is open to international monitoring of the process, to describe, to monitor, to freely give their opinion on the manner which the referendum will be organised,” he said. “On the part of the State, it’s not complicated. This is not necessarily the case for the local political parties, especially on the Right, who have long resisted international overview and for whom the words ‘United Nations’ raise a certain fear. However the Committee of Signatories agreed that a UN mission would continue to monitor the electoral registration process next year, as they have done in 2016 and 2017.”
The UN Special Committee on Decolonisation has asked to send a mission to New Caledonia. In Paris last month, political leaders agreed a UN mission could visit in early 2018. All political leaders also agreed there could also be UN observers for the vote itself.   
High Commissioner Lataste was less certain about the involvement of the Pacific Islands Forum, which didn’t mention the looming referendum in its 2017 communique: “Curiously, I though the issue would be raised by the Forum in September when they met in Apia, but Philippe Germain told me that this wasn’t raised at all at the highest political level in the leaders retreat. The only person raising Forum involvement is the Secretary General Meg Taylor, but does she have the authority herself to involve the Forum without the agreement of the heads of state and governments themselves? This poses a question.”.