Remarks delivered by Dr Filimon Manoni, Acting Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
at the Regional Conference on Anti -Corruption
Inter Continental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, Natadola, Fiji
27 July 2023
“Fostering Pacific Unity to advance anti-Corruption efforts”
Bula Vinaka, warm Pacific greetings from the Pacific Islands Forum.
A special thank you to the organisers of this event, the Government of Fiji, and the United National Development Programme (UNDP), for the opportunity to share some experiences from across the region.
Today you are here to unpack a very important agenda that cuts across a broad range of issues confronting our Blue Pacific Continent.
Most present here today will agree that corruption is the disease at the heart of so many of the region’s problems.
Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law.
Corruption allows organized crime and other threats to human security to thrive.
Corruption diverts much-needed development funds away from basic services and infrastructure; thereby feeding inequality, injustice and poverty.
Ending corruption is not a new priority in the Forum family.
Forum Leaders, throughout the Forum’s fifty-one-year history, have consistently articulated that good governance is vital for our region.
In the Biketawa Declaration, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, the Boe Declaration on Regional Security and most recently the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, Forum Leaders have consistently emphasized the fundamental values of human rights and good governance of upholding democratic processes and institutions.
At the 2004 Forum Leaders meeting in Samoa, Leaders recognised the important role that the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) plays in addressing corruption and encouraged members to “consider signing and ratifying the Convention to strengthen good governance in accordance with the spirit of the Biketawa Declaration.”
In 2020, Tonga became the last Forum Member to accede to UNCAC.
What does that mean for us as a region?
It means that all Forum Members have acceded to the UNCAC and our Leaders have endorsed the Teieniwa Vision to guide the region’s efforts in fighting corruption in our own Pacific-appropriate way.
Under the Teieniwa Vision Members have agreed to an implementation priority matrix, to guide how we as a region can work together to implement the Vision.
And we are not alone in our efforts to end corruption in the region.
To help Members in ratification of the UNCAC, an implementation mechanism has also been established with excellent support available from UNDP and UNODC.
And I must acknowledge the generous assistance from the Government of New Zealand for resourcing this initiative.
Let me also take this opportunity today to thank our UN partners for their support.
Sadly, however, I must say, our collective progress, implementing the requirements of the UN convention against corruption remains subdued to say the least.
I want to remind us all here today that our commitment to progressing our collective fight against corruption is more important now than ever, as global powers continue their geopolitical strategies, often touting phrases include the Pacific but fall short of genuine voice and engagement from this region.
In the midst of this power struggle, we can see that global powers are increasingly willing to cast aside the rules, to favour expediency over good governance, and to eschew democratic principles.
We can’t let that happen in our region.
The rule of law, our democratic systems, our good governance processes are what makes us who we are. It is what protects our Pacific peoples from the worst of humanity.
While we as a region welcome partners that align with our principles and values, we are not naïve to the fact that some will attempt to undermine our collective efforts through offers that may circumvent proper decision-making.
With increasing interest in our resources, people and political spaces, we must ensure that our countries have institutions in place to keep decision makers accountable, that promote transparency, and protect good-governance principles.
We want institutions that ensure that decisions are made in support of our national and our collective interests, and not the interests of a select few. We must ensure that accountability systems, processes and institutions – state and non-state – are resourced to play their roles effectively.
Of course, our challenges are not only external, as we grapple with reconciling aspects of contemporary designed principles of good governance and Pacific traditional governance structures. While I do not believe that they are incompatible, they can at times mutually create circumstances that place effective implementation at risk if clarity in their application is not clear.
The strength and independence of our judicial systems are paramount in accounting and addressing uncertainties around the intersect between traditional customs and practices; and corruption; and for many of the internal and external governance issues we face today.
The commitment of our Leaders at the regional level through instruments such as the Teieniwa Vision will mean nothing if we do not see progress at the national level.
A review of the existing UNCAC review mechanism indicated that Forum Members need to undertake further work to strengthen national policies, legislations and ensuring that sustainable and independent integrity institutions are put in place to strengthen accountability and reduce corruption.
I urge of all us here today to use the opportunities provided by this week’s event to share our own experiences and learn from each other.
I also urge all of us here today to continue to shape and strengthen political awareness on the importance of prioritising anti-corruption efforts; and to take advantage of the opportunities that exist to support national efforts in building resilience against corruption.
Remember, it is not about building new national institutions, it is about strengthening existing arrangements, and putting in place policy and legislative arrangements to ensure that your national anti-corruption effort is sustainable; and contextualised to your own needs.
And ultimately, these things are not only important in their own right; they will also be a fundamental enabler of our wider development aspirations as set out in the 2050 Strategy.
Before I close, please allow me to once again thank the Government of Fiji and the United Nations Development Program for organizing this event.
I hope that we all come away from this week with a reinvigorated sense of commitment to fighting corruption within our region.
Vinaka vakalevu, and thank you.