Opening remarks by SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade at FOC meeting
Forum Secretariat Headquarters, Suva
16 – 17 July 2009


Mr Chairman
Your Excellencies

Mr Chairman, on behalf of the Forum Secretariat, and I’m sure I speak also for the members of the Forum Officials Committee (FOC), I extend to you words of welcome and assure you of our collective good behaviour, support and cooperation.

May I also pay a very warm tribute to Niue, and to High Commissioner Cecilia Talagi in particular for her stewardship of the FOC and her wise and personal contribution to the work of the Committee.

To all gathered here, I thank you for this opportunity to offer some opening remarks at the start of this important pre-Forum session of the FOC.

I know most, if not all, of you have been here since the start of this week when we commenced this series of preparatory meetings for the Leaders gathering in Cairns next month.

In the case of some of you, I understand you have been here since last week for the historic joint meeting of the Governing Councils of SPC, SOPAC and SPREP and the subsequent special session of each of those regional organisations.

So I commend you for your commitment and devotion to duty and to the work of regional organisations, and more especially for your personal contributions to our region’s collective effort to respond to key developmental challenges identified and mandated by our political Leaders.

Purposes of FOC
As is the nature of the FOC, this session serves two purposes.

This is the senior officials’ preparatory meeting for the upcoming Forum Leaders meeting. With PPAC now entrusted with the discussion and transmission of Pacific Plan related issues to Leaders, the FOC focuses on other issues not considered under the auspices of the PPAC. These include important security issues and activities under the Biketawa Declaration, among others.

Secondly, the Forum Officials Committee is the governing council of the Forum Secretariat, and accordingly will consider those matters affecting the operations and governance of the Secretariat. Among the key issues that will be discussed are the Secretariat’s Annual Work Programme and Budget for 2010 and the proposed new Staff and Financial Regulations. We are also tabling a Revised 2009 Budget which will show the financial plans supporting the operations of the Secretariat during 2009.

But I shall have to return to the Budget provisions.

First, a few words on some of the other key subjects to be considered by the Committee.

With respect to the regional activities under the Biketawa Declaration, we have cause to celebrate the special regional experience that is RAMSI. I am very pleased to acknowledge significant and continuing progress in strengthening relations between the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) and the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), particularly the new SIG/RAMSI Partnership Framework recently endorsed by the Solomon Islands Cabinet. The continued success of this unique regional partnership under the Biketawa Declaration continues to draw on the support of all Forum member countries and remains an outstanding achievement on our regional security agenda.

Forum preparations
With respect to the Forum preparations, I want to say that working closely with the Secretariat, preparation for the 2009 Forum meeting in Cairns are proceeding very well indeed under the leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum Taskforce established in the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I’m sure the representative of Australia would wish to expand on the details. For the Secretariat I am extremely confident that we can look forward to a highly successful meeting of our Leaders under Australia’s chairmanship.

As to the situation in Fiji, I would mention for the information of the Committee that, largely because of scheduling difficulties, it was not possible in the time available to hold the proposed meeting of the Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) on Fiji. As an alternative, arrangements are now in hand for the Group to share views based on a draft document which proposes to provide an updated review of the situation in Fiji and, once agreed by all MCG members, will constitute their report and recommendations to Forum Leaders.

Corporate reforms
With respect to the Secretariat’s corporate arrangements, members of the Committee will, of course, know that last year we started on a journey of institutional strengthening – a journey that will take some time to complete. The key platforms for these reforms were the completion of the 2008-2012 Corporate Plan and the four Programme Strategic Plans for 2009-2011, all of which were submitted for your endorsement. Strategic planning guidelines have been produced to ensure strategic planning practices become embedded in the Secretariat’s work and culture. Our focus from this year will be to ensure that the Secretariat has the appropriate systems to implement these plans. I am pleased to report that we are on track to improving Secretariat systems to serve this purpose.

Accounting systems
Essential reforms in the Secretariat’s accounting systems are being undertaken, improved services being set in place or now being developed. During last year, a new accounting system called Navision was installed. This system is now operational and the budgeting module in Navision has made possible and significantly improved the new formats of the Budget and Work Programme.

Phase II of the Navision implementation is scheduled to begin next month, and will see improvements in organisational efficiency through decentralised on-line processing of requisitions and purchase orders.

As I have indicated, new Financial and Staff Regulations are being submitted for your approval. These two regulations are supported by a third, namely, the Remuneration Regulations. This set of Regulations forms the over-arching guiding documents for the management of the human and financial resources of the Secretariat. In turn, all regulations will be supported by our internal policy and procedures which will be available for staff on our brand new Intranet system, which will be launched in the very near future.

Risk management
The Secretariat has also developed a new risk management policy with supporting guidelines. Senior management participated in a full day workshop to refine and adopt the policy and guidelines; and work has begun on the process of populating the risk management register. Senior management will complete the strategic risk assessment in the third quarter of this year. Steps to implement the formal operational risk assessment process will be taken at the same time.

To support the risk management framework, business continuity plans have been drafted. While these are still in the early phases of development, the work done so far provides a strong basis on which to build.

Monitoring and reporting
Work continues with the development of a new monitoring and reporting framework. Distinguished delegates will recall that we presented some of our initial thinking at last years’ December FOC meeting. Since then we have reviewed the indicators and means of verification in the programme strategic plans; and we propose that these will be refined during the ‘review and refresh’ cycle which is now due.

A new reporting framework is being trialled by Corporate Services, with a view to determining how well some of the ideas from our initial thinking will work in practice. Further work on the reporting framework will be developed during the remainder of this year, with a view to reporting to you against delivery of the Corporate Plan and the programme strategic plans at the end of this financial year. We hope to find a process to engage with you, out-of-session, as we make progress with the reporting framework.

Mr Chairman,

The ongoing institutional strengthening exercise demonstrates our commitment to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of services to Members. They are reforms that respond to your interest and concern for the Secretariat to be more strategic and focused and to be smarter in undertaking its core functions. And so, by these reforms, we are reacting to both challenge and the opportunity to perform better.

2010 Annual work programme and budget
The annual work programme and budget for 2010 that we will be tabling is in the same format as presented last year, with some minor refinements. We will continue to work on the formats, and encourage feedback from the Committee.

The 2010 budget we are tabling predicts a small surplus and one where expenditure was again planned to match confirmed funding available. The budget does not predict an increase in the core budget, nor in the regular budget. Both are under considerable stress.

In the case of the regular budget, membership contributions remain at the same level as in 1999. I would have to say that the situation is becoming untenable. As you will see, when we present the budget, there is very limited financial resource available for the Corporate Services work programme to continue the institutional strengthening for your Secretariat.

In this connection, I would strongly impress on members the need to continue to encourage the FOC Sub-Committee on Membership Contributions to expedite its discussions and seek solutions for funding the regular budget. An update on the work of that Sub-Committee will be tabled at this session.

With respect to the core budget, funding agreements with both Australia and New Zealand will lapse at the end of this year. Taking a conservative approach with the 2010 budget, we have estimated core budget funding at the same levels as this year. Still, the core budget is vulnerable and options would need to be considered including possibilities of discussing increased funding.

Before closing, I should like to begin to put on record my own appreciation to the Premier of Niue, the Hon Toke Talagi, to his Government and officials for the exceptional service which they have provided to the region, and which I’m sure will be warmly acknowledged by all Leaders when they meet in Cairns.

To you Mr Chairman, I give assurance that my officers and I stand ready to provide further information and to be of assistance.

May I thank you all for your attention, and wish the Committee well in its deliberations.