Lord Prime Minister Tu’ivakano’s Speech On the occasion of the Opening Ceremony of the Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting 4 th July 2013
Members of the Diplomatic Core
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands’ Forum Secretariat
Representatives of Regional and International Agencies
It am very pleased to welcome you all to Nuku’alofa to the 17th Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting 2013, during the most eventful week in the Kingdom. I am glad that you were able to join us for some of the celebrations for His Majesty’s birthday.
We are gathered here today from our many islands scattering across the Pacific, covering more than 40 percent of the Earth’s surface. We have lived here for many centuries. Until recently, our economies were simple but sustainable. We could meet our needs, develop sophisticated societies. There was space for reciprocity and obligation, for art and entertainment. Many of us travelled vast distances and had a wide regional vision.
We could have continued this way for many more centuries. But as years passed our world has encountered many new things, new ideas and goods as well as new diseases, conflicts and environmental threats. Our traditional sustainability was no longer sufficient to meet our new needs and wants. This created new policy dimensions requiring additional policy response as we seek new paths to sustainable development. It has forced Leaders of the Forum to find new ways to consolidate regional cooperation, at many levels, as outlined in the Waiheke Declaration. They have delegated FEMM the task of implementing this important Declaration.
Tonga has long had a regional focus. We were a central part of the Polynesian migration, and still travel widely. Like others, we have large settlements in the Pacific Rim and beyond. They are a part of our global network and important partners in our search for a new path of sustainable development.
The rise of Asia has been remarkable from Japan to China. These raise new opportunities, as well as challenges, for us all.
These challenges and opportunities have driven demand for resources, both from our islands and our blue ocean. This increases pressure for better management of these resources. We must be vigilant that the “resource curse” does not destroy our path towards sustainable development.
The rising Asia is much more; it is a source of foreign investment and new development partners. Its new middle classes generate a whole new potential group of tourists. Effective engagement with this new, successful Asia is an essential part of a more sustainable future. We must be more than just sellers of raw materials and labour to Pacific Rim economies. Harnessing these opportunities necessitates better and dynamic domestic private sectors to help address the many constraints we are facing.
In Tonga, the public and private sectors are working together to improve dialogue to address these constraints. This has required us to better identify who represents the private sector. We continue to clarify the respective roles of government and private sectors in our small economies.
We are working on our enabling environment, for example, we streamlined our business registration procedures. With the support of our development partners, we are upgrading key infrastructures, such as energy, roads, airports, and the exciting new high speed internet. We are seeking private sector input for the upgrading and management of the International Dateline Hotel, where many of you are staying.
At the same time, we still seek to better understand the balance between making a profit and fulfilling our social obligations; to better understand the line between traditional gift giving and corruption. These issues must be addressed with sensitivity and care as we seek sustainable development of our societies as well as our economies.
Another important dynamic is the changing role of women and men. This impacts our families – how we care for our children and our elders. It impacts on the roles of women and men as income earners and business people both within the informal and formal sectors. Women in Tonga are given high status and respect. They are actively involved in government and business. But we still have much to learn. For example, how do we guarantee safety for women and children at home? Sustainability also depends on more efficient, effective and affordable governments. Much is expected of Governments. They are a major source of service delivery and employment. These must be funded by taxes collected from businesses and consumers, or the support of our development partners. Fiscal sustainability is a central issue in our search for a sustainable future, where we have devoted additional resources.
There is no doubt that our capacity is limited and resources are severely constraint. I wish to suggest that the active role of Development Partners, to consider and assist short to medium term budget support, should a point of further consideration by the FEMM.
We have completed a restructuring of the Tongan public services. Ongoing reforms include key issues being addressed through FEMM, such as Public Financial Management, and improved statistics for good design and monitoring of policies. We are also piloting new initiatives to support disabled and elderly people facing the challenges of social change.
Tonga is an active participant in the regional worker schemes. Our sports people have advanced in many international teams. Increasing number of professional Tongans is finding employment in regional organizations and technical assistance programs. This reflects the recognition that few of us can develop all of the skills required to run our countries in the modern world. We must learn to pool and share skills more.
A major role of regional partnerships is to develop increased mobility of labour, both within the region, and with our Pacific Rim partners, hence our commitment to PICTA Trade in service. A deeper and wider Pacific labour market will increase the access to skills for our small domestic markets, in addition to expanding job opportunities for our people.
This leads me to the final topic of this year’s FEMM agenda: the cloud, hanging over all. Our efforts, domestically, regionally and globally, will come to nothing if the threat of climate change delivers its blow.
A meter sea level rise will not just damage our islands; it could make whole countries uninhabitable. Even if we had enough kalia to carry us away, where would we go in a blue Pacific loosing the small specs upon which we create our homes? While none of us wish to abandon these homes, one of the major roles of regional and global engagements may well become finding new sustainable homes for our people.
While new ideas must be tested locally, I wish to emphasize that a regional approach is central to learning and supporting each other as we strive to find a new path of sustainable development. FEMM plays an important part in this collaboration, supported by initiatives such as the regional Peer Reviews.
More importantly, the experience and trust we develop, working in partnership, will be essential in allowing us to work together to address the effect of climate change. And, where this is not possible, it must be central to helping us adapt to this change, if we are to avoid all of our efforts being washed away.
I wish you a productive and successful meeting that will deliver more than just words; a meeting that will help to build true trust and partnerships and find sustainable and tangible solutions.
Finally, I trust this gathering and your short stay in Tonga will give you time to relax a little and experience some of the Tongan customs, traditions and hospitality that remain a core part of our society.
It now gives me great pleasure to declare this 17th Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting open.
Malo au pito