Ieremia Tabai

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Ieremia Tienang Tabai

1st President of Kiribati
In office
18 February 1983 – 4 July 1991
Vice PresidentTeatao Teannaki
Preceded byRota Onorio (acting)
Succeeded byTeatao Teannaki
In office
12 July 1979 – 10 December 1982
Vice PresidentTeatao Teannaki
Preceded byPosition Established
Succeeded byRota Onorio (acting)
Personal details
Born16 December 1949 (1949-12-16) (age 69)
Nonouti, Gilbert Islands
(now Kiribati)
Political partyNational Progressive Party
Spouse(s)Meleangi Kalofia

Ieremia Tienang Tabai GCMG AO (modern orthography - Tabwai), born 16 December 1949, was the first Beretitenti (President) of the Republic of Kiribati. During his presidency he was described as being the most able leader of the Pacific island states.[1]

He was born in Nonouti in 1949, 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.[1] He was elected to the House of Assembly of the Gilbert Islands, representing Nonouti, in 1974.

In 1976, the Gilbert Islands received limited 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 distaste for Ratieta's plans for an expensive defence department and the westernisation he was bringing to Kiribati. He fought in favor of traditional Gilbertese culture, helped to publicise the complaints of village copra growers, and criticized what he saw as a disproportionate amount of government expenditure on Tarawa over the other islands.[2] Tabai became Chief Minister in 1978.

He 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 (Ocean Island), which had been devastated by phosphate mining, and their demands that it become independent of Kiribati.[2] In 1979 Tabai was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) by Queen Elizabeth II, and became Beretitenti of the Republic of Kiribati at independence on 12 July 1979. He served as Beretitenti from 1979 until 1991, with a short interruption from 1982 until 1983, serving the maximum number of terms allowed by law. In 1982 he received an honorary knighthood from the Queen - Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG).[2]

Tabai was a member of the National Progressive Party. As Beretitenti, he displayed a strong aversion to being dependent on aid, saying at one point the people were "better poor but free".[1] 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 fee Tabai demanded.[1] 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.[1]

After retiring from politics, 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".[3]

In 1999 he was fined for trying to establish an independent radio station in Kiribati, which he described as "censorship".[4] In 2000, he founded a newspaper, the Kiribati New Star.[2]

Tabai returned to politics and was re-elected to the Kiribati parliament, again representing Nonouti, in 2007.[5] He retained his seat in the 2011 and 2015-16 elections. He is aligned with the Boutokaan Te Koaua (Pillars of Truth) party.

He also serves as a secretary for Pacific Magazine.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e Callick, Rowan. "STARVE TREK:Special comic edition". Archived from the original on 2008-01-26. Retrieved 2008-01-27.
  2. ^ a b c d "". Retrieved 2008-01-27.
  3. ^ It's an Honour
  4. ^ "Pacific Media Watch". Retrieved 2008-01-27.
  5. ^ "Kiribati president returned at general election, likely will form new government", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), August 23, 2007.
  6. ^ "ZoomInfo Web Profile:Ieremia Tabai". Retrieved 2008-01-27.