Speech by Regional Governance Adviser at FOI workshop
Freedom of Information Training Workshop
for Pacific Policy Makers in Forum Island Countries
Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel,
Honiara, Solomon Islands
2 June 2008

Speech by Dr. Henry Ivarature, Regional Governance Adviser,
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Honourable Dr. Derek Sikua, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, on behalf of the Secretary General, I want to thank you for allowing the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in partnership with the UNDP Pacific Centre to convene this first ever freedom of information workshop for Pacific policy makers in the region in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Thank you also for gracing our workshop with your presence and to deliver the opening statement in support of freedom of information. It is through support at the highest level of government that provide clear direction for development partners, donors, civil society organisations and other stakeholders interested in the pursuit of good governance mechanisms in Forum Members countries. Your encouraging words have certainly provided the Secretariat and its partners with many things to think about, especially on how to help our people in the region.

I want to also thank all the participants from the Forum member countries that accepted the invitation from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to participate in this training workshop. As key stakeholders, your support helps us to understand your needs and how we can try to help you with what you think is appropriate for strengthening governance in your countries. The Secretariat and the UNDP Pacific Centre hope you will not only go away inspired by what you will learn but will also work in your countries to lift freedom of information on the political agenda. That is the difficult and hardest challenge, aside from getting the basics right for freedom of information laws to function effectively. I think the big thing will be getting the shift in commitment up the line from your levels to Ministers and parliaments. We at the Secretariat need to get better at helping you with both resourcing and knowledge to do that kind of follow-up. The Secretariat notes the willingness of the Government of Solomon Islands to look at a national legislation on freedom of information that has practical and effective implementation mechanisms.

The Secretariat will also continue to advocate the enactment and implementation of effective access to information regimes as a key practical output on the good governance agenda. Workshops like this, drawing on the achievement of the Cook Islands on freedom of information are some of the advocacy tools for promoting freedom of information in the region. The Secretariat, as you all appreciate, draws its mandate to work in the region from the decisions of the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, including the Pacific Plan endorsed by Leaders in 2005.

Freedom of information, in particular, is one of the milestones identified for implementation in the Pacific Plan. It is classified as a mechanism for enhancing good governance. Others include the harmonization of traditional and modern governance values and structures; traditional courts, media, enhancing the effectiveness of Parliaments, training in peace building and conflict resolution, models for land ownership, tenure and use; good governance education and the development and monitoring of governance indicators.

Enhancing good governance is one of eight good governance initiatives in the Pacific Plan. The Pacific Plan is based on four pillars – economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security. The broader objective of these pillars is based on the concept of regionalism by strengthening regional cooperation and integration. Regionalism is about countries working together for their joint and individual benefit. It does not imply any limitations on national sovereignty and nor is it intended to replace any national programs, but only to support and complement them. Regional approach is taken only if it adds value to national effort.

A workshop of this nature requires experts in the field of freedom of information. Expertise in working on implementing the laws, experiences in developing freedom of information laws, and experiences in building demand for freedom of information. I would also like to thank Natasha Bodden of the Caymen Islands, Andrew Ecclestone of the New Zealand Ombudsman and Angie Heffernen of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity and Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in India. Let us thank Natasha for coming to the Pacific to share with us the Cayman experiences on implementing freedom of information. From our region, thanks are also due to Ms Janet Maki, Ombudsman of the Cook Islands who will share with us the experience from the Cook Islands. Charmaine Rodrigues, thank you for your passion for freedom of information in strengthening governance.

As I mentioned earlier, regionalism depends on the support of development partners, governments, civil society etc. This workshop would not have been possible without the support both financially and technically from the UNDP Pacific Centre. I also take this opportunity to thank my colleagues from the UNDP Pacific Centre, Mr. Gary Wiseman for his continued support and encouragement on the partnership between the two organizations’ work in the region. Many thanks are also due to Charmaine Rodrigues (Legislative Strengthening Expert) for the workshop contents and coordinating the 3-day workshop.

Behind the success of every event are the people that handle logistics and arrangements. I would like to thank my colleagues Lesi Korovavala (Forum Representative to the Solomon Islands), Johnson Honimae, Luisa Seinbulu and Sereana Cerelala from the Secretariat, and Shobna Decloitare and Sikeli Valemei from the UNDP Pacific Centre.

Thank you tumas ol geta