SG's opening remarks, Pacific Regional Audit Initiative meet
30 April to 2 May, 2007


Mr Greg Urwin, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Auditors General
Development Partners
Distinguished participants

It is a pleasure to be able to open this important meeting. I have been asked to say a little about the Pacific Plan and what it may mean for countries, particularly in the area of economic governance.

Regionalism and the Pacific Plan 

2. Let me first say a little about what led Forum Leaders to call for a Pacific Plan to strengthen regional cooperation and integration, based on their Vision for the type of future they want for their people. They recognised that, as the change brought about by globalisation intensifies, so should our ability to make our regional cooperation more relevant and effective - a view which seems to me impossible to deny.

3. Work undertaken in the development of the Pacific Plan has considered several different concepts of regionalism and concluded that, in broad terms, there are two key areas which are expected to provide the highest gains in the Pacific – that is: (i) regional provision of goods and services to compensate for and overcome capacity limitations at a national level; and (ii) increasing development opportunities through integration and the creation of larger markets.

4. As you know, the Pacific Plan, with its range of priority initiatives under the four inter-related goals of economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security, was endorsed by Forum Leaders at their annual meeting in 2005. These activities are now being progressed – under management of the Forum Secretariat and political oversight and guidance of the Pacific Plan Action Committee (PPAC), chaired by the Forum Chair. And, as the regional organisations are playing a key role in the implementation of the Plan, we are strengthening our cooperative abilities by developing a regional institutional framework that is appropriate for these new approaches to regionalism.

Regional Modalities 

5. The Pacific Plan is based on the assumption that regional approaches are only taken if and when they add value at a country level. I make this obvious, but often misunderstood, point that regionalism is not intended to replace national policies and programmes, but to support and complement them. Providing goods and services regionally means that only the management of delivery is shifted to a regional mechanism, not the policy-making which underpins it. Protecting and enhancing national sovereignty is, in fact, a key goal of regionalism. This can seem counter-intuitive, as many regional initiatives do pool services into a regional body, and there are already some good lessons in the USP model and in PASO, for example. It seems to me that it is a realistic view that national governments can, in fact, enhance their sovereignty by allowing regional bodies to implement some of their policy decisions (in effect, as service providers). This devolution of service provision to regional mechanisms can allow national governments to focus on critical priorities and the direct needs of their people rather than spending scarce resources on costly, duplicative services whose overhead costs could be shared with others.

6. Having said that, implementation of regional decisions at the national level has, I’m sure we would all agree, thusfar been patchy. If strengthened regionalism is to make a positive impact on the lives of Pacific people, then we will have to find better means of matching our regional good intentions with national interest and commitment. I cannot stress enough that the successful implementation of the Plan depends on the political will and commitment of resources by countries to pursue some of their important national policies and strategies more cogently and cost-effectively through regionalism.

Economic governance
7. Within this national focus for regional approaches, the measures identified for early implementation under the Plan are practical in character or intended to be so, and many are grounded in pre-existing activity. They are also seen as measures to underpin the expansion of regional integration into the future. Consideration is being given to moving progressively towards a comprehensive framework agreement among all members, one that includes free trade in goods and services (including labour), and broader-based economic cooperation.

8. However, to move confidently in that direction, sustained efforts are required to improve economic governance – an area in which, as we know, many countries face critical weaknesses. Thus, an important basis of the Pacific Plan has been the assessment of the costs of a package of several strategic economic management initiatives. These include:

  • Regional capacity to assist customs officials in collecting revenue;
  • A regional ombudsman, with power to assess the merits of citizens' complaints about administrative acts and decisions of government agencies, including alleged violations of the Forum Eight Principles of Accountability, and to recommend remedial action; and
  • Establishment of an accountable and independent macro-economic and micro-economic technical assistance mechanism (including statistics), to strengthen treasury and finance functions and provide economic analysis.

Regional Audit Service 

9. Another such initiative concerns the audit function - a subject close to all of you here, and one you will be looking at in the next few days. An independent, impartial, competent, and properly funded public audit agency is a vital component in the institutional arrangements that all countries, including Forum Island Countries, need in order to foster and maintain good governance. This requirement also applies to regional and international public sector activities. As you are well aware, audits of public expenditure, revenue, financial assets, and liabilities achieve valuable public benefits. 

10. Many of our member countries, however, find it very difficult to attract and retain staff with the necessary skills and experience to carry out the work needed to attain these important benefits. Professionally qualified, experienced accountancy staff are in high demand and tend to be attracted to larger countries. Considerable disparities exist in the operational capacities of FIC auditor-general offices. 

11. Strengthened regional approaches certainly have a role to play in changing this. As a matter of fact, Public auditors know all about regional cooperation, having one of the more long standing and active regional bodies in the South Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions (SPASAI). We have before us an enabling environment to develop a comprehensive, sustainable regional approach to developing Public Auditing in the Pacific. 

12. This work has solid financial and technical support from the Asian Development Bank, AusAID, the Forum Secretariat. Most importantly, the initiative is being driven by Pacific Auditors-General, as evidenced by the high-level attendance at this week's meeting. As a result of our collective efforts, we have made good progress in the past year in doing the groundwork, and I am sure even more will be made this year.
13. In carrying forward this work, there will need, clearly, to be consideration of all possible forms of regional approaches from strengthened information sharing, to capacity-building functions, such as specialist advice and training, and if conditions are suitable, establishing a sub-regional approach to public auditing – again all in the interest of strengthening the quality and quantity of audit in our member countries.


14. In summary then, while there is now considerable enthusiasm for and expectations of the Pacific Plan, and regional approaches in general, we will need to harness our collective efforts to remedy, once and for all, the kinds of challenges we have faced in delivering expected levels of service delivery outcomes at the national level.

15. Much that needs to be done in improving audit services will depend on your commitment, and cooperation among our members and our development partners, and on sheer staying power. The Plan, I would suggest, however is here to stay as a mechanism for shaping the region’s longer-term future. So, without, I hope, being pretentious about it, I do urge those who care about that future to look at the Pacific Plan and see what they might do about bringing it to life.

16. I wish you all every success in this meeting, and I look forward to learning of the outcomes, as I am sure our Leaders are. Thank you again for the privilege of officially opening it.

30th April 2007
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Suva, Fiji
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