OPENING REMARKS BY
THE HONOURABLE HENRY PUNA, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
PACIFIC SIDS ACCESS TO FINANCE DIALOGUE
9 June 2021
Excellencies, • Ladies and gentlemen
I am pleased to be able to join you this afternoon, to share a few reflections and thoughts on your discussion today.
At the outset, allow me to acknowledge the Government of the United Kingdom, for its support in bringing this dialogue to fruition, particularly as we look forward to the next High-Level Roundtable Meeting, on SIDS Access to Finance, later this year.
I also acknowledge the leadership of the Government of Fiji, as Chair of the Pacific Small Island Developing States grouping, in convening this valuable discussion.
Indeed, it is regional dialogues and platforms such as this that allow us to constructively consider, discuss and identify for ourselves, the most pertinent of our regional priorities.
At a time such this, when our Pacific economies are faced with the multifaceted challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing climate crisis, dialogues such this, also serve the valuable opportunity to listen and learn, from each other’s national experiences.
In turning to the issue at hand, it is no secret, that we Pacific Small Island Developing States, face inherent economic challenges, and share common vulnerabilities, including:
➢ geographical isolation and dispersion;
➢ remoteness from markets;
➢ limited and narrow natural resource bases;
➢ lack of economies of scale;
➢ capacity limitations; and, of course,
➢ our extreme susceptibility to the impacts of climate change.
Together, these characteristics rationalise our need for external financing, to close the critical financing gaps in areas such as: basic infrastructure for service delivery, combatting climate change, and including the need to continually address external economic shocks, such as natural disasters.
Indeed, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, has exacerbated our existing vulnerabilities, and, as we can see today, our economic situation across the world continues to worsen as the pandemic stretches on, with Governments being forced to make tough resourcing decisions, in the face of multiple crises’. This is our constant reality, in Small Island Developing States.
To put it simply, COVID-19 has turned the world, and our world, on its head. It has forced us to review, reflect, and re-strategise at all levels, and across all sectors.
In the Pacific, COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented pressures on our health systems, crippled our tourism sectors, impacted our remittance levels, and has worsened our debt situation across the region.
Unsurprisingly, a recent World Bank Report has concluded, that Small Island Developing States, will suffer more than other Developing States, from the economic impacts of COVID-19.
This is a critical time for our Blue Pacific region, and indeed for our Blue Planet, and SIDS timely access to finance is therefore absolutely crucial. The question has to be asked: Are the international financial instruments available to us as SIDS, sufficient to meet our needs in unprecedented situations such as this? If not, why not? What can be done to improve this?
I would offer that, the rigidity of our international financial systems, call into question their relevance and responsiveness, to the specific circumstances of SIDS, in emergency situations such as this.
Furthermore, I would also offer that we, as a region, must continue to encourage and call, for the revision of traditional financing criteria, to take into account our vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, as Pacific SIDS.
Concessional financing is generally understood, to mean grant and soft loans. However, I urge development partners to work with us, in rethinking and developing new innovative financing options and solutions, that not only meet the immediate needs of recovery, but also supports longer-lasting economic systems, that are sustainable for our Pacific SIDS.
Further, we should also encourage the review of funding disbursement mechanisms. Often, access to financing is hindered by burdensome requirements and demands, on our national financial systems, which are often unrealistic given our small administrative capacities, and the context within which Pacific SIDS operate.
These are but some pointers to ponder in your dialogue today. I would encourage you, to not focus only on the present challenges before us, but take this opportunity to look at the longer-term issues for us as SIDS, and how we can use our experiences today, to improve our financial instruments and national planning, in the long run.
Looking forward, the Pacific Islands Forum Members have begun work, through the Forum’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Taskforce, established by Economic Ministers in 2020, to develop feasible and practical response options, to the severe economic challenges of COVID-19 facing our region.
Indeed, the upcoming 2021 Forum Economic Ministers Meeting, will consider and discuss the range of options prepared by the Taskforce, amongst other issues.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we begin to plan our medium to long term recovery from the COVID-pandemic, let us not forget the existential threat, that we all face on a daily basis here in the Pacific – climate change.
Our Leaders have consistently reaffirmed their global call for urgent climate action now, recognising climate change as the single greatest security threat, to our Blue Pacific.
A few weeks ago, we launched the Pacific Resilience Facility, an initiative by our Pacific Islands Forum Leaders, to help our Pacific People and Communities.
I am proud to say, that this is a regionally-led and developed initiative. The Pacific Resilience Facility is testament, to the innovation we can lead and inspire in the region, in terms of innovative financing. We need to see more of these initiatives, and encourage our International Financial institutions to support the region, in these efforts.
In closing, I wish you all the best, and encourage you all to have robust and constructive discussions, this afternoon.
I look forward to the outcomes from this dialogue, which will inform the discussions at our upcoming Forum Economic Ministers Meeting, and the second SIDS High Level Roundtable meeting, planned for later this year.
With that, let me again express my appreciation, to the Governments of the United Kingdom and Fiji, for this timely initiative.
I thank you.