Esteemed representatives of Pacific civil society organisations
Colleagues and friends
A very warm welcome to you all to this inaugural Regional CSO Forum.
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here to my home country. Many of you have travelled some distance across our great ocean to be here today, and for those based locally, I understand you will spending the next two nights away from home in order to fully participate in this event. Thank you for taking time out of your schedules to be here.
Role of Civil Society
This event is important as it will provide space for civil society to have input on some of the key issues that will be put to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders. Many of you have been advocating for this kind of dialogue and influence for some time, and I am pleased that we are able to facilitate this workshop.
For the record, I am a major supporter of civil society, and I believe that a strong and vibrant civil society is important to our region. In my role as Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat, I am committed to working towards greater inclusivity in our work at the Secretariat, and this event is a demonstration of my commitment to that end.
I have visited 15 of the 16 Forum member countries and have met with Leaders of each country to discuss important regional issues. While I have had limited opportunities to meet with civil society representatives during these initial visits; a priority for myself and my senior management over the coming year is to spend time engaging with civil society during these country consultations.
I also meet regularly with regional CSOs in Suva, some of whom are with us here today. I intend for that meeting to be a regular commitment on our calendar of events.
As you know, on Tuesday the Papua New Guinea Government will host a civil society engagement with the Troika Leaders as part of the official Forum Leaders’ programme. This is a milestone for civil society, as it will contribute to the Leaders’ vision for an inclusive process for regionalism as outlined in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
I understand that over the next day and half you will be preparing for that engagement and I do hope that the discussion will be a productive one for both civil society and the Leaders.
Framework for Pacific Regionalism
Before you commence your preparations, let me give you some background on the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and explain the link with the Forum Leaders’ meetings this coming week.
You will recall that in 2013, Sir Mekere Morauta led a team that canvassed the opinions of over 700 people across the region and took in over 70 public submissions to review the Pacific Plan. Some of you may well have been involved in those consultations.
One of the review team’s major recommendations was to recast the Pacific Plan as the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, which has been in place since July 2014, following its endorsement by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders.
The Framework for Pacific Regionalism articulates a process for defining regional priorities, and importantly, this process is an open and public one – where any and all members of the public can submit concerns and issues for the Pacific region.
This year, 68 initiatives were submitted from across the region. 20 of these were submitted by civil society organisations, which is a terrific result because for the first time civil society and other sections of the public are able to contribute issues and concerns for Leaders to consider.
These 68 issues were considered by the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism, who identified five key issues to put to Leaders for consideration. Of these five, two were based on submissions from regional or sub-regional organisations. Three were based on submissions from civil society organisations. Again, I think we should recognise the importance of this fact: that issues that are to be discussed at the highest levels were in fact generated by the public through this process.
Some institutions in our region talk about inclusivity – but I think the process that I have described above has given civil society more influence and impact at the political level than ever before – which of course is a significant outcome.
But the concept of inclusivity needs to be more than a buzzword. The Forum Secretariat must and will engage with civil society more routinely in its work. We recognise the important role that civil society plays in the regional space.
A fundamental dimension to the Framework for Pacific Regionalism is the shift in the development paradigm that it calls for. When I returned to the Pacific having spent many years working around the world, I returned to a region highly dependent on development assistance. With this assistance, and particularly the extent of this assistance, I also see an hesitancy of our own people and our own Leaders to articulate and prosecute their own development and political agenda in the region. The Framework calls for us to turn this state of affairs around – to ensure that our Leaders are setting the regional agenda, based on a public process for identifying key issues. I’m sure you would agree with me in saying that this represents a major shift in how things are currently done in this region.
Let me now speak briefly on the five priority issues that Leaders will discuss and which will be the subject of your discussions over the next two days.
The first issue is increased returns on fisheries. Maximising revenue from our fisheries is of course a potential game-changer. The estimated value of the catch per year being around 3-4 billion US dollars, but much of this catch is processed outside of our region. The essence of this initiative is that Leaders agree to restructuring the tuna industry to achieve this end. The other aspect to this initiative is that Leaders task Fisheries, Economic and Foreign Ministers to undertake a joint comprehensive evaluation of the regional monitoring, surveillance and compliance regime.
The issue around climate change contains two elements. The first is that Leaders agree on a high level, political statement on climate change to take to COP 21 in Paris later this year. The second component is that Leaders endorse a draft strategy on Climate and Disaster Resilient Development in the Pacific.
A response to alleged human rights issues within West Papua will also be put to Leaders for consideration. Three submissions, representing over 30 civil society organisations across the Pacific were put forward. In terms of the correct nomenclature, it is important to point out that West Papua is the language used by those who made the submissions on this issue. Needless to say, this is likely to be one of the more contentious issues on the agenda.
Leaders will also consider cervical cancer. Last week the PNG Medical symposium took place here in Port Moresby. My friend Dr Glen Mola tells me that a priority conversation across the week has been the need for an effective national screening and a HPV vaccination programme to treat cervical cancer in PNG. Research indicates that this is not a unique situation. Women and their families across the region are experiencing pain, suffering and premature deaths at the hands of an illness that could be prevented. There have already been positive outcomes in addressing cervical cancer in Fiji, and there are lessons here that can be applied in other countries in the Pacific.
The last issue to be put to Leaders is Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Like the return on fisheries, ICT has the potential to transform our region. We already see the profound effects that mobile phones have had in the Pacific. There are educational, economic, health, disaster management, as well as communications benefits that can be realised if the proper ICT infrastructure is put in place.
Let me stop here, but as you go into your CSO Forum please take some time to consider your views on these issues and we would welcome your input on these at the breakfast with Troika Leaders on Tuesday.
Friends, once again I welcome you to this event and I wish you well in your deliberations.