Pacific leaders discuss democratic institutions

Brisbane, Australia – Senior statesmen from around the Pacific yesterday discussed the legitimacy of traditional governance, the importance of women’s political leadership, and the integrity of politicians and political parties.

This is part of a meeting of prominent Pacific islands leaders, member of Parliaments, senior government officials, representatives of non-government organizations and development partners underway in Brisbane, Australia. The Regional consultative meeting is jointly organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) to discuss issues and share experiences on challenges facing democratic institutions in the region. The outcome of the meeting will inform the programme of assistance for strengthening democratic institutions in the region under the Commonwealth Pacific Governance Facility (CPGF), based in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

“Democratic Institutions” include a wide range of governance issues including the workings of the parliament (including the Office of the Speaker and committees), the executive, judiciary, the electoral and political process, the media and independent constitutional offices such as the office of the Auditor-General and office of the Attorney General.

The first day of the meeting focussed on the legitimacy of traditional governance, the importance of women’s political leadership, and the integrity of politicians and political parties.

The leader of Opposition and former Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Hon Dr Derek Sikua outlined how political stability in the Solomon Islands is challenged by MPs’ switching sides regularly at will. Reforms to restrict MPs from crossing the floor are a potential answer to persistent government instability. “Instability” Dr Sikua said,“is hampering economic growth and its benefits to the people of Solomon Islands.”

Hon ‘Akilisi Pohiva, a member of the Parliament of Tonga, reflected on the political transition in Tonga. He highlighted the need for the general public to understand and appreciate what democracy is as a precursor to political reforms and better facilitate greater transparency in government.

Sir Ieremia Tabai, former President of Kiribati and former Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat offered his views on the relationship between Political Accountability, Politicians’ Conduct and Public Trust. He posed the question: how does a leader maintain integrity and public trust? Based on his own personal reflections as a former President of Kiribati, he concluded that “MPs have to set a standard of public behaviour that engenders trust, and as such earning public trust is dependent on how we respond to issues like corruption.”

Mrs Alisi Numia Taumoepeau, a former Minister of Justice and former Attorney General of Tonga, shared her experience, summed up the challenges and concluded that MPs (and aspiring MPs) need to be reminded of the core values underpinning democracy which are fundamentally the foundation of Tongan culture. She also pointed to the need to build the MPs technical skills as areas where donor partners and the CPGF could support in the region. However, she cautioned against the donors’ and development partners’ reckless pursuit of reform in the countries. As small island states, reform takes time and change is slow but, often some want to run fast. “The role for donors must be to gently push the agenda but mindful of those who are slower to change,” said Mrs Taumoepeau

Hon. Lautafi Selafi Purcell, an MP in Samoa, outlined for the gathered delegates how a democratic modern Samoa successfully incorporates the traditional forms of Samoan governance fa’amatai and the principles and values of the fa’asamoa.

He noted the democratic nature of the matai chosen on merit, and concluded that the continued strength of democracy in Samoa would result from building on and adapting these existing institutions to address future challenges.

Sir Kina Bona, Chairman of Papua New Guinea’s Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates Council (IPPCC), highlighted the challenges faced by his country in implementing the Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPaC). He suggested possible reforms to party funding to strengthen the PNG system.

Presentations and discussions will continue for a second day today with a focus on the importance for democracy of effective Parliamentary Committees. The meeting will conclude with break out groups to discuss and identify priorities.

ENDS.

For media enquiries, contact Mr Johnson Honimae, the Forum Secretariat’s Media officer on phone +679 9997998 or email: johnsonh@forumsec.org.fj