Forum Chair, Hon. Henry Puna's speech, 2012 Forum Leaders' Lecture

2012 Annual Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Lecture
with a focus on the Pacific Plan

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Suva, Fiji
18 October 2012

Speech by the Pacific Islands Forum Chair, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Hon. Henry Puna

“A New Optimism – A More Dynamic Pacific Plan”


The Annual Leaders’ Lecture Series is a growing tradition in our Region and I am both pleased and honoured to be here this evening to fulfil this role as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, and to contribute in some small way to showcasing the Pacific Plan and the importance of our efforts to strengthen its place in our future.

Pacific Regionalism speaks to the heart of our duty as Leaders for it is incumbent upon us to foster the ties and linkages between our nations and to fashion these relations into productive frameworks of cooperation. The focus on the Pacific Plan as the centre piece of this public address is important to the work we have accomplished and the results we want to achieve, in future years.

This evening I’d like to build on the journey that fellow Leaders have already begun to map and share my perspectives on how the Pacific Plan must continue to be inclusive, command ownership, and project A New Optimism – A More Dynamic Pacific Plan.

Roots of optimism

Many Pacific Leaders my contemporaries and those before me have provided considerable input and insight to the way the Pacific Plan may be developed and strengthened over future years.

To those Leaders I pay tribute for their commitment to our Region and its diverse cultures and peoples.

The leaders of Vanuatu, Samoa, and New Zealand, for example, have previously referred to the roots of Pacific Regionalism – described the challenges associated with the ebb and flow of external pressures upon our self-determination efforts and responsibilities, and posed relevant questions for debate about how the Pacific Plan may be better attuned with the wishes and aspirations of Pacific peoples.

This year, I’d like to take up a point made by the Prime Minister of New Zealand last year when he discussed the inaugural gathering of seven nations in Wellington more than 40 years ago.

The Right Honourable John Key talked about the presence of a strong spirit of cooperation among the Founding Leaders, which was evident in their communiqué at that time.

It was an exciting time....a time of promise.

When a sense of common purpose was taking hold with the anticipation of great developments to come.

And perhaps a newly-emerging air of optimism among this group of nations willing to take on the challenges before them.

This positive feeling generated among a small group of Pacific nations was a keenness to embrace a new ‘Way’ – a new concept of consulting and working closely together to achieve common benefits.

A new sense of optimism was clearly on the table even in the face of economic challenges and political sensitivities, such as trade blocs, decolonisation, and nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Over the course of more than 40 years, the central question, which would no doubt provoke a range of responses, revolves around whether the Pacific brand of Regionalism has any value.

Certainly, questions of value and effectiveness have their roots in the minds of our Founding Fathers when they met in Wellington in 1971.

I believe our Leaders demonstrated considerable foresight engaging as equal partners, understanding common problems and shortcomings, and placing the interests of Pacific peoples in the forefront of establishing a new organisational identity.

It’s understandable that, in time, those early challenges would become subject to considerable pressures – pressures brought about not just by the overwhelming nature of global trends but the confluence of national interests with regional sensitivities of cooperation in new fields.

While we want to pursue our national level interests at all times, regional cooperation does introduce scope for compromise and ongoing re-visitation.

Former United States President and global philanthropist, Bill Clinton, recently articulated that many of today’s biggest challenges are the “modern manifestations of our oldest demons”. That challenge to break the mould of old mindsets is inspiring, and also appealing, to so many people across different walks of life, including here, in the Pacific.

In our region, I believe we have already begun to witness the signs of an era of new optimism – an era based on the realisation of gains and an improved understanding of the way we need to do ‘business’ – not just to survive but to prosper: to “lead free and worthwhile lives”.

Building Success

Although I make mention of the beginnings of a new time ahead, it would be remiss of me to omit the progress and successes of our Pacific Regionalism in past years. These success stories – and there have been many – are both uplifting and motivational.

The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, RAMSI, is among those ‘stand-outs’ of Forum commitments and achievements in cooperation; Governance strengthening; security; human rights; conflict management and prevention, are key parts of our engagement within, and beyond our region.

Economically, the Forum stands strong together, on policy and trade frameworks such as PICTA, and the advancement of services, investment, and private sector expansion.

Inter-agency cooperation among the CROP group is strengthening; the Forum Compact aid effectiveness; and donor partner dialogue successes, now involve fresh engagement with the United States, and newly-developing high level contact with the United Nations Leadership and the UN’s broad system of global programmes.

The Pacific Islands Forum as it stands today, more than 40 years on, has a suite of formal mechanisms of action – all strengthened and given meaning by that willingness to work together.

The Pacific Plan, a blueprint of our priorities, guides and adds value to the cooperative approach adopted by our 16 nations.

We must build on progress and allow these gains to become part of who we are, and what we have. The positive success stories are ours to promote and share with each other, and the rest of the world.

Moreover, this new sense of optimism has to be driven by rising above the constraints and the difficulties we’ve confronted, and harnessing it to energise the Pacific Plan.

Future Generations

This year, on the occasion of the Annual Leaders’ Lecture, I have the opportunity to provide these perspectives on the Pacific Plan after having hosted the Forum Leaders in Rarotonga, and also Aitutaki.

The Cook Islands accepted this honour with enormous pride and an inspiring highlight for us as hosts was to witness the optimism of our own people – especially the young.

For those fortunate to have been there, I think you would agree with me that the schoolchildren of Rarotonga were the heart of this year’s gathering of Leaders – each school adopting a Pacific country as their own and taking them into their hearts as fondly as their own country spirit that beats within them.

To me, our new optimism begins here: in those that are the heartbeat of our Region.


The future generations are where our horizon lies as Pacific Islanders. For example, our support, hard work, and priority to establish a Marine Protected Area in the Southern EEZ of the Cook Islands, was all about the future. It’s not about me....or you.

Commanding half of our territorial sea and holding it up as an oceanic model for the sustainable management and use of our natural resources was all about our children’s children.

Today’s framework of cooperation to pursue advantages is ‘our doing’ under the Pacific Plan’s regard for our ocean but the ideals are clearly designed for the benefit of those to come.

The sound management of our ocean’s resources is also the driving force of our ongoing priority to investigate seabed mining in the Cook Islands – a new frontier that blends caution with optimism while mapping a way forward.

Uppermost in this ‘steady as she goes’ approach is our deliberate and forthright path to build a credible new industry – an entirely new sector in our national economy, which will promote development with integrity.

The Cook Islands is not yet in a position to ‘dive’ for minerals but it is in a strengthened position....of knowledge and experience after nearly four decades of seabed mapping and research, and more recently, a regulatory regime that will assist a competitive industry into the future.

While the Cook Islands is somewhat of an ‘old hand’ at talking about seabed minerals, it still remains true that deepsea mining is new territory to explore. Optimism generated by the possibility of riches at the bottom of the sea must therefore be tempered with the reality of global trends and technological advancements as much as our capability in sustainable management.

Where the Pacific can claim an increasingly more positive outlook is the promise of new levels of cooperation in sharing experiences and information. With our nations integrated in close consultation, we can build the seabed mining knowledge base by drawing on the invaluable help of partnerships with entities such as the SOPAC Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

The Cook Islands is a willing player in this regard and is prepared to advance the pace on sharing information on what will become a crucial industry in the future.


A quickening of pace has already characterized our cooperative, integrated approach to regional fisheries – the traditional centrepiece of the Pacific’s ‘oceanscape’. The fisheries resource crucial to our livelihoods and sustained economic strengthening has commanded the majority share of priority attention in policy and planning, as well as direct negotiations within, and outside, of the region.

It’s fair to say that our stewardship of the ocean is dominated by a sector that cuts across all four pillars of the Pacific Plan. Fisheries, is inextricably tied to considerations of economic growth, sustainable development, good governance, and security.

In a series of firsts at this year’s Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Rarotonga, our fisheries management was given added security with the simultaneous conclusion of eight maritime boundary treaty signings, an accomplishment unequalled, anywhere in the world.

This modest ceremony was a significant ‘card’ of achievement for the Region, harnessing multi-agency cooperation led by the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, bringing together several countries in a multi-layered joint effort for fisheries governance, and strengthening the Pacific’s resource management priorities for the future.

The purposeful dedication to preserve and manage our fisheries is a firm indicator of the potential of Pacific Regionalism, to rise above the constraints, and stay optimistic about the future.


Our brand of Regionalism also demonstrated a heightened awareness of each other’s peculiar challenges and advantages, during the Forum in Rarotonga.

At the outset of the Forum proper, for example, the fledgling Polynesian Leaders’ Group, which embraces five full members of the Forum, led a discussion on Energy, and the progress of adopting and utilizing alternative sources to fuel our future development.

Samoa and the Kingdom of Tonga, are among the leading nations in the Pacific in this regard, securing higher levels of integration by boosting the share of Renewable Energy generation and applying working models for the region to investigate, and perhaps, adapt to their own power environments.

The Polynesian Leaders resolved to launch a new effort of sharing the knowledge on Energy developments, particularly given the varying speed levels of advancement among the Forum member countries.

We’d like to bring up the pace by learning as much as we can feasibly achieve, and in the process share the interest of how renewable energy can transform our power systems, and thus, national economies.

Enhancing the region with clean, green energy systems, is a goal we can achieve and promote more broadly. Individually, Pacific nations have taken bold steps. Yes, our Renewable Energy targets are ambitious. And no, our pockets are not deep.

But by recognising the extent to which we can close the gaps in the renewable energy knowledge base, a broader, concerted approach to exchanging information and study data will capitalize on the real achievements thus far, lift the momentum for change, and inject an added level of optimism about the future security of our energy needs.

Individual gains can translate into joint benefits under a fresh approach – and demonstrating that to the outside world can attract the investment we need.

I believe our progressive steps in Oceans Management and Alternative Energy Development help generate a renewed sense of optimism that will propel us well into the next 40 years.

The Future

In thinking about the Forum’s Founding Leaders, and their own outlook in 1971, I’m reminded of the way my elders in Aitutaki were concerned about the future of their livelihoods.

My birth island – Aitutaki – is where a small community Growers’ Association played a major role in motivating our Founding Leader Papa Arapati Henry to take their concerns to the Regional ‘table’.

At that time, well before the doors opened to Tourism, grassroots concerns over the future sustainability of our valuable banana exports helped shape the Premier’s thinking – and approach – to Pacific Regionalism, and the burgeoning ‘Pacific Way’ of taking on challenges and talking them through with common purpose.

Today, linkages between the grassroots reality and regional objectives need to be clearly articulated and appreciated.

Alignment must lead to improved levels of integration in the way we approach the setting of priorities.

For our Plan to be dynamic it should provide us the guidance with which to tackle our problems. It should remain relevant to the changing nature of the region and the influences and challenges it faces now, and into the future.

And as much as possible, the will and support of Leaders can, and should, strengthen ownership of the Pacific Plan.

The forthcoming review ought to strengthen our capability of responding to the demands placed upon it. After all, we need a dependable way of keeping our finger on the pulse of this living framework so that it remains responsive to our needs and keeps that sense of optimism alive.

Distinguished colleagues and guests, I’d like to close this lecture with a respectful word about the greatest inspirational ‘framework’ of all – the Bible.

Should there be any doubt about the sense of something greater that’s within our reach and the existence of optimism in believing in ourselves one need only look to the Good Book.

On the road of adversity the Lord said this in Isaiah: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing."

I believe the strengthening of our own resolve to do better, under our Pacific Plan to attain new heights of prosperity, and sustain peace in our region, we will always be blessed by the presence of the guiding hand of God.

Kia Manuia and may God continue to Bless us all.



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