BY H.E. HENRY PUNA, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
Breakfast Mix and Mingle Event on Pacific Reflections and Leadership
TE ARA MUSEUM, Rarotonga
30 JUNE 2023
• The Honourable Mark Brown, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands
• Honourable Ministers
• Distinguished Members of Parliament
• Business Leaders and Representatives from across all sectors of our economy
• Ladies and Gentlemen
• Kia orana and morning greetings to you all.
• It is wonderful to be back home again – to be back in the embrace of our land and our people – amongst family, amongst friends and in familiar surroundings.
• There truly is, no place like home.
• Having now had the opportunity to travel and visit a number of island countries in this region, I must say that I continue to marvel at the richness of the diversity that I see from country to country.
• It is very true, that our cultures, our languages and our ways of life frame the way we think and position ourselves as individuals and as nations.
• In the past month, I have shared a lot of my own thoughts on regionalism, its challenges, opportunities and future.
• But there is one point I want to reaffirm with you all this morning.
[Opportunities of our current geostrategic environment]
• We must recognise that we live in unprecedented times.
• We have emerged from a pandemic, we continue to witness the impacts of climate change on a daily basis and as a region, we are at the center of increasing geostrategic interest.
• Overcoming and working through these issues will require unity and solidarity as a region.
• We must leverage this increased strategic interest to advance our regional priorities and work towards our aspirations.
• What can it mean for us?
• Simply put, it means opportunity:
Opportunity to influence and shape development partner interventions in our region;
Opportunity to effectively advocate multilateral institutions;
Opportunity for increased development cooperation and financing in our countries;
Opportunity for greater access to markets, just to name a few.
• However, as a region, we need to be constantly vigilant that this strengthened strategic interest and influence does not divide us or weaken us as a collective.
• To this end, I cannot underscore enough the importance of strong and consistent leadership to ensure that our solidarity as a Pacific Islands Forum remains intact.
• This leadership responsibility now falls to our island nation as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.
• In such a contested geopolitical environment and having just emerged from the political challenges in the Forum Family between 2021 – 2022, strong political leadership at the helm of the Pacific Islands Forum is absolutely essential.
• The complexity of the role of Forum Chair, has increased in response to the complex challenges and strategic interest that we, as a region, now have to navigate.
• I acknowledge the leaders who have assumed this role in the recent pasts, including the current forum chair, to manage these complexities in a way reflective of their own Pacific mana.
• It goes without saying that I and my Team at the Secretariat look forward to supporting PM Brown and the Government in fulfilling this role and responsibility.
• Coupled with the political leadership role that the Cook Islands has assumed, is ofcourse the hosting of the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum and Related Meetings.
• I now serve 18 Governments so it is perhaps inappropriate for me to say this, but as a Cook Islander, I am incredibly proud that our island nation will have the opportunity to, once again, showcase our homeland, our people, our culture and our traditions when we host the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum in November this year.
• We have done this before and we will do it again – build on the lessons learnt from 2012 and deliver a magnificent event for our region.
• If I may offer some reflections from our experience in 2012, I will say this: to host a Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting is much more than just hosting a meeting –
it is about creating a conducive environment for our Leaders to reach political settlements.
it is about a celebration of our interconnectedness as a Pacific Region.
it is about demonstrating our uniqueness as the Pacific region.
it is centered in our very own Pacific Way.
• It will require a whole-of-country approach.
• I am so glad to see representation from all sectors of our economy here with us this morning because the success of this regional gathering will rest on your shoulders.
• You are where the “rubber hits the road” to bring together this convening of our political leaders – who together represent the political apex of our region.
• There is no higher political convening than the Pacific Islands Forum in our region, so I look forward to the Cook Islands putting on a grand event, reflective of our culture, our traditions and our people but respectful of the rich diversity in the Pacific region.
• Again, the Secretariat stands ready to support you on your chairing of the Leaders Meeting:
We stand ready to support the Prime Minister and his Team on their leadership of the region;
We stand ready to support you all in bringing together a successful Leaders’ Meeting; and
We stand ready to support our region in reaching some effective and transformative decisions at this meeting in November.
• Meitaki ma’ata, thank you all very much.