Covid 19 Delta: Kiwi diplomat pleads for MIQ space to attend world democracy forum

Anti-establishment rhetoric around Covid-19, lack of confidence in public institutions and the global rise of populism will be hot topics at a world forum in France next month. But New Zealand won’t be represented due to lack of an MIQ space. Jane Phare reports.

Auckland diplomat and consultant Andrew Lesā is desperately trying to secure an MIQ spot so he can attend the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France next month.

The 30-year-old policy consultant for the Asian Development Bank and board member of various crown entities, has been trying for months to secure a place in MIQ so he can represent New Zealand and the Pacific at the forum. Although the Government is expected to this week announce a move to shorter stays in MIQ and, by next year, self-isolation for those who are vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19, that won’t be in time to help Lesā.

Hosted by the Council of Europe, with French president Emmanuel Macron as patron, the forum brings together global and political leaders, representatives of business and industry, academia, media and professional groups.

It will be attended by US vice president Kamala Harris, the president of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen and the president of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid. Lesā points out that one of the criteria for an emergency MIQ space is based on matters of national interest and argues that attending a forum with high-level officials at a time when New Zealand is negotiating a free-trade agreement with the European Union is important.

“At a time when we’ve just signed a free-trade agreement with the UK and we’re hoping to do the same with others in the near future, the visibility of New Zealanders in such high-level spaces cannot be understated.”

Attending the forum will be experts in human rights and the rule of law, looking at the increase in polarisation and the rise of populism, particularly relevant in the context of Covid-19.

“Anti-establishment rhetoric with Covid-19 is obviously trending now, especially online,” Lesā says. “There is not a lot of confidence in our public institutions anymore. Universities aren’t doing what they were meant to be doing in terms of challenging the status quo. So there’s quite a lot of fear about the rise of populism not just in Europe but generally. Forums like this exist as a kind of safeguard against that.”

Lesā, who has played a part in the planning of the forum for more than a year, says there is a strong case for New Zealand to be leading some of that narrative around protecting democracy for the future, especially after Covid-19. His airfare and costs have been paid for by the Council of Europe but with the forum due to start on November 8, time is running out.

Over the past few months Lesā has tried repeatedly to book an MIQ place.
“I’m always at the very rear of the queue. It’s absolutely frustrating.”He has alsocontacted ministers, senior MBIE staff, and his local M,P and pleaded his case with an MIQ co-ordinator. He was told MIQ allocation was about fairness to everyone.

But Lesā questions why MIQ priority is given to Kiwis returning from Australia when the travel bubble was open for 95 days.

“Fairness is not about rewarding those across the ditch who failed to heed the call to come home when it was safe to do so,” he said. “It’s about making it fair for those of us who have done the right thing from the start. There are Kiwis here in New Zealand who need to get out into the world and we’re not able to do that because of this so-called fairness.”

Last week Lesā, who is fully vaccinated as are his family, managed to get in touch with the office of the Prime Minister. “They are prepared to write a support letter for my emergency MIQ application.”

The forum is not the first time Lesā has represented New Zealand in an official capacity. In 2012 he was the youngest member of a delegation on a state visit to Samoa, led by then Prime Minister John Key. And in 2019 he accompanied Energy and ResourcesMinister Megan Woods to energy meetings in Canada.

Describing himself as a diplomat, he is a director of the Crown, sits on a string of boards including charities, Unitec, Manukau Institute of Technology, the New Zealand Maritime School, Emerge Aotearoa, and holds various community appointments. Lesā, is currently working with the Asian Pacific Development Bank on establishing clean-energy projects in the Pacific.

Lesā, who is Samoan and lives with his family in South Auckland, has been told he is not be eligible for one of the 150 self-managed isolation places because he does not have access to a standalone home where he can self-isolate.

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