Interview with Michael Upton, High Commissioner to Kirbati  – October 2019

Devin Brown an Executive Member of the NZPBC spoke to Michael Upton re his term in Kiribati. Michael Upton is near completion of a 3 year term in Kiribati (his second term in Kiribati, with a gap while stationed in Samoa). Michael and family will be returning to New Zealand as his children near their university years.

Michael Upton Bio Details

In 2020 Paul Wallis, will take his place.

Overview of Kiribati

Kiribati, officially the Republic of Kiribati, is a sovereign state in Micronesia in the central Pacific Ocean. The permanent population is just over 110,000, more than half of whom live on Tarawa Atoll. The state comprises 32 atolls and reef islands and one raised coral island, Banaba. They have a total land area of 800 square kilometres (about the same land mass as Stewart Island) and are dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometres (about the same size as India) and is the only country to span all four hemispheres of the earth.

  •   Founded: 12 Jul 1979
  •   Population: 116,400 (2017)
  •    GDP: $187 million USD (2019)
  •    Calling code: 686
  •    Area: 811 km²
  •   Capital: South Tarawa

Pacific Reset

Advancing the Pacific Reset has been a major focus over the past few years. As well as strengthening people to people links, a lot of effort has gone into maturing the development partnership and expanding the investment pipeline – with particular attention to what will deliver lasting benefit. This shift in approach has helped shaped the parameters for  the next 4-5 years by improving understanding of the areas in which New Zealand can contribute, and critically how we work in partnership with Kiribati.

Highlights of people links in 2019 were a Ministerial visit late February, then in July we celebrated our respective unique cultures when the Kapa Haka group Te Puia from Rotorua journeyed to Kiribati and performed as part of the  40th national day celebrations. There is also growing the volunteer presence and expanded NGO support programme.

The Government of Kiribati has an ambitious 20 year vision (KV20), areas of our focus in support of this vision include: improved climate resilience; improved education and health outcomes, which includes addressing the social and environmental determinates of health; strengthened governance and delivery of effective services.

With increasing investment in infrastructure, it is essential maximise the operational life through resilient design and proper asset operation and maintenance. Looking ahead there are a range of major infrastructure investments in the pipeline, for New Zealand this will be in areas such as: vocational training facilities; a new hospital at Betio; reliable and accessible essential public utility services of power, water and sanitation.

Trade and Pacer Plus

  • The Private sector is wanting to improve its partnership with the government, this includes working through issues with administration of tax payments (VAT)
  • Kiribati has made good progress to prepare for ratification, and anticipates that this should be possible before the end of 2019. This includes new Customs and Immigration which will help pave the way for more efficient movement of goods and people.

Government Events

  • Kiribati is due to hold its next national elections in early 2020
  • Pacific Island Forum to be held, 2022 in Kiribati