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Opening Remarks at the Forum Officials Committee 2014 Pre-Forum Session by the Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade

 

FORUM OFFICIALS COMMITTEE
2014 PRE-FORUM SESSION

 

OPENING REMARKS

BY

SECRETARY GENERAL TUILOMA NERONI SLADE

 

Forum Secretariat, Suva, 2 – 3 July 2014

 

 

Mr Chairperson [to confirm whether it will be High Commissioner Patterson Oti]

The Honourable F. Umiich Sengebau, Minister for Natural Resources, Environment & Tourism of the Republic of Palau

Distinguished Senior Officials and delegates to the Forum Officials Committee

Fellow CROP Executives and representatives

Colleagues

 

          We want to thank the outgoing Chair and the Government of Solomon Islands for their leadership of the Committee during the past year. In a short while we very much look forward to welcoming the Government of Tonga as the succeeding FOC Chair.

2.       As this is her first FOC meeting I am delighted to formally introduce to the Committee Deputy Secretary General Cristelle Pratt.  On behalf of the Deputy Secretaries General and all staff we welcome you all to this year’s Pre-Forum session of the Committee.  

3.       With the new arrangements endorsed by Leaders at their recent Special Retreat in the Cook Islands, this Committee session  is the first  since 2006 that will  not have been preceded by a meeting of the Pacific Plan Action Committee (PPAC). In part, this has required  recalibration of  your programme of work, and so that your agenda is consequentially somewhat  substantial, with the inclusion of a number of topics  which otherwise would previously have been dealt with  by PPAC.

4.       At the outset, I would like to thank the Government of Palau for all their efforts in preparing to host this year’s meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders, which will take place from 29 July to 1 August – three short weeks away. A more detailed briefing will be provided to you later today on the preparations, but I want to note that the arrangements are in very good order.

5.       We thank and congratulate  the Government of Palau for the theme of the Leaders meeting: The Ocean: Life and Future. It is a theme which draws on  the region’s commitment and efforts to sustainably develop, manage and conserve the Pacific Ocean and its resources for our current needs and those of future generations.

6.       It is a theme most timely and having considerable  strategic significance in the lead up to the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States, to be held in Samoa in September. Without question the SIDS Conference presents a rare  opportunity for our region to influence and shape global development priorities, including with respect to the oceans. We acknowledge with appreciation to all Forum countries the fine efforts already in train for the active international advocacy for the oceans as a stand-alone priority focus  in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  I am sure that Forum Leaders in Palau will wish to leave no doubt as to the region’s priority and  solidarity on this matter.  

7.       A principal subject for this Committee sessions, and of course for  Leaders in Palau, is the action take to implement the  directives of  the Special Retreat  on the Review of the Pacific Plan and the endorsed  re-casting of the Pacific Plan as the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

8.    As tasked by Leaders, the Forum Secretariat has worked to refine the draft Framework, undertaking extensive consultations with member countries and regional stakeholders.

9.     The draft before you represents what, in the Secretariat’s view, is a concise and comprehensive statement of the common core issues that member countries and stakeholders have sought to be captured in the Framework.  It articulates a regional vision and a set of Pacific regional values to guide all regional policy-making and implementation. Different modalities of regionalism are recognised as relevant to achieving four principal objectives covering sustainable development, economic growth, governance and security. The Framework also describes the process by which major regional initiatives will be prioritised for Leaders’ oversight, and outlines principles and process for monitoring progress of regional initiatives.

10.     The Framework entails new institutional arrangements for the Forum, specifically the establishment of the smaller specialist sub-committee of the FOC, which will be responsible for assessing regional initiatives under the Framework. The Secretariat has developed for your consideration draft terms of reference for the sub-committee as well as alternative options for its composition and selection.  Similarly, analysis and advice will be presented to you concerning Leaders’ request for options on the sequencing and rationalisation and of ministerial meetings, and the role a Forum Foreign Affairs’ Ministers meeting in the prioritisation of initiatives under the Framework.

11.     We look forward to receiving the Committee’s views and directions on the draft framework being tabled, as well as on proposals concerning governance arrangements.

12.     With respect to other areas of the  work programme,  the Secretariat is proceeding with  its core business and responsibility in providing advice, coordination and assistance in implementing the decisions of Forum Leaders. The details are covered in specific reports to  be considered in the course of this meeting, but I would like  briefly to highlight a few key areas.

13.     The Pacific Leaders Declaration on Gender Equality, was  of course a milestone outcome of the Cook Islands Forum  in 2012.  The Declaration has generated considerable activity among member governments, regional organisations and civil society to advance gender equality in decision-making, to empower women economically and to end violence against women and girls.  

14.     You will be briefed on progress in implementing the Declaration. Encouraging results  can be identified, but there is no doubt that much more can be done.  As will be discussed, challenges arise not only in undertaking policy and legislative reform, but also in undertaking the technical but undeniably important functions of measuring and reporting implementation. The Secretariat and regional organisations are working closely to address these challenges and ease the burden for member countries and their communities.

15.     With respect to the Forum Compact, regional cooperation is delivering real benefits to our member countries in the management of development assistance.  It is now five years ago since Forum Leaders endorsed the Forum Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination and I am very proud of the work undertaken by the Secretariat in making this Compact work at a practical level.

16.    Indeed, the Sir Mekere’s Review of the Pacific Plan described the Compact as ‘pioneer[ing] a world-leading peer review system in managing aid and development effectiveness.’  The success of this initiative can also be seen through the willingness of development partners to be included in the peer review process; and in this respect,  I note that Australia and New Zealand have confirmed their willingness to be peer reviewed by the end of 2014.

17.     Our work in implementing the Compact has included the preparation of detailed tracking reports on the Pacific’s progress in regard to the Millennium Development Goals as well the effectiveness of development efforts.  With the 2015 deadline looming, our region’s progress towards the MDGs is mixed, with a few countries likely to achieve all the MDGs, and the majority achieving either some or none at all. This unfinished business of the MDGs must be completed in the post-2015 development agenda. In pursuit of the MDGs, Forum island countries have demonstrated tremendous leadership by their willingness and commitment to review and strengthen their country systems, to improve accountability and development effectiveness.  These reports will be presented to you for your consideration in advance of their submission to Leaders.

18.     As the Governing Council, FOC is of course  entrusted with the provision of  advice to Leaders on complex and sensitive political and security issues.  

19.    In that respect, it is the long-standing practice of this Committee to draw on the specialist advice of the Forum’s Regional Security Committee (FRSC), a body which brings together senior officials of member countries as well as representatives of specialised regional law enforcement and legal agencies, and often representatives of relevant international organisations.

20.     The 2014 meeting of the FRSC discussed a broad range of issues impacting our region’s security, including transnational and organised crime, small arms and light weapons, money-laundering and sexual and gender based violence. And the FRSC endorsed a range of activities to be undertaken by the Secretariat and other partner organisations to support members in preventing and mitigating these challenges. But more worryingly, a number of organised crime groups and networks have become entrenched in many of our Pacific Island countries, and undertake criminal activities that include illicit movement of drugs, weapons and people, counterfeiting and money laundering, and commercial fraud. Our countries and region will continue to be targeted by transnational organised crime groups unless we are able to strengthen national law enforcement agencies and regional cooperation, and political motivation to respond to threats posed by transnational crimes.

21.     In recognition of the fact that these issues require not only technical responses, but also political-level attention, the FRSC has also recommended that certain issues be referred to Forum Leaders for priority attention. In this FOC session you, distinguished delegates, are being  asked to give special consideration to these recommendations.

22.     You will also be briefed on current developments with Fiji’s preparations for parliamentary elections in September, as well as the outcomes of the February visit of the Forum’s Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) on Fiji.

23.     I would note that the agenda before you does not feature a specific item on economic growth as such or on economic and trade issues. This reflects the fact that these issues are taken up  primarily through the relevant Ministerial level meetings, being the Forum Economic Ministers Meeting and the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting.  Nonetheless I would encourage this Committee to take note of the very considerable work being undertaken by the Secretariat to support member countries deepen their trade relationships both between each other, and with other regions of the world, and to strengthen their capacities for economic growth.

24.     But having said this, I cannot overemphasise the important role of the private sector in the growth of any economy. Only through a robust and resilient private sector can an economy truly flourish and create much needed development in the form of employment opportunities and improvements in services and infrastructure, which, among other things, will support poverty eradication efforts and sustainable livelihood for the populace.

25.     I am a strong advocate of the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) and its Protocol on Trade in Services and believe that they represent an important foundation for facilitating trade in goods and services between Forum Island Countries. Much more can be done to harness the potential of PICTA, but it is encouraging to see that since August 2012, ten countries have signed the PICTA Protocol on Trade in Services and four countries have ratified it. With two more ratifications, the Protocol will enter into force for the relevant countries, and enable their private sectors to broaden their opportunities for growth within the region.

26.     On partnerships, there cannot be doubt that our region’s ability to deepen regional cooperation and integration depends not only on the strength of  relationships with each other but also the  capacity to reach out and develop productive relationships with other strategic partners. In two months’ time, Samoa will host the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. The vulnerability of small islands requires the strongest support for international action. The Samoa outcomes must therefore reflect the urgency of global challenges which now threaten world-wide livelihoods and sustainability. There is need to address modern challenges in real and practical terms and effective solutions, and through the inclusion of private sector and civil society, and by maximising opportunities through harnessed strengths and comparative advantages. We thank and congratulate the Government of Samoa for the theme of the Conference - there cannot be a more effective pathway to sustainability than by the assurance of genuine commitment and enduring partnerships.

27.     The Pacific Island Countries and Development Partners (PIC-Partners) meeting that was held in Nadi last week brought together Forum members and development partners to discuss current priorities, including the outcomes of the Pacific Plan Review, progress of the Forum Compact and engagement with CSOs.  With the benefit of the useful discussions held at the meeting, the Forum Secretariat will develop options for enhancing the effectiveness of the meeting, as well as initiate consultations to explore options for improving the participation of CSOs in regional development policy-setting.

28.     The Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP)  is a key and pivotal  coordination mechanism among  regional organisations with  important coordinating implications for the member countries they serve and for advancing  Pacific regionalism.  The past year has seen a higher than usual frequency of meetings of CROP Executives, reflecting not only the collegial need to do so, but in particular keen interest of CROP  Executives in the implications of the Review of Pacific Plan. These meetings have also played an important function in coordinating the delivery of specialist policy advice and assistance to members in the lead up to the SIDS Conference. I would mention that in the last two of our CROP Executive meetings since February this year, we have held broad-ranging discussions by video-conferencing and have found this medium entirely satisfactory and highly cost-effective in time and budget expense.

29.     With respect to the arrangements for this FOC session, in particular the paper work, let me say that it has been a particularly full year for the Secretariat. The compacting time-frames around the Pacific Plan Review and its processes, the Leaders meeting and SIDS conferencing scheduling, have all taken their toll. I would therefore apologise in advance for the lateness of some of the meeting papers and seek the Committee’s understanding.  

30.     Mr Chairman, I need hardly to remind of the special role this Executive Committee, indeed its privileged position in proximity to Leaders and thus in the affairs of our region.  Both Leaders and the Secretariat rely on this Committee for its  guidance and advice to steer regional efforts to improve economic growth, sustainable development and the governance and security of all our countries and communities It is a task of huge responsibility for you all, especially in light of the key  finding of the Pacific Plan Review on  the need to streamline the Leaders’ Agenda to allow Leaders to consider and debate “big picture” issues effectively during their annual meetings. This responsibility is in the hands of this Committee to ensure this, with the continued support of your Secretariat.

31.     As this will be  my final sitting with the  Committee  allow me to put on record my appreciation for the  the  honour and privilege I have had to work with and to  serve this Committee. I have been fortunate in having a fully committed and talented staff behind me, and I will have occasion to thank them directly. We have seen a lot of good work and discussions in the Committee, and sound advice provided to Forum Leaders. We have dealt with difficult issues, and have considered and deliberated the challenges and opportunities of the recent Pacific Plan Review and reforms of the Forum Secretariat. Throughout these continued improvements, your organisation has endeavoured to do its utmost best to ensure that it remains ready to assist and support Forum member government. We have a lot of work before us, and it will not end. But rest assured that your Secretariat stands ready to assist you in taking this Organisation forward and in realising the vision of the Forum Leaders.

32.     I wish you well in your deliberations.


Thank you.



 

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