SG Slade's Opening Remarks at 2013 Forum Officials Committee Pre-Forum Session



Forum Secretariat, Suva, 8 – 9 August 2013

Madame Chairperson
Distinguished Senior Officials and delegates to the Forum Officials Committee
Fellow CROP Executives and representatives

On behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, I welcome you all to this year’s Pre-Forum session of the Forum’s Officials Committee (FOC). I thank the outgoing Chairperson for her skillful guidance of the Committee over the past twelve months; and I am very pleased to welcome the distinguished Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Solomon Islands as the new Chairperson.

2. In welcoming you today, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and endurance of so many of you who have represented your countries in meetings earlier this week, those of the Smaller Islands States/SIS Officials and the Pacific Plan Action Committee/PPAC. And to those who have just arrived for FOC, we extend a very warm welcome, particularly to those of you who may be in the Secretariat for the first time.

3. The Chief Executives and senior representatives of the CROP agencies are in the hall and we appreciate their presence. You too have had a busy week, commencing with our own CROP Executives meeting last Friday, and your attendance throughout this week to work together with member countries in the SIS and the PPAC meetings.

This FOC session
4. As the Forum Officials Committee, you of course are entrusted with the general oversight and governance direction of the Secretariat, and with the policy advice and preparations necessary for the Forum Leaders meeting next month in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Your report and recommendations to Leaders will thus be a principal objective of this session. In line with the arrangements agreed to last year, the Secretariat budget and the related policy issues, will be covered in a second FOC session later in the year.

Overview of Secretariat’s activities
5. Since the FOC meeting in August last year, the Secretariat has been engaged in a fairly extensive array of work, across the Secretariat’s mandate areas, to implement the directions and decisions of this Committee and of Forum Leaders. Paper No. 4 (a) provides matrix summation of the work undertaken, and in the course of the meeting we shall be pleased to deal with any detail which may require explanation.

6. Much of this work needs to be carried out in collaboration with the CROP agencies in pursuit of the region’s efforts and objectives, in multiple areas, including regional security, growth and sustainable development, the implementation of the Pacific Plan and the struggle against climate change. There are other priority subject issues, like the SIDS conference and its preparatory processes which has deeply engaged the Secretariat, indeed all CROP organisations, and the post-2015 global agenda on sustainable development goals.

CROP agencies
7. With respect to CROP, I am sure we can all continue to do better, but I believe there is a high degree of collegiality and professional sharing and cooperation among the regional organisations and their working methods, and that conscientious efforts are being made to coordinate, rationalise and integrate their activities with a view to improving their services to member countries. I want here to record my appreciation to all CROP organisations for their assistance and support.

SIS countries
8. In the work of the Secretariat, as I believe among the CROP agencies, every effort is being made to give priority attention to the special needs of the SIS countries. We have underscored this commitment to member countries in the SIS Senior Officials meeting held earlier this week. Important efficiencies and achievements are being made in the role and functioning of the SIS desk officers and the larger membership of the Committee may wish to take particular note of this.

Secretariat reforms
9. As outlined in Paper 7 (a) a whole range of corporate reforms are in train and being implemented. Significant effort has gone in to developing a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework to support the Secretariat in prioritising and tracking the implementation of tasks and activities under various mandates. Similar effort has been employed in the development of a Communications Blueprint and the improvement of the Secretariat’s communications strategies, including through appropriate staff training. Work on the Audit and Risk Sub-Committee has also been advanced. We will speak to these and other reform measures in the course of the meeting.
10. Without exception Secretariat staff have rallied around these reform efforts, and before the Committee I want to acknowledge and thank them all for their commitment and cooperation.

11. The new Corporate Services Director is now on board, and I am very pleased to introduce to you Mr Simon Clegg.

12. We could not have managed without member countries, and you have been most kind with your support and encouragement. The Secretariat is especially grateful to Government of Australia and AusAID for the expertise of personnel made so readily available and for the very generous financial assistance.

Preparations for Leaders’ meeting
13. As outlined in Paper 6 (a), we will provide a detailed briefing on the arrangements and preparations for the Forum Leaders’ meetings, and other related meetings to be hosted by the Republic of the Marshall Islands from 3 to 6 September.

14. The theme selected by the host Government – “Marshalling a Pacific Response to the Climate Challenge” - seems most aptly on the mark, not only with the background of the severe drought and inundation in the Marshall Islands and the requisite responses we seek for a vulnerable region, but also for the run-up to the SIDS conference in Samoa and the global climate debates next year.

Partnership mechanisms
15. At your meeting last August, FOC called for a re-assessment of the Post-Forum Dialogue (PFD) Partners’ membership arrangements. Reports received from PFD partners have now been uploaded onto the Secretariat’s website and are available for members’ information.

16. The Committee will recall that in 2007, Forum Leaders welcomed Italy as its 14th PFD partner following the review of the PFD arrangements. A year later, Leaders agreed that progressive steps towards PFD partner status should include initial engagement in the Pacific Island Countries and Development Partners’ (PIC/Partners) meetings before a comprehensive analysis of their application for PFD status were to be undertaken.

17. PIC/Partners’ meetings have provided valuable opportunities for the mutual sharing of information and experiences on international, regional and national level development cooperation policies and frameworks. Increasingly, however, and since 2008, many foreign States have sought to engage in PIC/Partners’ meetings on the understanding that this may lead, by default, to possible Post-Forum Dialogue membership status. As directed in 2011 and 2012, the Committee will be informed of progress made in the development of formal criteria for membership of the PIC/Partners’ meeting, with a view to seeking demonstrable commitment by foreign States to a sustainable and enduring engagement with the Pacific region. In this respect, we will place before you applications submitted by the Governments of Cuba and the Kingdom of Spain for admission as Post-Forum Dialogue Partners together with relevant recommendations to Forum Leaders for their consideration and decision.

18. Under this agenda item, the Committee will also be informed of arrangements relating to the upcoming summitry meetings with individual PFD partners later this year, namely, with the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, and Japan.

Regional security
19. As members will be aware, it is a long-standing practice of this Committee to consider regional political and security issues and provide to Leaders advice and recommendations on these matters. The role of the Committee in this regard recognises the sensitive and complex nature of many of these security issues and the fact that they are not easily accommodated within the framework of the Pacific Plan (or covered in the report normally sent directly to Leaders from the Chair of the PPAC). In this role, the Committee draws on the specialist advice of the Forum’s Regional Security Committee (the FRSC).

20. At their meeting this year, the FRSC discussed a broad range of issues impacting the region’s security, including transnational organised crime, small arms and light weapons, unexploded ordnance, sexual and gender based violence, and corruption. In Paper 5 (b) we propose to present to FOC the FRSC’s outcomes, including their recommendation that Leaders be apprised of regional cooperation efforts to address the continuing threat of transnational organised crime. The FRSC has also recommended that Leaders be informed of the region’s participation in the negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty and the role that Forum members can play in expediting the Treaty’s entry into force.

Biketawa Declaration

21. Currently, there are two regional situations being addressed under the Biketawa Declaration: the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and the work of the Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) on Fiji.

22. The 10th anniversary of RAMSI was celebrated just two weeks ago. RAMSI is a high point in regional cooperation endeavour and in every respect an achievement of considerable importance.

23. The withdrawal of the military component and other changes to RAMSI which came into effect on 1 July this year, necessitate changes to the oversight mechanisms provided by the Forum, namely, changes to the Enhanced Consultative Mechanism (of officials) and the Forum Ministerial Standing Committee on RAMSI. It means that that Forum Leaders – on the advice of the FRSC and FOC – will continue to provide oversight of the mission in 2014.

24. Since last August, there have been significant developments in relation to the Fiji government’s preparations for parliamentary elections in 2014. These developments have included substantive changes to the constitution-making process which commenced last year, as well as the introduction of a decree regulating the status of political parties. These and other issues have been considered by the Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) on Fiji which visited Fiji on 12 April this year.

25. The MCG is scheduled to visit Fiji again on 28 August, and the Secretariat is working closely with relevant member countries to ensure a successful second visit. The Group will submit its report for Leaders’ consideration at the upcoming Forum in September.

26. So, distinguished colleagues, you have many important tasks before you; an even more important responsibility to discharge as the Governing Council of the Secretariat. Forum Leaders and we in the Secretariat rely on the Committee’s guidance and direction. We are here to assist and will be honoured to do so.

27. I wish you well in your deliberations.

Thank you.

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