Thank you very much.
To the Honourable Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands,
Leaders from around the Pacific (and the Forum Chair)
Ministers and Members of Parliament
Heads and officials from the Diplomatic Corp
Government, and RAMSI Commanders and Officials
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me begin by conveying the sincere apologies of the Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, who regrets not been here today as originally planned, and I have had to step in on the Eleventh Hour. She was in PNG to vote, and was supposed to arrive yesterday. Unfortunately, the domestic flight from her constituency to Port Moresby was cancelled, so she missed her connecting flight. She is now scheduled to arrive after lunch today.
That said, I do note that in attendance today, is the former Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Ms Andie Fong Toy. If her tenure with the Forum Secretariat had lasted a couple more months, she would be giving these opening remarks instead of me. She has been with the Secretariat for the entire length of the RAMSI, and was an intrinsically involved in RAMSI matters.
On their behalf, let me say that it is a pleasure to be here today, and to provide these opening remarks – albeit without the ‘mana’ and eloquence of the Secretary General.
The Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor has articulated many times that “Pacific Regionalism” is defined by our common sense of identity and purpose. A desire to work together to overcome our common constraints and build the safe, prosperous and inclusive communities and nations.
The concept of “helpem fren” exists across our communities. It is an innate feeling of relationship and responsibility – a sense of belonging – that makes us unique as a region, and as “Pacific people”. When facing an issue that is simply too big to be dealt alone, we know that we can rely on our neighbours for help.
This is the essence of the Pacific Islands Forum.
The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which comes to an official end very shortly, is a perfect example of the benefit of regionalism, embodying more than a decade of partnership and cooperation amongst the members of the Pacific Islands Forum in the true Pacific spirit of “helpem fren”.
A defining element of RAMSI has been its Pacific regional character.
As you will recall, RAMSI was mobilised under the Biketawa Declaration, a regional instrument endorsed by Forum Leaders enabling and sanctioning the regional response. And of course, Forum countries contributed openly and generously once the mission was established.
RAMSI has been, without a doubt, a true regional exercise in solidarity and a shining example of Pacific cooperation. We must acknowledge the people of Solomon Islands themselves for their widespread support for RAMSI, which was essential for the successful operation of the mission.
The effectiveness of any armed intervention, particularly in a civilian landscape, relies heavily on the conduct of its personnel. We must, as a region, thank and acknowledge the thousands of women and men from across this region who served under RAMSI over the years, and whose service personified and honoured the commitment made to the Solomon Islands by all Forum countries under the Biketawa Declaration. The particularly regional dimension of this support is without doubt one of the contributing factors to its success.
The two broad elements of RAMSI, the security component and the civilian component, worked together toward RAMSI’s objective of stabilising Solomon Islands and rebuilding the essential machinery of government.
We applaud the early achievements of RAMSI, which enabled the successive reforms and programmes: the swift and peaceful restoration of law and order; recovery and destruction of the bulk of illegal weapons; surrender of militants; and the arrest and prosecution of human rights offenders.
These achievements not only restored stability but also contributed toward restoring a sense of peace amongst Solomon Islanders.
The early accomplishments of RAMSI were closely followed by significant reforms under the three pillars of economic reform, law and justice, and machinery of government, resulting in the gradual shift in focus from its security component to the civilian component.
The subsequent recovery journey of the Solomon Islands has included the successful hosting of several large and important events in the last few years:
These are significant achievements by any standard, but more so for a country that only fourteen years ago was faced by considerable challenges to the effective functioning of government as well as the overall law and order situation.
Although it was the embodiment of Pacific solidarity and cooperation, it is important to remember that RAMSI also required considerable resourcing: Australia and New Zealand stepped forward with both financial and personnel contributions, complemented by Pacific nations’ personnel.
Solomon Islands as a nation must be acknowledged for hosting RAMSI for the last fourteen years. Hosting a large foreign mission for an extended period is not without challenges, and We commend and thank the people of this nation for the hospitality and continued support for the Mission over the years.
Moving ahead, the Solomon Islands will continue to require assistance and We are very pleased that the United Nations, has been on hand to help with addressing some of the challenges that await down the road.
We also note that Solomon Islands’ enduring partners such as Australia will remain closely engaged, and of course, the Pacific Islands Forum more broadly – as always – stands by to assist where needed.
On this particular point, the Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, respectfully encourages the Solomon Islands Government and its people to make the most of “Regionalism”; to capitalize on your membership to the Pacific Islands Forum and the broader regional architecture, to address those tangible and actual development challenges that Solomon Islands face, but which are also common to the region as a whole.
RAMSI has been a clear demonstration that together, our “Blue Continent” has the capacity to consider and address socio-economic and cultural issues at national and regional level. RAMSI is Pacific regionalism manifested. We are a region where the concept of “helpem fren” is core to existence, and tugs at our communal heartstrings and sense of belonging where the need arises.
At its heart RAMSI is about people and We again acknowledge and thank the resilient people of the Solomon Islands for the lessons RAMSI has given us. Your resilience, diversity, and strength will serve you in good stead.
In conclusion, allow me to quote our Secretary General;
“Let us continue to navigate the global space, with the confidence of peoples – who still have the gift of placing people in the centre of their development.”
Indeed, this is what defines, and continues to motivate us as “Pacific people”.
Thank you very much, and may God Bless.