12 August 2015
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
- On behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, I welcome you all to the Secretariat for the first meeting in 2015 of the Forum Officials Committee.
- This meeting is a crucial step in preparing for the meeting of Forum Leaders. We come together today to ensure that when Leaders meet in Port Moresby in four weeks, they will be able to have a focused and fruitful discussion between themselves, and also with key stakeholders.
[Observations on first months as SG]
3. I first sat in this Committee when it met in December last year and at that point I
had only been in office several days. So this meeting represents something of a milestone for me, an opportunity to take stock of the past seven months since I assumed the role of Secretary General.
- In that time, I have had the honour to meet with almost all Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, both through country visits, regional meetings and the PALM7 Summit. I have also travelled to 15 of our 16 Member countries, and to 2 of our 3 Associate Members. These discussions and visits have been extremely useful for me to get a first-hand account from Forum Leaders about their concerns and priorities and their experience of regionalism to date.
My visits have also highlighted the vulnerability of our SIS. And at our SIS Official Meeting yesterday I have made a personal commitment to our SIS members that during my tenure I will ensure greater effort by the Secretariat on their behalf.
- These consultations have impressed upon me both the complexity of our region, and the opportunities for regional and collective action to address many of our shared challenges.
- They have also demonstrated to me just how very important it is that as senior officials of the region we make every effort to realise the Leaders’ expectations for deeper regionalism, as articulated by the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. This means focusing more sharply on high priority issues and on the delivery of results – results that make a practical and positive difference to the lives of Pacific people. We must all work hard not only to serve the interests of the collective Forum membership but also to have an ongoing, productive conversation with other stakeholders – civil society, private enterprise and our development partners. Crucially we must also collaborate effectively with those partners who will help to deliver results: not least with the technical agencies of CROP, but also other related regional or sub-regional entities. And I take this opportunity to acknowledge with appreciation the presence today of CROP agencies.
- Under the Forum’s constituent treaty – the 2005 Agreement Establishing the Pacific Islands Forum – the Secretariat has a particular responsibility to promote
regional co-operation and integration in the Pacific region. The Framework process serves to underscore that obligation.
[Framework for Pacific Regionalism]
8. Ensuring that the Framework will be an effective mechanism for deepening
regionalism and shaping the appropriate role of the Secretariat has been my key
focus since taking up office. I am pleased to report the progress that the Secretariat
has made so far, in giving life to the Framework.
- You may recall that in our meeting in December last year, we advised that it would
be unlikely that the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism would be in a
position to provide any recommendations to Leaders by September 2015. However,
we expedited this work and in May opened up a call to the public for proposals. We received 68 proposals, a number that exceeded our expectations. The issues raised in those proposals reflected expectations of the broader community in the role that Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum could perform in making decisions of consequence for the whole region.
- The SSCR assessed every one of the 68 proposals against the regional tests set out in the Framework. The SSCR’s recommendations are now before you and will be a central focus of our discussions in this meeting. Consistent with the Framework’s emphasis of a focused regional agenda, the SSCR has identified five issues it considers worthy of discussion and decision by Forum Leaders. The SSCR has also proposed that other issues and initiatives contained in the proposals warrant referral to relevant ministerial bodies or warrant further analysis and research before being referred for political-level consideration.
- As a result, this meeting of the FOC is significant in that for the first time you will be developing the Leaders’ agenda for the upcoming Forum primarily by reference to the recommendations of SSCR – which in turn have been based on the large pool of proposals for regional action. For this Committee, as for the Secretariat, this represents a different way of doing business. I ask that we all come to this new approach in the spirit of the new Framework. And I reiterate the responsibility of this Committee, as articulated in the Framework and approved by Leaders, to ensure that ‘politically sensitive and major regional issues and initiatives are the focus of the Leaders’ meeting’.
- Colleagues, it goes without saying that the Framework for Pacific Regionalism is more than just a matter of process. It envisages a new way of working for the Forum across the board and over the next two days we will discuss the steps that have been taken so far to ensure that Forum modalities – such as regional meetings and engagement with partners – give effect to the Framework’s values and overall ambition of a more strategic and dynamic regional agenda. We are just at the start of considering these issues; it will be an iterative process and I call for your support as members of the Forum to give the necessary commitment to it.
- I am committed to ensuring that the Secretariat is fit for purpose to deliver the Leaders’ higher ambitions for regionalism through the new process and principles contained in the Framework. We have embarked on an internal process of change to ensure that we can drive the robust and inclusive regional public policy process established by the Framework. And we are working hard to ensure that we are well prepared and resourced to deliver on the Leaders’ priorities. While we are not in a position to present specific reforms at this meeting, I will be flagging my proposal for a re-oriented Secretariat with Members in coming weeks, and will present a detailed case at the Budget and Work Programme FOC later this year.
14. In concluding, I would like to acknowledge the important role you all play as members of the executive committee to the Pacific Islands Forum. Both Leaders and the Secretariat rely on the Committee’s guidance and advice to steer regional efforts to improve economic growth, sustainable development, and the governance and security of our Pacific region.
- I also take this opportunity to thank the outgoing Chair for his adept guidance of the Committee during the past year. And I look forward to welcoming Tuvalu as the incoming Chair of this Committee.
- Colleagues, I wish you well in your deliberations. The Secretariat is here to support our Members by assisting you in any way we can.