Address by SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade at Resilience in the Pacific conference

Conference 16-17 February 2011, Wellington


Address by Tuiloma Neroni Slade
Secretary-General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat




The Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, Hon Murray McCully
Chairman of the Session, Hon Russell Marshall
The Conference Convenors, Prof Jonathan Boston and Mr Brian Lynch
Members of Faculty
Distinguished participants

It is a privilege, always, to be in the Capital, the city of my own beginnings, and I want to thank the Institute of Policy Studies and the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs for their kind invitation and the opportunity to play a part in this important conference.

Mr Chairman,

May I say that it is a particular pleasure to see you presiding over this session.

My purpose is to offer an overview of the critical issues: the key economic, social, environmental and political challenges now facing the Pacific and being those which condition the prospects for Pacific countries in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In doing so, I acknowledge the timeliness in focusing on Pacific resilience, the banner-theme of the conference; and I propose keeping that very much in mind in what I say.

I come from the Pacific’s development community – a community of significant numbers of Pacific regional organisations, and of bilateral, multilateral and regional partners. My own organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), occupies a central place in all this with its responsibilities in the high-level political and policy making of the region, with its principal coordination function amongst the regional organisations and with its leading role in specific activities which are directly relevant to the issues under consideration in this conference, namely, achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the operation of aid effectiveness strategies, especially through the Cairns Compact for strengthening development coordination and also in the implementation of the Pacific Plan.

Pacific Plan

The Pacific Plan, endorsed by Forum Leaders in 2005, is the master strategy to strengthen regional cooperation and integration, with aspiration to see the Pacific as a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all of its people can lead free and worthwhile lives.

At their meeting in 2009, Forum Leaders endorsed a set of five key priorities as a way for implementing the Pacific Plan more effectively and as a response to new challenges presented by the global economic crisis and the on-going vulnerability of Pacific island countries to external shocks. Expressed broadly the five Pacific Plan priorities are:

(i) fostering economic development for broad-based growth;
(ii) improving livelihoods and well-being of Pacific peoples;
(iii) addressing the impacts of climate change;
(iv) achieving stronger national development through better governance; and
(v) ensuring improved social, political and legal conditions for stability, safety and security .

Fundamentally, these are priorities premised on inherent vulnerabilities and framed around the need to build resilience and coping abilities among Pacific communities.

The Pacific Plan, as you know, is aligned with the work of regional organisations and implemented by all regional organisations which comprise the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific or CROP. Currently there are eleven different regional CROP organisations which meet at least once a year under the permanent chairmanship of the Forum Secretary General and being responsible to Forum Leaders through the Pacific Plan Action Committee where senior officials of all sixteen Forum countries are represented.


So, there is already on the ground an established system to put into effect the master strategy of the Pacific Plan for the sustainable development of Pacific countries according to key priorities set at the highest political level by Forum Leaders, and as assisted and supported by the network of all CROP agencies. The engagement of Leaders and Forum member countries through their senior officials mean that the same key priorities are substantially reflected, if not entirely so, in national development strategies.

The Pacific Plan is a “living” strategy and very much alive to review and improvements. Last year CROP Executives agreed on emerging issues which should also be given priority attention, including the provision of safe drinking water and basic sanitation services (which is part of Goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goals), the need to increase literacy and numeracy rates in selected Pacific island countries (as identified by Forum Education Ministers, and part of Goal 2 of the MDGs) and, following recent destructive tsunamis and tragic loss of lives in the sinking of ferry-vessels, a more people-focused approach and expansion of disaster risk management efforts beyond risks posed by climate change – and Forum Leaders have endorsed these emerging issues.

Strengthening of coordination
The statement of Pacific Plan priorities was issued at the Leaders meeting in Cairns in 2009 in the context of their discussion of the impacts of the global economic and financial crisis on Pacific island countries. The statement is welcomed as a measure of clarity and efficiency, in the identification of the challenges which call for prioritised responses and in the political guidance and commitment that it provides.

Leaders went further in Cairns and were able also to adopt the Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination in the Pacific, which essentially is the machinery for the effective implementation of priorities.

The Compact represents a new determination and commitment at the highest political level to lift the economic and development performance of the region. Its principal objective is to drive more effective coordination of all available development resources, from donor partners and from member countries as well, centred on the aim of achieving real progress against the MDGs.
Towards this objective, it was agreed that the development and implementation of the Compact would be based on the following principles:
• broad-based, private sector-led growth as essential to achieving faster development progress;
• improved governance and service delivery;
• greater investment in infrastructure;
• country leadership, mutual accountability and mutual responsibility between Forum island countries and their development partners as fundamental to successful development outcomes;
• the need to draw on international best-practice as expressed in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action; and
• a revitalised commitment to the achievement of the MDGs in the Pacific.

With the full cooperation and engagement of the CROP agencies, the Forum Secretariat is implementing the Compact to ensure effective coordination on sustainable developments region-wise.

Last year the Secretariat was able to present to Leaders three reports on Tracking the Effectiveness of Development Efforts, the Road Map on Strengthening Public Financial Management and the Pacific Regional Millennium Development Goals Tracking Report, which provided, for the first time, a baseline on efforts to strengthen development coordination in the region.

Millennium Development Goals
It is clear from these reports that there is cause to be concerned about the MDGs. While good progress has been made in some areas, no Pacific island country is on track to achieve all the MDGs, and no MDG is on track to be achieved by all countries.

In general terms, the Polynesian island countries are registering reasonable rates of progress and thus may be seen as performing relatively well; while the Micronesian island countries of the north Pacific have been struggling to maintain earlier gains; and the Melanesian island countries, notably those where there has been conflict or civil/political tension, are seeing a reversal of earlier achievements. It will have to be said that Papua New Guinea with its much larger population and land mass and particular challenges represents something of a special category on its own.

At their meeting last year Forum Leaders issued their Port Vila Declaration on Accelerating Progress on the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals noting the uneven results to date and committing to extra effort at accelerating progress, and calling on development partners to work with the region to identify and develop new activities and programmes for the years leading up to 2015. Specifically, the Declaration on Accelerating Progress is committed to:

• continue localising the MDGs into national and regional plans, and to prioritise budgets;
• advocate for the special needs of Small Island Developing States, including through the use of international platforms such as the Barbados Programme of Action and its Mauritius Strategy for Implementation; and
• to support the achievement of the MDGs, drawing on the principles of the Paris Declaration, the Accra Agenda for Action and the Pacific Principles on Aid Effectiveness, as these principles are being implemented through the Cairns Compact.

The special case for small island developing states agreed in the Rio Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 was based on the high levels of economic and environmental vulnerability inherent in island countries as a result of their smallness, remoteness and susceptibility to natural disasters and well acknowledged internationally. These are among the factors which combine to make the achievement of the MDGs particularly challenging in the Pacific.

The extreme exposure of Pacific island countries to the dangers of climate change is extensively documented in the work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the concerns of Pacific countries are well known. These impacts are already evident and there will be significant deterioration as they grow and are manifested.

But, of course, there are other environmental concerns for the region, including in the continuing loss of biodiversity, in ocean acidification and depletion of marine resources.

The reiteration by Forum Leaders last year of the critical importance of ensuring the sustainable development, management and conservation of the Pacific ocean is, I believe, a significant decision; and particularly welcomed is the endorsement of the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape.

Fisheries is a major source of food and income for Pacific island countries and for many Pacific people is the main prospect for sustainable economic development. The maximisation of return from these resources and their sustainable conservation and management is therefore fundamental to the long-term socio-economic wellbeing and stability of the region, as is the protection of those resources.

In line with the Forum’s Vava’u Declaration on fisheries matters in 2007, Forum Economic Ministers, in consultation with Forum Ministers responsible for fisheries, and with the relevant regional organisations, are now working on prospective ideas and feasible options for gaining maximum benefits from Pacific fisheries resources.

With respect to trade, it is accepted in the region, as reflected in the priorities of the Pacific Plan, that there is need to foster greater international and intra-regional trade opportunities by proceeding with the implementation of key regional trade agreements and, in particular, working to allow for the freer movement of goods and services; and, importantly, also the need to strengthen the ability of the private sector to participate competitively in an integrated economy through the necessary enabling environments and support mechanisms. The importance of the role of the private sector is highlighted in the New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee report.

As will be known, the PACER-Plus negotiations between Australia and New Zealand and the fourteen Forum island countries commenced in 2009, and the Office of the Chief Trade Adviser to assist Forum island countries began operations out of Port Vila last year.

Seven Forum island countries have been able to undertake domestic provisions and are ready to trade under the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), but others are not yet in that state of readiness.

The negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the fourteen Pacific ACP countries with the European Union, which began in 2002, are at a critical stage and determined efforts are being made towards completing these negotiations this year.

Health and community security
Health issues remain a major concern throughout the region, requiring focused strategies to tackle HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and, alarmingly, the already high rate of deaths of Pacific peoples from non-communicable and so-called life-style diseases.

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a serious problem, and far too pervasive and needs to be acknowledged and recognised as a risk to human security and a potential destabilising factor for Pacific communities.

In contrast, I should mention that since 2009 the region have been working at Ministerial level progressively and positively towards regional rights-based programmes for people with disabilities.

Mr Chairman,

What I have outlined thus far is a huge array of development priorities that will be certain to tax the abilities and resources of the region and of individual countries. Combined, they present a most formidable range of challenges.

Without question, I believe we need to be as determined as ever to work together as a region and first to get our house in order in our regional priorities and arrangements; and then to reach out to deepen and strength the opportunities of partnerships, with the existing fourteen development partners in the Post Forum Dialogue process and with others as well.

Climate change alone has been named by Forum Leaders as the great challenge of our time, for it threatens not only livelihoods, security and living standards, but also the very viability of some Pacific communities.

Regional security
Threats to safety and security pose the greatest risk and challenge to Forum countries. Such threats, military and non-military, expose to the fullest the vulnerabilities of the Pacific region, especially of the smaller island countries. Because of their vulnerable state, as Professor John Henderson had noted (and I think the point is picked up in the report of the New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee) small states are in many ways more at risk from security threats as a result of natural disasters and climate change impacts, poverty and disease, and the consequences of these on national economies and the health of communities.

The concern for regional security has been a motivating cause for the leadership of the Pacific from the very beginnings of the Forum. The Forum, for example, has been consistent throughout and strong in its opposition and condemnation of the testing of nuclear weapons in the region.

Security threats generally are in the purview of the Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC) covering a broad range of concerns, including illegal drugs, terrorism, small arms, trafficking in persons, money-laundering, and so on

Within the past thirty years, as we know, the region has experienced armed conflict and violence in a number of island countries, with several military coups in one country. These events have a direct bearing and impact on the progress of development efforts and their sustainability.

Forum principles
As a consequence, the Forum has determined basic values and principles as contained or reflected in the Leaders Vision of 2005 and in a range of regional Declarations, including:

• the Honiara Declaration of 1992 on law enforcement cooperation;
• the Aitutaki Declaration of 1997 on principles governing regional security in the region;
• the Forum Principles of Good Governance 1997, relating to the national budget process, and accounts of governments, state-owned enterprises and statutory corporations;
• the Biketawa Declaration of 2000 on principles for good governance and for responses to crises in the region; and
• the Forum Principles of Good Leadership 2003, relating to key principles of good governance which are fundamental to good leadership; and
• principles embedded in the Forum Vision, like tolerance and respect for the cultural diversity of the region; and recognition of the region’s responsibility for guardianship of the world’s largest ocean.

These are fundamental and shared values and commitments which I believe must underpin development efforts in the region and if we are successfully and effectively to achieve and sustain the MDGs.

Biketawa Declaration
The Biketawa Declaration introduced guiding principles and a regional process for responding to conflicts and crises in member countries which, while respecting the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs, sends an unprecedented signal about Forum members’ readiness for more regional involvement to help address domestically based security threats.

The Biketawa Declaration draws on the Forum Principles of Good Governance and the Aitutaki Declaration; and prescribes a process to ensure close and extensive consultations, and puts emphasis on the need for Forum credibility, coherence and consistency. I think Biketawa is particularly significant in that it amounts to the first explicit recognition that the internal affairs of a member state might in certain circumstances be the legitimate concern of the Forum as a whole.

The first regional action launched under the Biketawa Declaration was the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which remains a unique Pacific initiative and success story, with the full cooperation and agreement of the Solomon Islands Governments and with the participation of all Forum Governments.
Forum assistance to Nauru with the financial rescue plan under the PRAN programme, which has now ended at the request of Nauru, as well as the Leaders decision to suspend the participation of Fiji from Forum “meetings and events” were also taken under the auspices of the Biketawa Declaration.

Mr Chairman,
I have traversed a large area. I hope that what I have said will provide some idea of the range of development challenges facing our Pacific region, the regional policies and arrangements which have been determined under the authority of Pacific leadership and the key programmes of work being undertaken and which are ongoing.
The enormity and complexity of the tasks at hand are obvious. Not one among Pacific countries can manage alone, and thus the inevitability of togetherness.

I think it is important to acknowledge that in modern political terms the Forum region is a young region, and that the challenges we now face are occurring and being manifested within the lifespan of one Pacific generation. Undoubtedly, there will be failures and shortcomings. But there cannot be despair. Indeed, at this 40th anniversary year of the Forum, we owe it to the founding statesmen and women to keep steadily ahead in what the late Professor Epeli Hau’ofa called the spirit of “oneness” and kinship embedded in the cultural “memories” of Pacific ocean voyaging.

Clearly, we need to improve and build resilient coping capacities, and knowing that in all countries there is need to do so and to sustain it well into the future – in itself an essential and most worthwhile investment in human development.

But, in truth, the quest for resilience is the search for an antidote to the destabilising forces of poverty and inequality and the conditions for social and economic failure, including those that will accompany unchecked climate change impacts.

Ultimately, Pacific countries must be responsible and accountable, first and foremost to their own citizens, as they must to development partners – for much that diverts comes from inactivity and neglect and, yes, much of the development effort is diverted as a result of shameful corruption.

In particular, we need to accept that the expansion of the rule of law and the norms of international behavior ingrained in multilateral instruments concerning human rights, the environment, peace and security and the rights of women and children has been the foundation of much of the political, social and economic progress achieved throughout the world, including in the Pacific, and that these are normative standards which make the world a far better place for us all.

And, so Mr Cairman, my contention before you and distinguished participants is that the maintenance of the rule of law must remain the highest priority for Pacific countries, and among the critical issues to be addressed.

Thank you.


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