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Opening Statement by DSG Forau at Statistics Workshop
OPENING STATEMENT BY MR PETER FORAU, DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL, PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECRETARIAT
Consultation Workshop on Regional Approaches to Statistics Services
20 April 2009, Nadi, Fiji

Excellencies
Senior Government officials
Colleagues from SPC
Distinguished development partner representatives,
Consultants
Ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Mr Tuiloma Neroni Slade, it is my great pleasure to welcome you all to Nadi,, in particular, to thank you all for making time to attend this regional consultation workshop, which will review the findings of the study to determine the feasibility of options for regional approaches to targeted statistics services in Forum Island Countries.

2. The study is a major step forward in a process that was sanctioned by the FEMM in 2006, building on the Pacific Plan initiative 12.4 recognises the need to “upgrade and extend country and regional statistical information systems and databases across all sectors”. Quite clearly, improving our capacity to deepen evidence based policy making is essential if we are to achieve the Forum Leaders vision for a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all of its people can lead free and worthwhile lives.

3. While the Pacific Plan proposes a regional response to the challenges that Pacific Island Countries face, it does not endeavour to promote a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of regional cooperation, nor work to limit the ability of countries in the region to pursue their own nationally based policies.

4. Some of these options are discussed in the study and I need to clarify that these options focus attention on building arguments for possible regional and sub-regional delivery of services that might offer the best means of pooling resources so that the FICs are able to benefit from economies of scale and scope. I must also clarify that the study has taken particular care to recognize that any regional mechanism must add value at a country level and preserves the policy making responsibilities of national Governments. This effectively means that only the management of delivery is shifted to a regional mechanism, not the policymaking which underpins it. This devolution of service provision to regional mechanisms might also allow national governments to redirect scarce resources to other critical areas of development and, in doing so, more directly provide for the needs of people from our region

5. I am sure that the consideration of the options proposed in the feasibility study will provide a better context for these ideas and we can all look forward to an interesting discussion in the workshop proper.

6. That said allow me a few minutes to say something about the process. The process adopted to bring us to this point – where we are able to consider practical options, and implementation steps for regional approaches to the delivery of statistical services – has been a considered one.

7. Both the Forum and the Pacific Community Secretariats' have been conscious of the need to clearly lay out the case for taking regional approaches in this area, beginning with the Forum Leaders endorsement of the Pacific Plan, and the 2006 FEMM agreement, that there was potential for adopting regional approaches to help alleviate these underlying structural problems and directed that regional options be explored. This was followed by a series of discussions in May and September 2007, including at the Heads of Planning and Statistics (HOPS) meeting held in Noumea. The ToR for the study was widely circulated for comment, including at the margins of the HOPS meeting where an update on the benchmark report was discussed.

8. Needless to say, there has been a great deal of interest with regards to what shape and form the options will take, given the growing demand for quality and timely statistics, and the fact that higher returns need to be derived in terms of impact and sustainability from the current forms of regional assistance being provided.

9. This consultation workshop, is also another considered step, to allow member government representatives and development partners to discuss the draft report, provide further inputs prior to finalisation of the report. This process will help widen the group of stakeholders consulted, build on those consultations that have occurred previously in order to facilitate better understanding and ownership of final proposals emanating from the benchmark study. Over the next two days, therefore, there is opportunity for inclusive contribution to what could potentially be a turning point for the state of regional statistics in the region.

10. However we must be clear that we understand what our needs are and are able to appreciate the fundamental underpinnings for the ideas imparted in the study. If I may and to be simply to the point, there is across all Forum Island Countries a significant dearth of quality and timely data all because the statistics systems are not sufficiently equipped to perform effectively those core functions of collection, storage, analysis, and presentation required to assure quality and currency. The implications of this situation are far-reaching because of the importance of statistics in policy making, funding and planning decisions, assessment reports and other considerations that affect so many aspects of our national economies. The ideas identified in the study are options that can add value to national statistics systems in order to address this common and perpetual concern about lack of quality and timely data. So the interest in improving statistics is broad-based and driven among others by the need for informed policy making in our region to ensure good governance and efficient allocation of scarce resources for economic development. For the region, efficiency in national resource allocation based on quality data creates opportunities for reaching the Leaders vision for a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity.

11. What then is the purpose of this workshop? Implicit in what I’ve just said are what we hope to achieve from the discussions. In sum, it would usefully benefit the study that the workshop thoroughly discern all the options and on the basis of the context of the needs of each of the Forum Island Countries, determine the best and practical courses of action that will meet those needs. As our development partners are here as well, we do have the opportunity to also discuss an implementation strategy that will guide how we anticipate going forward from here. In terms of next steps, the plan is that a final report will be prepared, incorporating, where appropriate, the views of this workshop, which will be tabled at the next meeting of the Forum Economic Ministers in Rarotonga. There a decision is expected that will eventually provide a mandate for implementation of a regional approach to statistics delivery.

12. I must say the fact we have started this work, is a welcome relief given that it took a while to make a start. At this point, we are all grateful to the Australian Government and the ADB for providing the financial resources for the study and to meet the costs of this workshop. This is a joint effort and the assistance and support provided by the SPC is greatly appreciated. Finally, may I also thank the consultants for carrying out the study on our behalf.

13. Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate that many of you are keen to get stuck into the work ahead of you, so let me conclude by wishing you all the best in your deliberations over the next two days.

14. Finally, it is my pleasure to declare the workshop open. Thank you.