Speech by Forum Acting Secretary General at Pre-Forum FOC Session
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Suva, Fiji
23 – 24 July 2008


Colleagues; Distinguished delegates; Associate members; Observers; CROP Heads and their representatives; Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning and welcome to the Pre Forum meeting of the Forum Officials Committee for 2008. I know most, if not all of you have been involved in the meeting of the PPAC over the last two days. Today we reconstitute ourselves as the governing council of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

2 .Those of you who have been involved in recent Pre Forum FOC meetings of the last couple of years would recall that the Secretary General Mr Greg Urwin, normally use this opportunity of the Secretary General’s opening statement to the FOC meeting to deliver an elaborate and detailed statement outlining all the key regional activities around the four pillars of the Pacific Plan and those activities that the Forum Secretariat was solely responsible and charged to undertake.

3. We have prepared one such statement but I have decided against its delivery because it covers in the main the same activities already captured in the 2008 Annual Progress Report for the Pacific Plan; the detailed Achievement Report for 2007 that we recently circulated to members and the Forum Secretariat 2007 Annual Report.

4. Instead, I will in this opening statement seek to highlights only the key activities, involvements, and engagements of member countries and the Secretariat since the FOC meeting in Nukualofa in September 2007.

5. But before I proceed to do so; I would like to convey to you the apologies of our Secretary General Mr Greg Urwin who for reasons known to all of you is unable to be here today. He is currently on extended leave of absence for health reasons. He has also written to the Forum Chair indicating his intention to make arrangements to vacate the office of the Secretary General to allow Leaders to appoint his replacement at their meeting in Niue next month.

6. We are in regular contacts with Greg and I spoke to him before end of last week. He wanted me to convey to all of you his best wishes for a successful meeting. He also wanted me to convey to you the following message that he sent me yesterday.

The message begins and I quote:

“To my very dear friends and colleagues,

7. I would like, if I may to offer to you my very deep appreciation for the prolonged opportunity, extending now over more than three & a half years to serve with you the causes and purposes of our region. I don’t believe I can really begin to explain, in my own terms, how much it has meant to me.

8. For more than thirty years, I have had the privilege of working in and through the region, I hope to its general benefit. That work has taken on a range of issues, much of it has been rewarding, some of it has not, as time has progressed, more complex and perhaps somewhat having a little less of that joyous quality which our work seemed to first possess. But that is the way things go; it always seems to be so.

9. Once all of that has been taken account of, on the other hand, I would be completely in error not to say that my time in Suva as Secretary General has been a period of enormous satisfaction overall, one for which I can only express my thanks to all of those who made it possible.

10. From the early period in which we established the framework of the Pacific Plan and the very broad range of activities it encompasses, to the critical work we have instituted in the setting up of the Regional Institutional Framework. Critical in my absolute view to the business of showing all of our regional organisations to work most effectively and concertedly with each other rather than continue to be prone to pull against one another, something which, despite a good deal of effort on our own part, we remain something of a captive to. The work we have recently been doing in respect of our Corporate Plan will all have a very direct bearing, this year, on all of this.

11. This period of our work has taken us through the establishment of special programmes in respect of our Smaller Island States – programmes aimed at the direct benefit of those of our members with the clearest and most specific needs. These programmes, I hope may be further, and rapidly developed.

12. It has also included in a very integral way, the complex, far-reaching work we have been doing in the area of trade relations, of fisheries, as regards the EU but also as regards PICTA and further down the track the whole issue of PACER. The PACER/PICTA issues, important in themselves will again have, it seems to me, a direct reinforcing effort on the whole effort we are making to strengthen our regional integration.

13. As I begin to make comment about some of the other matters we have been engaged in – issues such as security and political issues, Solomon Islands and RAMSI, election observations, the absolutely critical role the Forum has played in developments in Fiji, and the role those developments have had on the Forum itself, the strengthening of our political cooperation through the region as well as the continued strengthening of our work on social issues, education curricula, health issues, disaster response, development of a programme of support for the disabled, a very active media and cultural programme, I of course realised that anything more should be said by my two Deputies Feleti or Peter, not by me. Let me conclude by thanking you, the FOC members and the Forum Secretariat members, for all you’ve done in the service of our wonderful region – it has been an honour and a privilege to work with you. Let us take this work forward together.”

14. Let me take this opportunity on all of our behalves to pay tribute to and to salute Greg for the enormous contribution and able leadership he brought to the region at his watch as the Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat. I am sure the Leaders in their meeting next month will likewise pay tribute and acknowledge his outstanding contribution to the development of the region and his efforts towards greater and deeper regional cooperation and integration. I am sure all of you will join me in conveying our best wishes for good health and for speedy recovery to Greg and that we spare some thoughts for him and Penny in our prayers as they go through this difficult time.

15. Anyway, colleagues, this year, like the past years has been a very busy one with a number of challenges confronting the Secretariat since the Committee’s meeting in Nuku’alofa last September.

16. You would recall that at the end of that meeting, FOC was not in a position to approve the annual work programme and budget (AWPB) for the Secretariat for 2008 because of specific concerns it had with the budget. As a result, the Secretariat started 2008 without an approved AWPB, a situation that posed a lot of challenges and uncertainty on the Secretariat and staffs and put on hold a lot of its activities whilst the budget and work programme were sorted out as was agreed by members.

17. The budget and the work programme for 2008 was eventually approved out of session on 20th March. I take this opportunity to thank the members for their understanding and perseverance through out the process in revising the budget and work programme to respond to the specific concerns of the members. I would also like to thank the staff of the Secretariat for putting in the extra effort to respond to the decisions of last year’s FOC and for their cooperation and professionalism during the first three months the year when the secretariat operated and maintained its services despite uncertainties surrounding its AWPB.

18. One of the key issues that came out of the discussions around the 2008 AWPB was the demand by the members for the Secretariat to better and clearly define its core functions and roles. Discussion of this issue coincided with the need to develop a new Corporate Plan as a result of the expiry of the last Corporate Plan at the end of 2007.

19. The Secretariat took to the special budget and planning session of the FOC in April of this year a proposal outlining a process to develop a new corporate plan and related reforms as the secretariat’s responses to the major issues that came out of the debate and discussion of the 2008 AWPB. The propose reforms were ambitious in light of the time constraints available to the Secretariat in getting them ready for this meeting and the uncertainty of funding resources to support those reforms at the time they were proposed.

20. You would notice from the agenda for this meeting and from your meeting material that we were able to progress those reforms and present their outcomes for the consideration and decision of the Committee at this meeting. The key outcomes of those propose reforms, is obviously the proposed new Corporate Plan 2008 – 2012. Despite the time and resources constraints the secretariat, with assistance and guidance of external consultants, was able to consult widely and extensively with members, crop agencies, staff, donors and other stakeholders in developing the new corporate plan. I think it is fair to observe here that the corporate plan that FOC will consider in the course of this meeting is a product that our members and other stakeholders all have a hand in its construction.

21. The high quality of the resulting Corporate Plan (which if adopted by you today, will be redesigned by a graphic artist and published) is a reflection of the passion and enthusiasm with which all stakeholders took part in the process and now gives a much clearer view of the path and strategic direction ahead for the Secretariat.

22. We will obviously discuss more on the propose Corporate Plan and the other related reforms when they are considered in the agenda. But I will like to use this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the secretariat deep appreciation and gratitude to all the members, crop agencies, staff members, donors and other stakeholders for your constructive contributions to the efforts to develop a new corporate plan and progressing those related reforms. Special thanks should also be extended to AusAID and NZAid for providing financial support that supported the processes to develop the corporate plan and related reforms.

23. As I have mentioned earlier, I do not intend to cover the Pacific Plan implementation as you have discussed the issue in a lot of detail during the course of the PPAC meeting over the last two days. All I want to say is that the momentum provided through the prioritisation process has greatly focused the implementation of Pacific Plan initiatives. Perhaps more importantly, it has also continued to ensure that the Pacific Plan is a ‘living’ document and the entry point for discussions on greater regional cooperation and integration. As was discussed during the PPAC, there are a lot of good news stories to be told over the past year and these need to be adequately captured and highlighted in the Pacific Plan annual progress report that will now go before the Leaders next month.

24. A point that I already made at PPAC, but one that is worth mentioning it again is that the quality of the report depends entirely on what contributions we get from you as well as the CROP agencies. If you do not tell us about the good news stories in your contributions then these will not be reflected in the report to the Leaders. I fully understand the lack or absence of capacity and many other reporting obligations you have but it is just one of the things that has to be done. I would encourage some discussion amongst the crop agencies as to how best we can supplement the efforts of the members in this respect.

25. The Secretariat continues to manage and coordinate the members’ efforts in responding to the security situations in the region.

26. In respect of the situation in Fiji, the Forum continues to promote dialogue between Fiji and other Forum members aimed at an early return to parliamentary democracy, primarily through the Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group. The Joint Working Group had met 30 times before Fiji suspended its participation last month.

27. At the Leaders’ meeting in Vav’au in October last year, the interim Fiji Government agreed to hold an election by March 2009. Last month, the Interim Government advised that the target date of March 2009 now would seem ambitious given the issues, such as electoral reforms, that need to be resolved. The Forum Foreign Affairs Ministerial Contact Group established by Ministers at their meeting in March visited Fiji last week. The Contact Group was tasked to further monitor the progress of Fiji’s preparations for election and the return to democracy, and report to the 39th meeting of Forum Leaders. Their recommendations will be considered by Leaders in Niue next month.

28. I am happy to report that 2008 has seen a far more positive relationship between the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), the Solomon Islands Government and some members of the Forum. This is compared to the less than cordial relations last year. The new Solomon Islands Government decided to rescind the decision of the previous government to reject the findings of the 2007 RAMSI Review Task Force report endorsed by Leaders’ in Tonga in 2007 and two meetings of the Forum Ministerial Standing Committee comprising Foreign Ministers from Australia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

29. A partnership framework between the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI which will among other things set the strategic direction of RAMSI in coming years and develop jointly agreed conditions and indicative timelines for RAMSI’s phasing down across sectors is also being developed. At the second Forum Ministerial Standing Committee meeting in Honiara last week, Ministers agreed to set up an officials’ working group to work through the draft framework to be ready for the 3rd meeting of the Committee which is expected to be held before the end of the year. The Secretariat has been given the role of mediator in the process

30. Since the FOC meeting in Tonga, the Forum deployed election missions in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Nauru. Election observation is increasingly seen by our members as a valuable tool to strengthen their electoral mechanisms, and support the maintenance of peace and democracy in circumstances of heightened political tension. To date the Secretariat has experienced a high degree of engagement and cooperation for the deployment of observers, while in some cases more work needs to be done on post-election follow up to realise the full benefits of the missions.
31. Land ownership is a singularly sensitive and charged cultural issue which has been at the core of many disputes and conflicts in the region. I am pleased to report that the Secretariat has completed Phase One of the Land Management and Conflict Minimisation Project.

32. The annual meeting of the Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC) continues to be the major regional security mechanism, and benefits from strong support from key law and order agencies and other regional and international stakeholders.

33. This year, FRSC was asked to consider a variety of security related issues as well as the role and responsibilities of the Committee and the Forum Secretariat in this regard. We strongly encourage members to take ownership of the implementation of the Committee’s decisions.

34. Some of the issues considered by the FRSC include Transnational Crime (TNC) and its influence on regional security; the regional model law on Counter Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime; and Anti-money laundering activities.

35. There is growing interest and support for consideration of a regional human rights mechanism in furtherance of goals of the Pacific Plan. This reflects the changing and evolving opinion in the region that human rights are no longer considered foreign concepts and are critical for economic and social development. PIFS and SPC will be consulting with the key stakeholder over the next twelve months to prepare an initiative for Leaders’ endorsement of a scoping study to explore a regional charter and mechanism.

36. Last month, the Secretariat accepted an invitation to visit Wallis and Futuna, to discuss the territory’s request for associate membership of the Forum, and explore the ways in which Wallis and Futuna’s engagement in regional issues and processes might be strengthened. Wallis and Futuna’s application for associate membership is before the Committee this week – whatever is recommended, and ultimately decided by Leaders on that question, a foundation has been built for further work to enhance regional cooperation with Wallis and Futuna on the many challenges it shares with other small Forum members.

37. The Secretariat in partnership with the UNDP Pacific Centre, AusAID and the Commonwealth Ombudsman of Australia held a regional workshop in Port Vila in May this year to discuss the proposed regional ombudsman support mechanism. A draft report on a Pacific Islands Regional Ombudsman Mechanism prepared by the Commonwealth Ombudsman of Australia has been circulated for comments to all participating Forum Member countries, including UNDP Pacific Centre, AusAID and the Secretariat.

38. On the Forum Principles of Good Leadership and Accountability, the Secretariat in partnership with AusAID has concluded the establishment of the Pacific Leadership Program (PLP) now housed at the Secretariat. Programs under PLP will work on raising awareness of ethics and accountability. The Secretariat is responsible for policy engagement, one of the four focus areas of PLP through which several of the activities of the governance program is funded.

39. The Secretariat will be undertaking a region-wide research on actual leadership practice against the Forum Principles of Good Leadership.

40. Early in the year, another partnership agreement was concluded by the Secretariat with the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, which works with local government and other stakeholders in the Pacific region to strengthen local democracy, institutions and service delivery capacity of sub-national governments in nine Pacific Island Countries.

41. In partnership with the UNDP Pacific Centre, the Secretariat recently convened a regional freedom of information (FOI) workshop for Pacific policy-makers in Solomon Islands.

42. The Secretariat has completed consultations with several FICs on the implementation of the outcomes of the Pacific Regional Workshop on Advancing Women’s Representation in Parliaments held in Cook Islands in May 2006. A sub-regional workshop on special measures for women is planned to be held in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in September 2008.

43. Members will recall that at the 2007 FEMM, Ministers directed the Secretariat to provide a further update at the next FEMM on the types of support and measures that could facilitate further temporary movement of labour in the region. Members will be pleased to note that work is currently in progress, with a closer examination of the opportunities, challenges and constraints observed through the schemes currently in place, such as the Recognised Seasonal Employer

44. Whilst the work is progressing there us a general sense of satisfaction, as reflected in the discussions of this issue at PPAC, that the schemes like the RSE have been successful and already producing tangible benefits to the significant number of people involved.

45. On private sector development, the assessment of business capability in the FICs has been completed in all the 14 FICs at the end of last month. A final report will be completed by the end of August which will provide a detailed analysis of approximately 1,000 SMEs across the region as well as recommended Action Plans to be implemented on the national and regional levels. The report would be an important development document for governments and development partners in ensuring that assistance towards the development of the private sector would be more accurately allocated.

46. The Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO) which was established with support from the Secretariat and the UNDP have now completed their Resource Mobilisation document, which promises to help secure long term funding for this key organisation. PIPSO’s second AGM is discussing these issues this week in Nadi. MOUs have been signed between PIPSO and SPC and the AusAID PLP with a few more pending – this reflects the importance attached to PIPSO as a central conduit between governments, development partners and the private sector.

47. The regional trade agenda has been very active and intensive over the last several years. As we speak right now, the Forum Trade Ministers are meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands to consider some of the key regional trade initiatives including PICTA implementation; PICTA trade in Services agreement; and PACER.

48. At the 2007 FTMM, Ministers agreed for officials to meet informally in early 2008 at a meeting hosted by New Zealand to discuss issues relating to the possible way forward under PACER. That informal meeting was successfully held in Auckland in May this year. The Chair of that informal meeting would have already reported to the Forum Trade Officials meeting in the Cook Islands yesterday on the outcomes of that informal meeting. 

49. A key component of building the trade facilitation capacity in the region is the Regional Trade Facilitation Programme (RTFP) which commenced in 2005. RTFP was initially planned for completion by December 2008 but will now end in December 2010. The Programme seeks improvements in Quarantine, Customs and Standards & Conformance laws, processes and procedures which facilitate the movement of goods. Capacity building and reforms in trade related agencies are the key aims of the RTFP. 

50. An independent review confirms that the RTFP is well conceived and effective in giving immediate practical content for PACER. RTFP has achieved identifiable results in the opening of market access for the FIC products to Australia, New Zealand and other FICs through the development of commodity pathways. The strength of the programme lies mainly in the strength of its implementing agencies.

51. The Pacific ACP (PACP) –European Union (EU) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations intensified in 2007 with both sides striving to conclude a comprehensive EPA by 31 December 2007. However, for various reasons the PACPS, and indeed many of the other ACP regions were unable to meet the deadline. The Caribbean is the only region to have concluded a comprehensive EPA. To preserve market access for PACPS goods into the EU from 1 January 2008 onwards, the PACPS proposed an interim EPA, focusing on finalizing a trade in goods only. Two PACPS, Fiji and PNG have initialed the Interim Agreement and have yet to sign and ratify the agreement.

52. It is envisaged that the Interim Agreement would be replaced by a comprehensive EPA. In October 2007, the PACP Trade Ministers and EC Commissioners had committed to conclude a comprehensive EPA by 31 December 2008 that would include trade-related rules and services as mutually agreed. This was reaffirmed by the PACP Trade Ministers at their meeting in March this year. The PACP Trade Ministers also reaffirmed their support in negotiating collectively and as a region a comprehensive agreement, and that a comprehensive EPA would only be accepted by the region when all parties agreed to it. Furthermore, negotiations must be restricted to those issues already discussed in 2007 – goods, services, development and fisheries.

53. Forum Education Ministers at their last meeting in November 2007 endorsed a comprehensive review of the Forum Basic Education Action Plan as well as a review of all regional technical support to education. We are grateful to NZAID for providing financial assistance to undertake this substantive review, which is currently underway.

54. The Secretariat has continued to consolidate its work on disability and is well recognized by members and partner organisations as taking a leading role in this area. We continue to work with the network of government focal points on disability to provide support especially on strategic planning and policy development.

55. The Pacific Principles on Aid Effectiveness was adopted at the 2007 PIC/ Development Partners Meeting in Koror, Palau. The principles, derived largely from the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005), are a guide towards greater aid effectiveness through the structure of the aid management and coordination infrastructure and practices in country. At the 2008 Pacific Regional Workshop on Aid Effectiveness in Nadi, Fiji, discussion focused firstly on measures needed to further enhance the key underlying themes of Aid Effectiveness vis-à-vis the Pacific Principles.

56. The 2008 PIC/Development Partners Meeting was convened as a stand alone meeting in Nadi, Fiji in April and took on a new approach to contributing toward regional aid coordination. Formerly used to coordinate development assistance around the FEMM Action Plan, this year PIC/Partners discussion focused primarily on presentation of the region’s five development priority areas as articulated by Forum Leaders in 2007.

57. The Secretariat has continued to maintain the SIS unit and the SIS desk officers for the second year. The SIS unit will continue to direct its effort in implementing the decisions of the SIS Leaders and managing the SIS desk officers. The officers have continued to play an integral role in supporting the implementation of the Pacific Plan. During the past few months, the SIS Unit has managed to progress work on the sub-regional shipping, airline and financing mechanism initiatives.

58. As you know the Post-Forum Dialogue partnership mechanism establishes a long term political relationship between the Forum and international countries and partners. The PFD was initiated in 1989 where we started with 5 PFD partners (Canada, France, Japan, UK and USA). Today we have 14 PFD Partners with a significant number of others expressing interest in joining.

59. Five of those partners have established their own Summitry with the Forum and the others are establishing individual consultative mechanisms with the Forum as well. This has significantly increased the demands on the membership and Secretariat to service and maintain these consultative mechanisms in a practical manner.

60. Last October saw the introduction of the new PFD Plenary which, based on feedback from both members and partners, went quite well. This year’s PFD Plenary will be based on the new structure introduced last year with a bit more time allocated for dialogue on the outcomes of the Leaders Meeting contained in the Communiqué. At this stage thematic topics under consideration by Leaders, for the Plenary dialogue include; Climate Change, Fisheries and Food Security.

61. A Framework for Regional Meetings was presented to the April FOC, and further work on that has resulted in the paper that will be discussed later in today’s agenda. This framework if adopted will provide a mechanism to facilitate members’ effective participation at Forum meetings on a sustainable basis while at the same reduce the burden on the Forum Secretariat’s limited financial resources.

62. New monthly management financial reports have been implemented providing better quality reporting for senior management; and significant improvements in travel and accounts payable processing have been made. The new budget and finance system recommended as a result of the recent review will help us capture financial information in a timelier manner which will in turn enhance our ability to manage projects and finances. 

63. A review of the Property Services Team was completed with the assistance of Strategic Pay recommended a new position of Facilities and Contracts Manager to replace the existing Team Leader Property Services.

64. Distinguished delegates, I have now taken up a great deal of your time than I initially anticipated but, I hope, the brief provided was useful. From what I have highlighted, it is obvious that the demands on the Secretariat are increasing every year. However, as FOC knows too well, there has not been any increase in the membership fees in the last 12 years. The Secretariat will be tabling a positioning paper at this session of FOC to initiate discussions on issues pertaining to the long term sustainable funding and resources basis for the Secretariat. I urge members to seriously consider the issues cover in that paper and the concept of developing a sustainable funding strategy for the Secretariat.

65. But despite that, none of what the Secretariat has been able to achieve would have been possible without your support, that of your governments, the development partners, the CROP agencies and all other stakeholders. On behalf of our Secretary General we thank you all.

66. In this opportunity I would also like to acknowledge in your presence the enormous contribution and commitment of the Secretariat staff in maintaining and sustaining the services required of them by you. I thank all the Secretariat staff for their professionalism and dedication to the service of our members.

67. I trust that we will have fruitful deliberations over the next two days and do our best to service our people.

Thank you.