Kiribati - Overview

The legislative framework for disaster risk management in Kiribati is found in the National Disaster Act 1993 and, to a lesser extent, Article 16 of the Constitution. The latter provides for a state of a public emergency to be declared by the Beretitenti on the advice of the Cabinet. Such declarations can only stay in place for 30 days without approval from the Maneaba. During this period, significant authority is exercised by the Beretitenti to introduce regulations and exercise extra constitutional authority “that is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances of any situation arising or existing during the period for the purpose of dealing with the situation”.


The National Disaster Act 1993 is the key legislative provision and provides for responsibility for response and recovery to lie with a Minister (currently the Beretitenti), acting under the advice of the National Disaster Council. The Act mandates and is complemented by the 2012 National Disaster Risk Management Plan.


The National Disaster Council (NDRMC) operates as the key executive body in the Kiribati model, comprising the chief executives (Secretaries) of all government departments in addition to the Kiribati Red Cross, the Director of the Kiribati Meteorological Office and the President of the Kiribati Association of NGOs. Outside of a disaster event, the NDRMC acts as an advisor to the responsible Minister and ensures that DRM policies are implemented by government and NGO agencies. The NDRMC also has a specific role in advising the Minister and Cabinet on declarations of emergency and providing advice on the need for external aid (and agreements to facilitate such aid).


Island Disaster Committees (IDC’s) are responsible for coordination of DRM planning in each of the three islands and generally perform the responsibilities of the NDRMC at an island level. In the event that communication with Tarawa is disrupted, the IDCs take on all the responsibilities of the NDRMC. A series of sub-committees are established under the NDRMP to plan for and manage specific elements of the disaster response and recovery.


The National Disaster Management Office (which sits within the Office of the Beretitenti) is responsible for promoting and implementing DRM policy (as directed by the NDRMC) as well as reviewing the NDRMP on an annual basis and acting as secretariat to the NDRMC.


In the event of a disaster the NDRMC retains its overall co-ordination role but management of the response passes to the Disaster Controller (currently designated as the Commissioner of Police) and an Emergency Operations Committee (established as a sub-committee of the NDMRC). This committee both responds to requests from the NDRMC (or Ministers) as to resource availability and determines “foreign resources requirements”.
Kiribati is a presidential republic operating a modified form of representative parliamentary democracy. The Kiribati constitution establishes a 43-member unicameral house of assembly (the Maneaba ni Maungatabu), 44 of whom are elected from 24 constituencies; namely 23 island councils in the Republic of Kiribati and one (1) Rabi Banaban Community in Fiji, except for the speaker who is elected by the members but is not a member. One member is elected by the Rabi Islands Council (based in Fiji) to represent the Banaban Community there, while another member is elected separately to represent the people of Banaba Island. The Attorney General no longer sits in the Maneaba ni Maungatabu as an ex-officio member but is substituted by the Minister of Justice.


Executive authority is held by the President (Beretitenti) who is both head of state and head of government. The Beretitenti is elected by universal suffrage from a shortlist of three or four candidates provided by the Maneaba ni Maungatabu from amongst its members. Once appointed, the Beretitenti appoints a cabinet of up to twelve members including a Kauomanni-Beretitenti (or Vice President) from the Maneaba ni Maungatabu. Although Kiribati has a number of political parties, their organisation is very loose. Local governments in Kiribati exhibit significant autonomy including in fields relating to DRM although in the event of an Emergency, the President can act directly, without reference to local authorities. Since 2010, this discretion has been limited to acting “in accordance with an action plan of the Council dealing with disaster and emergencies”, but the Disaster Risk Management & Climate Change (DRMCC) Act empowers the National Disaster Risk Management Council (NDRMC) to direct partner agency attention and resources to support the President’s discretion during emergencies.


The bulk of local governments are island councils (23) although Tarawa has three urban Councils. Island Councils in particular suffer from significant challenges around funding and capacity. For this reason, most functions outside Tarawa are provided by the national government, with local authorities merely administering the services. Alongside the democratic local government structure, traditional local authority still plays a prominent role. This is incorporated into the formal local government system through the male community elders (unimane) having a reserved (appointed) seat on local councils. Informally, the role of the unimane remains influential in local decision making.