HENRY PUNA, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM LEADERS MEETING
Friday 6 August 2021
The Honourable Josaia V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum
The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, and the Outgoing Forum Chair, the Honourable Kausea Natano
Honourable Leaders of our Blue Pacific
To all the people of the Blue Pacific
Kia Orana and Bula Vinaka to you all,
It is my distinct honour to be able to address you today as your Secretary General.
Coming from a small island nation, it is an immense honour to be able to serve our region and our people in this position. Indeed, the honour is not only mine, but one that is shared by all Cook Islanders – and for this, I thank you Honourable Leaders – for your confidence, for your support and most especially, for your trust in me to deliver in this role.
As we commemorate our 50th anniversary as the Pacific Islands Forum, let me to convey my sincere congratulations to Forum Leaders on this momentous and very significant occasion.
Five decades ago, this Forum was borne out of a desire by visionary Pacific Leaders’ desire to pursue our own strategic interests as a collective, free from outside influence, to address our common challenges through our unique Pacific Way. This has not changed.
Indeed, the Forum is not, and has never been, about a singular entity nor individual countries; it is about all of us, as a collective, and how we work together to address our common challenges; and create opportunities for the greater good of our people.
Honourable Leaders, over the years, I have seen first-hand the value of this Forum family both to our region and our people.
Our key successes on the global stage have included supporting territories achieve their self-determination aspirations through the UN system, the reflection of Pacific interests in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the creation of an ocean related sustainable development goal through SDG14 and our collective efforts in the negotiation of the Paris Agreement.
Within our region, we established a Nuclear Free Zone; and designed a world-renowned collective management system for our tuna fishery; we have continued to progress peace and security for our people; and we have advanced our economic and trade interests within the region and internationally.
As we mark our 50th anniversary we are faced with unprecedented challenges. We are in the midst of the worst global pandemic in a century; our very existence is being threatened by climate change; geopolitical competition continues to intensify within our region; and indeed, our bond as one Forum family is being put to the extreme test.
But challenges are not new; differences are not unexpected; and resolution and unity will always remain our objective.
Yes, our regional relationships with each and as a collective are being challenged, but from these challenges, I am confident that reinvigorated inspiration, ownership and maturity of relationships will emerge.
And the only way we can ensure this, is together. Many have underestimated the value of a good conversation, but as we all know in the Pacific – conversation and dialogue are cornerstones of our way of life. And with this we will emerge stronger – of this I am certain.
Excellencies, I remain grateful for the opportunity to serve you, our region and our people.
In my time as Secretary General, there are a number of priorities that I wish to support to the fullest of my capacity – priorities which I see to be central to our long-term security.
These include climate change, maritime boundaries and sea level rise, nuclear issues, as well as ensuring that we respond effectively to the short and medium term impacts of COVID-19.
I assure you all, of my utmost commitment to undertake, to the best of my ability, the responsibility you have entrusted to me. I will work for all of our Members and I look forward to the wisdom and advice that Leaders will provide moving forward.
Before I conclude, may I acknowledge Tuvalu’s carriage of this august body for the last two years.
Tuvalu’s stellar leadership is unprecedented, and as aptly reflected by the Forum Chair, because as one of our smallest members it has carried the Forum through a time of great challenge, politically and economically.
We thank you Mr. Prime Minister and the people of Tuvalu for your unwavering service to our Blue Pacific.
Moving forward, I welcome the opportunity to work closely with Prime Minister Bainimarama in taking our region forward – he has just issued for us all a strong vision for his tenure, and it will be my honour to be able to support him and his team to achieve that vision under his leadership as Chair of the Forum.
With these few words, Honourable Leaders, I wish you well in your deliberations.
Meitaki maata, fakafetai lasi and vinaka vakalevu. —ENDS
Check against delivery- August 6, 2021.