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By Staff Reporter : PNG Today

Fiji foreign minister loses job in midst of Pacific Islands Forum

By Nic Maclellan (Islands Business magazine) in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia

In a surprise Cabinet re-shuffle, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola has lost his position as Fiji’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, even as he represents Fiji at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia.

In an interview with Islands Business just before he entered the Forum leaders’ retreat on Saturday, Ratu Inoke said he was not disappointed by the change of portfolio.

“Cabinet positions are decided by the Prime Minister and it is his prerogative to allocate our responsibilities,” he said. “I will continue to serve as a minister.”

The Cabinet re-shuffle by Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama followed the recent resignation of Defence Minister Timoci Natuva.

In a statement on Friday, Bainimarama announced:

“I will be assuming the role of Foreign Minister in addition to my current duties as Prime Minister, Minister for iTaukei Affairs and Minister for Sugar. The current Foreign Minister, the honourable Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, will move to the Defence, National Security and Immigration portfolio.”

The Prime Minister said his decision to change the government’s line-up, midway through the current parliamentary term, was “to reinvigorate our Cabinet.”

The re-shuffle was a surprise to many regional observers – and to the Foreign Minister – coming in the midst of this week’s Forum meeting in Pohnpei.

Ratu Inoke confirmed that he only received a letter formally advising him of the change on Friday night, after participating in the opening plenary of the 16-member regional organisation in Pohnpei. He still attended the annual leaders’ retreat on Saturday, at the FSM Congress buildings in Palikir.

Asked if the change in the midst of the Forum would damage his role as head of delegation in the leaders retreat, Ratu Inoke said that he would continue to represent Fiji’s concerns before the other Forum members.

“Relations with Australia and well as other Forum countries have improved in recent years, especially since the elections in 2014,” he said. “We’ve had good support from Australia, especially after Cyclone Winston. Fiji will continue to play an important role in the region.”

In the re-shuffle, Health Minister Jone Usamate is replaced by Rosy Akbar, with Usamate now responsible for employment and industrial relations. Former employment minister Semi Koroilavesau becomes Minister for Fisheries.

Faiyaz Koya retains the trade ministry at a crucial time. Fiji – like Papua New Guinea – has announced it will not participate in ongoing negotiations for the regional PACER-Plus trade agreement, with Koya citing a lack of flexibility from Australia and New Zealand.

Since the September 2014 Fiji elections, Fijian officials have participated in regional processes, such as the PACER-Plus negotiations, the Forum Officials Committee and a range of Ministerial meetings. As Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke has been active in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and the recent Forum Foreign Ministers meeting.

But Prime Minister Bainimarama has refused to attend the annual Forum leaders meeting, last year in Papua New Guinea and again this year in FSM, criticising the dominance of Australia and New.

Next year’s Forum will be held in Samoa, hosted by Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi. The Samoan Prime Minister has been a frequent critic of his Fijian counterpart, which suggests that Fiji-Forum relations will continue to be unsettled.

Asked if Prime Minister Bainimarama would be travelling to Apia next year, Ratu Inoke said: “We’ll have to wait and see!.

SOURCE: ISLANDS BUSINESS/PACNEWS

Posted by Staff Reporter : PNG Today on 1:40 PM. Filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Share this Article

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