|President of Kiribati|
18 February 1983 – 4 July 1991
|Vice President||Teatao Teannaki|
|Preceded by||Rota Onorio (acting)|
|Succeeded by||Teatao Teannaki|
12 July 1979 – 10 December 1982
|Vice President||Teatao Teannaki|
|Preceded by||Position Established|
|Succeeded by||Rota Onorio (acting)|
|Born||16 December 1950
Nonouti, Gilbert Islands
|Political party||National Progressive Party|
Sir Ieremia Tienang Tabai GCMG AO (modern orth, Tabwai, born 16 December 1950) was the first President of Kiribati. He had been described as being the most able leader of the Pacific island states.
He was born in Nonouti in 1950, and went to New Zealand to receive his education(St Andrew's College in Christchurch and then going onto Victoria University in Wellington). He then returned to Kiribati and worked as an accountant. He was elected to the House of Assembly of the Gilbert Islands in 1974. In 1976, the area received limited authority for self-government, and Tabai served as leader of the Opposition in a system dominated less by formal political parties than by loose coalitions of like-minded members. In this position, he regularly expressed criticism of the perceived centralist tendencies of Chief Minister Naboua Ratieta's government, expressing particular distate for Ratieta's plans for an expensive defense department and the westernization he was bringing to Kiribati. He fought in favor of traditional Gilbertese culture, helped to publicize the complaints of village copra growers, and criticized what he saw as a disproportionate amount of government expenditure on Tarawa over the other islands.
He also demonstrated a talent for negotiation when he led his government in discussions with the United Kingdom over a financial settlement regarding the demands of the Banabans for compensation for the loss of their ancestral homeland of Banaba Island (Ocean Island), which had been devastated by phosphate mining, and their demands that it become independent of Kiribati. He continued to serve in that position until Kiribati gained complete independence in 1979. That year he was also made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) by Queen Elizabeth II, and became the first president of the independent state of Kiribati. He served as president from 1979 until 1991, with a short interruption from 1982 until 1983, serving the maximum period allowed by law. In 1982 he was knighted as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG). He was re-elected to the post in 1991, but was forbidden by the constitution to take office.
He was a member of the National Progressive Party. As president, he displayed a strong aversion to being dependent on aid, saying at one point the people were "better poor but free". During his administration, he signed a deal for tuna with fishing authorities from the Soviet Union. The Soviets chose not to renew the deal, saying that the catch they gathered was not worth the licensing see Tabai demanded. Under his administration, the government also placed its earnings from phosphate mining in a trust fund. The interest from the fund had been used to pay for development projects.
After retiring from the presidency, Tabai served as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum from 1992 until 1998.
In May 1996 he was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia, "for service to Australian-Pacific Islands countries relations, particularly as Secretary-General to the South Pacific Forum".
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