Bishop Veburi Dabada, United Church Bishop
Mr. Robert Zutu, Acting PIANGO Board Chair
Mr. Tony Tujan, IBON International Director
Invited guests, PIANGO members, Participants to this Dialogue Forum,
Ladies and Gentlemen –
Firstly, I want to express how very deeply touched I am by the people of Vabukori for extending a very warm welcome to all our PIANGO guests and to myself. And particularly to the young people and the elders of Vabukori. Thank you very much.
I just want to say, building on what was said about how Melanesians feel strongly about being welcomed to a land before they walk through it. It was Emele and PIANGO in Fiji that extended to me a very warm welcome at a time when I arrived in a country that was coming through its democratic processes, it was still a very tense situation between the Pacific Islands Forum and Government of Fiji. My first months were lonely, they weren’t the happiest. And I can honestly say from the depths of my heart that it wasn’t till we had the Tanoa, and the welcome, and the prayer in Fiji, that it made me feel comfortable to go to the market on Saturdays and walk through the streets and feel that I had a right to be there. So I thank you very much for that.
I also, if I may acknowledge the presence of a very dear and old and special friend, Lady Winifred Kamit, who is with us today. Lady Kamit has always been an inspiration for me. Thank you.
It gives me great pleasure to be back on home ground here in Papua New Guinea and to undertake this role in my capacity as Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
A very special welcome to civil society leaders from abroad who have come here especially at this time, as with the rest of us, in preparation for the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting taking place next week here in Port Moresby.
Fifteen Prime Ministers and Presidents will be here. Fiji will be represented by the Foreign Minister. So this is really important for all of us that decisions are going to be made at the highest levels. This is an important and momentous occasion for Pacific CSOs, and I am pleased to learn that through the hard work of PIANGO at the global CSO development cooperation arena, the Pacific is to be a standalone region from Asia. I acknowledge that Mr. Tony Tujan is here representing the Asia region to facilitate that historic birthing of the Pacific as a region away from the traditional Asia Pacific region and I welcome it.
I note with particular interest the theme of this dialogue – “Rethinking development, Reshaping the Pacific we Want” which is relevant at this very important time for rethinking and reshaping Pacific regionalism.
The issues on your agenda are issues that cut across work that is being carried out within the Forum Secretariat, including the Post 2015 development agenda; engagement with civil society; temporary special measures for women’s political representation in Parliament; as well as climate change and West Papua. These latter two issues are on the agenda for the Forum Leaders meeting next week.
I am a strong supporter of civil society and I don’t say that lightly. I am committed to ensuring that we take inclusive approaches in our work at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
As Secretary General, I have visited 15 of the 16 Forum member countries and have met with Leaders of each country to discuss the regional agenda. The only country I haven’t been to is Niue and that was at the request of the Premier that I wait till later in the year.
While I have had limited opportunities to meet with civil society representatives during these initial visits, one of my priorities over the coming year is to spend time talking to civil society organizations during regular country consultations.
I meet regularly with the regional CSOs in Suva, some of whom are with us here today, and I intend for that meeting to be a regular commitment on our calendar of events at the Secretariat.
Next week, the Papua New Guinea Government will host a civil society engagement with the Troika Leaders as part of the official Forum Leaders schedule of events. For those of you who are not clear who the Troika are. The Troika are three members of the forum; the past chair, the present chair and the future chair. The past was the Republic of Marshall Islands, the present is Palau and the future will be Papua New Guinea. They are the leaders who will meet with Civil Society. This is a milestone for the Forum in that it contributes to the Leaders’ vision for an inclusive and participatory process for regionalism, as articulated in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
That event, combined with this one, marks a sea change in terms of Forum engagement with civil society, but it should be viewed on both sides as only the start of a process towards increased engagement.
As Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat, I want to acknowledge the collective efforts of Pacific CSOs and PIANGO in your submissions to the 2013 Pacific Plan Review for greater inclusion of civil society in regional processes.
Pacific Plan Review
The Secretariat’s mandate to engage more effectively with civil society comes directly from the Pacific Plan Review which was led by Sir Mekere Morauta, former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
The Review has called for meaningful change at regional level – not only in relation to improved regional processes – but in terms of the number of voices that contribute to regional discussions.
The Review also calls for a shift in the development paradigm in our region – ensuring that the regional agenda is shaped by our people, is consistent with our values and principles; is actively driven by our Leadership; and is implemented in partnership with donor and development partners.
Your considerations over the coming days as to how civil society is best placed to contribute to this paradigm are important; and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of your discussions in due course.
Framework for Pacific Regionalism
In relation to the Framework for Pacific Regionalism; let me say that it needs to be understood within the context of the findings of Sir Mekere’s Review, which in its entirety took in the views of over 700 people across the region, as well as 70 public submissions on regional matters.
A key recommendation was for improved processes for determining regional priorities, and a streamlining of the regional agenda to ensure that issues put before Forum Leaders are game-changing and high-level such that our political leadership can take real and effective ownership of this agenda. In his own words Sir Mekere said “The leaders of the Pacific have to own the politics of regional issues.”
Another recommendation of the Review is for greater inclusivity and participation from all stakeholders in informing and shaping the regional agenda. On this point let me plainly state my view: that if regionalism in the Pacific under this new Framework is confined to the world of officials and governments, then it is doomed in the long run. Regionalism and regional processes must embrace and consult all stakeholders across this vast region. Civil society must play an integral part in shaping and implementing regionalism, as must the churches, communities, the private sector, academics and individuals.
The Framework for Pacific Regionalism also signals major shifts for the Pacific Islands Forum, including greater political commitment by member countries to regionalism; a Forum that is open to robust and frank discussion about regionalism; and a Secretariat to the Forum that offers high level policy advice in support of regionalism.
We have begun implementing the processes set out in the Framework. In May, the Forum Secretariat opened up a call to the public for proposals. We received 68 proposals, a number that exceeded our expectation.
About a quarter of these initiatives were from CSOs. The issues raised in those proposals reflected expectations of the broader community in the role that Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum should perform in making decisions of consequence for the entire region.
The submissions covered a wide range of thematic areas including Security and Human Rights, Oceans, Economic-related Issues, Climate Change, Tourism, Education, Governance, Labour Mobility, Health, Cross-cutting issues, gender issues, Sustainable Development Goals, ICT, Environmental Issues, Regional Architecture, and Culture.
The Specialist Sub-Committee for Regionalism, an independent representative body, assessed every one of the 68 proposals against the regional tests set out in the Framework. And if you take a look at the Framework you will see what those tests are: the sovereignty test, the regionalism test, the benefit test, the political oversight test, risk and sustainability test, duplication test, and market test. So every proposal that came to the Secretariat was run through those tests and then the Special Sub-Committee, whose members are chosen by the Troika, not by the Secretariat, make their recommendations. So the work of the Secretariat is to facilitate that work. I chair the Special Sub-Committee, but I don’t make the decisions.
Consistent with the Framework’s emphasis of a focused regional agenda, the SSCR has identified five issues for Forum Leaders to consider. The SSCR has also proposed that other issues and initiatives contained in the proposals be referred to relevant ministerial bodies or that further analysis and research be carried out before being referred for political-level consideration.
As you may know, the initiatives identified by the SSCR for consideration by Leaders as regional priorities are, and I don’t say these in order of priority, all are equally important: climate change, ICT, added value of fisheries to this region, West Papua and cervical cancer. These initiatives for regional action will be discussed by Forum Leaders at their talks next week. Feel free to ask questions about these after the session. It’s interesting in my discussions with Leaders preparing for this meeting coming up. The two that seems to throw them are West Papua and cervical cancer. I’m not going to give you the answers. I want you to think and tell me what we should do about these issues and how best I can inform the leaders. I will be in a room with sixteen of my bosses next week and I’ve given a lot of thought to this. They will consider these five issues. They may not choose all of them but I think we hope they do choose all of them. The issue of West Papua may be a challenge for some of our governments and how they answer that. And cervical cancer because a lot of people just don’t understand the issues and how important it is for women and girls. This illness kills a lot of women in our region.
Over the course of your discussions, I encourage you to take stock of what the Framework for Pacific Regionalism represents – both in its various processes as well in the spirit of inclusivity and ownership that it advocates. Civil society has a very important role to play in this new world, and your work over the coming days will provide some important thinking around key regional issues as well as the central role that civil society must play in support of regionalism.
Friends, once again I thank you for giving me the privilege to open this event, and I wish you all the very best for your discussions in the coming days.