Delivered by the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna
at the Smaller Island States Leaders Meeting
06 November, 2023, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
The Chair of the SIS, the Honourable Mark Brown, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands.
Honourable Prime Ministers and Premier
Representatives of CROP Agencies
Ladies and Gentlemen
Kia Orana and warm Pacific greetings to you all.
This meeting carries both significance and personal pride for me given that it is being hosted here in my home country and with that, allow me to echo the sentiments of the Chair in welcoming you all to this 31st meeting of the SIS Leaders.
Indeed, 31 years ago, our Leaders saw fit to recognise a grouping within the Pacific Islands Forum that stood apart for its unique characteristics and vulnerabilities. Today this grouping has grown into an 8-member grouping commonly referred to as the Smaller Island States Group.
Of our Forum Family, it is the SIS who stand at the frontlines of the climate emergency. It is the SIS that continue to contend with and navigate challenges that continue to impede their development trajectories. But more often than not, it is also the SIS that continue and consistently punch above their weight in international engagement and advocacy the world over.
Your meeting today is the first in a series of opportunities this week for you and fellow Leaders to reflect, assess and engage on critical decisions in pursuit of wider and deeper regionalism.
Personally, I can attest to the fact that for far too long now, the SIS have expressed much intention and hope in addressing the unique vulnerabilities that you all share, but unfortunately with little or varied results.
Over the course of last year and this year, I have had the opportunity to engage with Leaders both in country and through the High-Level Consultations or on the margins of regional and international engagements and the message is clear – the true benefits of regionalism must be measured by its impact on the ground to our Pacific people, and most importantly, the most vulnerable of our Forum Family.
The agenda before you is brief and importantly provides an opportunity as well as the space for frank discussions amongst yourselves and as political leaders, on the direction that you want to see the SIS take, moving forward.
At the SIS Officials Meeting in September, an official remarked that the agenda being considered before them, was the same issues that were being considered by the SIS grouping a decade ago. I would fervently hope that in the next decade, we do not find ourselves circling back to these same issues but building on and moving forward to greater heights.
As a region, we currently have a strategic leverage that we have never had before but as I continue to say, it is a time of opportunity that will not last forever.
It is imperative that we organise ourselves to ensure that we can take full advantage of this strategic environment and reap sustainable outcomes for our people.
With those brief reflections, meitaki ma’ata and I wish you all the best for the discussions ahead.