Flag of Kiribati

Kiribati country brief

Introduction

Kiribati comprises 33 atolls and the phosphate island of Banaba. The atolls straddle the equator in the mid-Pacific ocean and form three groups – the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands. Kiribati is spread out over 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean – the size of Western Australia and South Australia put together. Its population is approximately 107,000. Tarawa is the capital, and the most populous atoll. The majority of the remaining population live in the Gilbert Islands. The Phoenix Islands are uninhabited. Kiribati is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and rising sea levels, with an average elevation of less than two metres above sea level.

Political overview

Kiribati achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 12 July 1979. It has a 46-member unicameral parliament, known as the Maneaba ni Maungatabu. Forty-four MPs are elected for a four-year term by non-compulsory universal adult suffrage. Another seat is reserved for former Banaban islanders now living on Rabi island in Fiji and the Attorney-General sits (ex officio) as a non-elected member. Both of these have full voting rights in the Parliament. The Speaker is elected to office by Members of Parliament but is not a Member of Parliament. The Speaker has neither an original nor a casting vote in Parliamentary decisions.

In Kiribati, the President (te Beretitenti) is both Head of Government and Head of State. Once parliamentary elections are completed, the Maneaba ni Maungatabu meets and members nominate presidential candidates. The Constitution requires that there be at least three and no more than four candidates. Presidents are then elected by popular vote, on a first-past-the-post basis.

The President appoints his/her own Cabinet, comprising a Vice President, Attorney-General and no more than ten ministers selected from members of the Maneaba ni Maungatabu.

Presidential elections were last held on 13 January 2012. Anote Tong of the ruling Boutokaan te Koaua (Supporting the Truth) party was re-elected for a third term as President. Tong has been in office since 2003. As mandated by Kiribati's constitution, this will be Tong's final term as President.

Economic overview

Kiribati's economy faces significant constraints common to other island atoll states. These include its small size, remoteness and geographical fragmentation, a harsh natural environment with infertile soils, limited exploitable resources and the need to create jobs and promote growth for an expanding population. Kiribati relies heavily on fishing licence fees and remittances from Kiribati citizens employed abroad, mainly as seafarers.

Notwithstanding its limited range of economic assets, Kiribati has largely had a solid record of financial stability since independence in 1979. Governments have traditionally adopted a cautious approach to domestic spending combined with a deliberate policy of accumulating offshore investments. The Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund (RERF), a sovereign wealth fund established in 1956 by the British administration, holds earnings from Kiribati's phosphate mining (which ceased in 1979).

Bilateral relationship

Australia and Kiribati enjoy close and longstanding relations based on regional and international cooperation, trade and investment links, a substantial development assistance program, support for maritime surveillance and broader security cooperation, and extensive people to people exchanges.

Under the Australia-Kiribati Partnership for Development (signed in January 2009), Australian aid focuses on improving basic education, developing workforce skills in areas of industry demand both domestically and abroad, and strengthening economic governance. In September 2012, Kiribati and Australia agreed to add a fourth Priority Outcome to improve infrastructure services through increasing access to telecommunications and sanitation services and improving the main road network.

More information on Australia's development assistance to Kiribati

Our major aid initiatives include strengthening technical and vocational training institutes in Kiribati to deliver courses of an international-standard and working with primary schools to improve the literacy and numeracy of school-aged children, as well as enrolment rates. The aid program also supports Kiribati in improving the performance of its public enterprises and sustainably and effectively managing its public finances. Australia also supports other areas, including health, infrastructure and elimination of gender-based violence; and the World Bank's Kiribati Adaptation Project, which aims to reduce Kiribati's vulnerability to climate change.

Support through regional programs includes strengthening the Kiribati Police Service through the Pacific Police Development Program (PPDP); reducing vulnerability to and impact of HIV and STIs through the Pacific HIV and STI Response Fund; and working with UNICEF to improve immunisation coverage and with UNFPA to improve adolescent reproductive health and access to basic emergency obstetric care.

Australia's Defence Cooperation Program provides ongoing training and other support to the Police Maritime Unit of the Kiribati Police Service for its operation of the patrol boat, the RKS Teanoai. Two Royal Australian Navy personnel are based permanently in Tarawa. The Australia-Kiribati Security Partnership, signed at the 2010 Pacific Islands Forum in Port Vila, Vanuatu, is further strengthening security cooperation between the two countries.

The former Governor-General, Quentin Bryce AC CVO, visited Kiribati in March 2012. She was accompanied by former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles. Former Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr's visit in February 2013 was the first visit by an Australian Foreign Minister since 1998.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Australian merchandise exports to Kiribati in 2012-13 totalled $20.7 million. Australian currency is legal tender in Kiribati. The ANZ Bank is the majority owner of the Bank of Kiribati which provides central and retail banking services and is the only banking operation in the country.

Updated March 2014