PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM 40TH ANNIVERSARY
LEADERS’ LECTURE SERIES
with a focus on the Pacific Plan
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE
HONOURABLE PRIME MINISTER OF SAMOA
TUILAEPA SAILELE MALIELEGAOI
THURSDAY 21ST JULY 2011, APIA, SAMOA
A tale of lessons, identity and boundless opportunities
On behalf of the Government of Samoa and our people, I warmly welcome you to our shores. This week is a busy one for our capital, as we play host to the Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting, which successfully concluded this afternoon, to be followed by our region’s environment and fisheries Ministers’ deliberations. Amidst this regional activity, it seems most fitting that in driving these important agendas, we all take a moment to reflect on how we have arrived at this point and how we will manage the journey ahead, as a region and as nations. What better opportunity than this to do so – the 40th year of the Pacific Islands Forum.
In considering the history and development of the region, the question often comes up as to “why regionalismω” and “what risks and opportunities does it have to offerω”. One cannot divorce oneself from understanding the context in which we, as a region, have to operate, and more importantly, what the founding Forum Leaders and elder Statesmen and women envisioned for us 40 years ago. The world is far from what it was 4 decades ago. It is a smaller world, where globalization is at the forefront of our day to day lives. This notion may not be tangible or obvious to most, but it is there, in the imported food that we eat; in the television shows that we watch; in our ability to link to close to 2 billion users of the Internet, worldwide, at the click of a button.
In moving forward as a region, it seems to me that part of the answer lies in the master strategy for the region called the Pacific Plan. The Pacific Plan has been, and continues to be, the key statement outlining the aspirations and vision of Pacific Leaders for the future of the region.
So how can we fully achieve our collective strength for the betterment of our people’s livesω Are we on the right pathω And ultimately, how can we do betterω
It therefore gives me great pleasure today to deliver this lecture as part of the “Pacific Islands Forum 40th Anniversary Leaders’ Lecture Series, with a focus on the Pacific Plan”.
Four decades ago, seven Pacific Leaders, including Samoa’s Tupua Tamasese Lealofi IV, gathered in Wellington for the first meeting of the South Pacific Forum – known today as the Pacific Islands Forum to better reflect newer membership in the north Pacific. We have, as a region, and as sovereign nations, come a long way since then. On our quest to achieve our regional aspirations, bringing our strengths AND our weaknesses to the table, we have met many challenges, learnt many lessons, celebrated many successes and identified many more opportunities for regional cooperation and integration.
In pursuing this regional avenue, I believe we have, slowly, but unquestionably, strengthened, and revived an identity that echoes our prehistoric ties and connections that will forever bind the people of the Pacific. I speak, of our Pacific identity, one that predates colonial and written history, and resonates in our ancestry, in our stories and in our legends. I speak of the identity that rears its presence sometimes in our art, in our vernacular languages, in our protocols and in our methods of communication, and in our ways of living. In the face of faster communication, instant messaging, virtual conversations and social networking, we must, in responding to and adopting these global technological advances, somehow find a way to hold on to that notion – to that identity – for it will continue to define us and give us strength and focus in our national and regional efforts.
That said, ladies and gentlemen, I put to you today the theme of thismy presentation: PACIFIC REGIONALISM: A tale of lessons, identity and boundless opportunities; for there are indeed many, should we seek not only smart ways of advancing our region, but wise and insightful guidance from all involved. This lecture seeks to take a step in that direction.
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
Although many of you will be familiar with the history of our region, allow me to recap with some detail the background of the Pacific Islands Forum’s inception and journey to date. I do this for those less familiar with these undertakings, with the hope of shedding light on an important journey; for youth in particular – university students and other young participants present today – take heed of our advice; do not shun our lessons learnt, and the legacy we leave behind. While we reflect on the journey of the region, it will be up to successive future leaders of our Pacific countries to carry forward the work in making a more prosperous future for our region, our nations and ultimately, our people.
The establishment of the South Pacific Forum in 1971 reflected the desire of Pacific leaders to deepen their engagement and discussion on political issues of significance to the newly independent states of the Pacific. Samoa was the first of these states to achieve independence on the 1st of January 1962.
Key issues discussed at that first meeting held in Wellington in early August 1971 included regional trade, shipping, aviation, as well as nuclear testing. It was attended by the President of Nauru, the Prime Ministers of Western Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, the Premier of the Cook Islands, the Australian Minister for External Territories, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Although the first meeting of the Forum’s founding leaders was exploratory in nature, regional cooperation remained at the crux of discussions in recognition of its potential benefits for our people.
In 1973, the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation (SPEC) was established as the Secretariat to the South Pacific Forum, reflecting Leaders’ foresight in prioritizing economic cooperation, although issues such as de-colonisation and nuclear testing remained high on the agenda.
The name-change from SPEC to the Forum Secretariat was agreed at the 1988 Leaders meeting in Tonga.
In 2000, the South Pacific Forum changed its name to the Pacific Islands Forum, reflecting, as I mentioned earlier, its expanding membership in the North Pacific. At the Auckland Forum in August 2003, Leaders agreed that there was a need to comprehensively review regionalism in the Pacific, including the role of the Secretariat and other regional agencies. This review was undertaken in early 2004 by an Eminent Persons Group, chaired by Sir Julius Chan – former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea – and country representatives from other Forum Members Australia, Kiribati, Tonga and Samoa.
The report titled The Eminent Persons’ Group Review of the Pacific Islands Forum was presented to Leaders at a Special Leaders’ Retreat in Auckland in April 2004. It highlighted a number of key issues for the Forum, including this statement from the report:
“The Pacific is facing considerable challenges, both external and home-grown. Overcoming them will require concerted action, not only by national Governments but also at the regional level. Success will depend on the region having a clear vision of its future and a plan for getting there. This Review proposes both. The Vision acknowledges both Pacific traditions and 21st century realities. It involves a redefinition of the traditional “Pacific Way” of doing things. The plan – named here the Pacific Plan – is intended to build on the generally successful process of regional cooperation that has evolved during the past several decades.”
Under the Auckland Declaration where Leaders endorsed the Eminent Persons’ report, they also adopted the following vision for the region:
“Leaders believe the Pacific region can, should and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all its people can lead free and worthwhile lives. We treasure the diversity of the Pacific and seek a future in which its cultures, traditions and religious beliefs are valued, honoured and developed. We seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values, and for its defence and promotion of human rights. We seek partnerships with our neighbours and beyond to develop our knowledge, to improve our communications and to ensure a sustainable economic existence for all.”
The Pacific Plan endorsed by Leaders at their meeting in Port Moresby the following yearin 2005 was the result of broad consultations with a wide range of stakeholders across the region. The goal of the plan is to enhance and stimulate economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security for Pacific countries through regionalism. The goal is supported by a number of objectives around four key pillars – economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security.
THE PACIFIC PLAN
Although the Plan was endorsed in 2005 for a period of 10 years it was envisaged by Pacific Leaders as a ‘living document’, meaning that it could be adjusted to reflect emerging priorities or the changed conditions for regionalism in the Pacific. In this context, in 2009, Leaders endorsed five themes centered around the key vulnerabilities of the region and related priorities to guide the implementation of the Plan over the period 2010 to 2012. The intention of Leaders was to provide a medium-term framework for the Pacific Plan so that efforts by national governments, development partners and donors, and CROP agencies could be re-focused on those priorities.
These themes are reflective of those endorsed by Leaders in 2005. Significantly, Leaders recognized the emerging threat to the region posed by climate change and as a result climate change was identified in 2009 as a separate priority requiring the full attention of national governments, CROP agencies and development partners. Climate change threatens not only our vulnerable livelihoods, economies and environment but the very viability of some Pacific communities. It is well acknowledged that the role of our island nations in the causes of global climate change is miniscule, though the impact on them is great and the security and sustainability of Forum island countries highly compromised.
WHAT HAS THE PACIFIC PLAN ACHIEVEDω
So what has the Pacific Plan achievedω There are many areas I could delve into at this point, but primarily, the Pacific Plan has provided a long-term vision for the Pacific, and ensured a medium-term framework for identifying priorities and tracking their progress. The Pacific Plan priorities, as identified by Leaders, provide a consistent set of initiatives to be implemented and acts as a type of scorecard record of how the region is tracking against set goals and objectives.
It is also quite significant to note that the Pacific Plan continues to play a very important role in focusing the efforts of CROP agencies on the Leaders’ priorities, reinforced by our call for the implementation of the Regional Institutional Framework. Leaders recognized through the Pacific Plan the need for a re-shaping of the regional architecture to reduce duplication and to increase coordination. This has resulted for example in the integration of the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment (SPBEA) functions into SPC, which over time is expected to strengthen service to members and ensure a more coordinated approach.
The Pacific Plan, in driving this work, has provided a high level strategic framework, with input from CROP agencies, to shape the work of the Forum Secretariat and other CROP agencies to ensure a more coordinated approach.
Pacific Plan annual progress reports have been prepared since 2006, and there has been renewed effort in 2010last year to report on all the work that is being undertaken by Forum Members and CROP agencies in support of the Leaders priorities for the Pacific Plan.
A number of regional initiatives have been identified and driven as a result of the Pacific Plan. For example, the negotiation of the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement and the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, the provision of, sub-regional audit services for the Smaller Island States; regional approaches in the bulk procurement of petroleum; the establishment of the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation; regional policies in energy, food security, information and communication technology; and increased regional cooperation on maritime monitoring and surveillance.
The Pacific Plan provides a very important entry point for the engagement with development partners and the broader international community on the issues facing the Pacific region; and how these partners can assist. For example, Leaders and the United Nations agreed that, “The Pacific Plan reflects the region’s priorities which are in line with and support the implementation of international frameworks such as the Barbados Programme of Action and The Mauritius Strategy of Implementation.” (2007 Vava’u Decisions on the Pacific Plan)
Leaders acknowledge also the need for improved political and social conditions for the stability and safety of our region. Regional security is of paramount importance, and duly recognized as one of the pillars of the Pacific Plan, needed to attain its other broad ambitions of sustainable development, economic growth and good governance. The Pacific Plan further complements the Forum’s regional security architecture, including the Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC) and the various security-related declarations by Leaders, which include the Biketawa Declaration. The Plan’s objective of strengthening regional cooperation and integration are also important in achieving the vision of a peaceful and harmonious Pacific region. A collective approach to the region’s security challenges, including in tackling transnational crime and terrorism, in minimizing the damage created by internal conflicts and in addressing human security issues such as sexual and gender-based violence, remain fundamental to the creation of a conducive environment for the economic, social and political advancement of the Pacific region.
PACIFIC PLAN – WORK IN PROGRESS
In talking about the Pacific Plan as the regional vehicle for development, the Pacific Plan commenced implementation only five years ago, in 2006. In that sense it is still a work in progress and some time will be required in order for us to see the full benefits of the Pacific Plan for the region.
Importantly, regional cooperation and integration is ultimately an exercise in political leadership. It depends on the willingness of Leaders in the Pacific to find a suitable balance between national interests and priorities and regional opportunities.
A PACIFIC IDENTITY
This brings me to the issue of Pacific, or regional identity. Where does it fit inω What of ‘The Pacific Way’ω How do we find a fair balance between our national and regional interestsω
Distinguished guests and friends, to this I say, as I have said before, that the future of regionalism in the Pacific will depend on the attitudes we take to the concept of national sovereignty. Sovereignty is a part of our identity and our sense of nationhood should never disappear. But in an increasingly globalised world, we cannot afford to be left behind. We want practical benefits for our people, as well as to retain the best of our traditions and cultures. But we also want to progress towards a dynamic region capable of meeting the challenges of globalization and modernity.
Let us not think small. This is an issue of perspective.
Ours is a region that commands the world’s largest ocean, incorporating one third of the world’s surface. It could be said that our colonial experience has left us in an unfavourable predicament, leaving us with a collection of micro-states with limited resources. But one only needs to look at the all-encompassing boundaries of our Exclusive Economic Zones, for which we have stewardship of the living and non-living resources in the Pacific Ocean, to see that we have not been dealt a poor hand.
This is again, an issue of perspective.
Our energy and our will to achieve should not be put in doubt. Although commitment to regionalism has been somewhat patchy over the last four decades, largely driven by Members’ inward-looking policies, which serve their purpose, there are means of changing our attitude towards regionalism to usefully extend to formulation of national policy, in order to complement, not override, our sovereignty. Every time we join an international agreement or a grouping of nations, such as the Forum or United Nations, we agree to give up a little bit of our sovereignty for the common good and needs of our Government and nation. In essence, we should never complain about losing sovereignty if we do it willingly in order to gain something much more in return.
There is also a lingering concern that regional organizations may come to replace many functions of national governments and that there are no clear limits to their roles. I don’t believe this to be so, although this notion may remain at the operational level. In this instance, there are two simple guiding principles that I suggest in determining whether a regional approach should be taken. The first is a market test. If a good or service is being provided adequately through the market, there is no need for an intervention, whether it be national or regional. Second, if a national government, or provincial government is providing a good service adequately, then regional institutions should not seek to provide it. This is the principle of subsidiarity.
A CASE FOR SUB-REGIONALISM
Also close to our hearts, and fundamentally, our identity, is the notion of subregionalism, for it is within these smaller groupings that we can readily identify our strong common interests, working together to build mutual cooperation and understanding, and not at the expense of any other group.
I must admit, not so long ago, the notion of subregionalism evoked concern among regional practitioners. But that ship has sailed. Again, this is a matter of perspective.
A good example of the manifestation of sub-regionalism was the formation of the grouping of Smaller Island States within the Pacific Islands Forum in 1987, initially comprising Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue and Tuvalu; later encompassing the Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau.
Leaders have since then agreed on the need to advocate the special and peculiar needs of Smaller Island States; provide special assistance for the implementation of the Pacific Plan, and ensure that they derive the fullest possible benefit from the Plan, particularly given their limited capacity and fragile and vulnerable environment.
The Melanesian Spearhead Group is another example of sub-regionalism, which has been portrayed by many as a challenge to the region, building alternative coalitions. Rather, it should be viewed as countries with a common history, related cultural traditions and a commitment to dialogue working together on issues of mutual interest.
It is against this background of important subregional groups already established, and in particular, the contribution that they make in working collectively to preserve cultures and traditions, indigenous languages and identities, that prompted me to think that perhaps the idea of Polynesia organizing into a subgroup to systematically address these issues should be again revisited. I recall that the idea was mooted at the early years of the South Pacific Forum but for one reason or another, probably including confidence at the time that Polynesian cultures were strong and unshakeable, the idea was not further advanced.
Circumstances have changed a great deal since, and the exposure of our people and countries to modern imperatives of development and communications have heightened the risks to the long term survival of our cultures and languages. It would therefore be a mistake in my view, to remain complacent, and this was the reason that I have given much thought with other Polynesian leaders to the establishment of a Polynesian subgroup to start looking at ways that would focus attention on issues facing Polynesia as a subgroup of the region. Besides the preservation of languages culture and traditions, sub-regionalism may also provide better platforms for the effective and efficient delivery of programmes that not only benefit the immediate sub-region but the region as a whole.
I therefore see sub-regional approaches as complementing and re-enforcing region- wide efforts to address issues and problems facing the whole Pacific. Sub-regionalism should not replace region-wide approaches where these make the best use of resources in serving the interests of individual countries and the whole Pacific region. The idea of a Polynesian subgroup was broached at informal discussions at the Retreats of the Fiji Forum in 2006 and the Tonga Forum in 2007. Last year in the margins of the Port Vila Forum I had in-depth conversations with some of the leaders and provided them with material on what a Polynesian sub-group might look like and its objectives, but given the vagaries of political life, there are, I think, only two still in office.
Melanesia has led and shown the way in establishing subregional groups and now Micronesia has followed. Polynesia has been slow possibly because the Polynesians have inherited the wandering mindset of their ancient forefathers who roamed all over our Pacific region going as far north as Hawaii, east to Easter Island and south to New Zealand to form the apexes of the large area covered by the so-called Polynesian Triangle. Some anthropologists indeed think that Polynesians even went as far as South America and present as evidence chicken bones from Polynesia preferred cuisines found in that continent. I do not really know about that kind of evidence but the early Polynesians in New Zealand are credited or blamed with eating the giant (chicken) Moa into extinction before turning on other readily available meat sources Aotearoa offered at the time!! To be fair the Samoans and other Polynesians of the period were probably busy doing the same to the then plentiful fauna bounty of their respective islands!!
Humour aside, I strongly believe that a Polynesian subregional group has useful benefits for Polynesia and the wider Pacific. It is a development worthy to be pursued and implemented.
FORGING THE PATH AHEAD
I referred to the notion of globalization in the earlier part of this address in the context of the efficient technologies of high speed communications and transportation of today. And we know from experience that our island countries are now exposed more than ever to the effects of events happening in other parts of the world. All our countries in recent years endured the food, energy and financial crises that presented very serious threats and each of our countries individually and collectively took actions to mitigate the adverse impact of these on our already vulnerable economies. For my own government when we came to office nearly thirty years ago in the beginning of the 1980s, Samoa’s economy was in tatters in the aftermath of the ‘oil shock’ of the late 1970s. The country was virtually bankrupt with people queuing just to buy the basic necessities. Samoa suffered badly at that time because prior policies had not been put in place to manage and strengthen the resilience of the economy should disaster events, whether natural or man-made, strikeruck our shores. At that time when we took up office we had no option but to institute tough measures, extremely tough policies and programmes to re-establish macro-economic stability and lay the foundation to recover the economy, put the government’s finances in order and gradually rebuild the country’s foreign reserves. We succeeded in achieving these objectives. We also undertook from that time to continuously look into making appropriate reforms and lay down periodic strategies for the development of Samoa to strengthen the resilience of our economy and be better prepared to meet challenges that affect our country. The current strategy for the Development of Samoa is for the period from 2008 – 2012.
Our Pacific islands have long suffered the impacts of disasters and events happening elsewhere on the livesfe of our countries. In today’s period of high speed Information and Communications Technology, the impacts reach us much faster. It would be pointless, even in our small islands, to wish for the impacts of world events not to reach us so quickly, so that we have more time to prepare. Rather, the reality is that it has become even more important for us to know, as quickly as possible, if a crisis is brewing beyond our shores, and our region, to give us more time to understand its nature and prepare responses to mitigate the impact on our countries. For Samoa we are doing as much as we are able to develop our ICTs infrastructure and international communications access not merely for early warning of impending crises but for its overall contribution to various areas of Samoa’s socio-economic development.
Obviously the determination of our government and country to make and implement hard decisions and policies when necessary is clearly important. Each of our Pacific island countries would always face making tough development choices against the background of existing political realities in each country. That is the nature of the democratic representation system of government that our countries have embraced and that the Pacific Islands Forum promotes strongly. The decision making and implementation role of government to meet development objectives is obviously vitally important, but it is only part of the story. The other key ingredient in our efforts to develop our countries is the success of arrangements with development partner donors and with our regional organizations. There is no doubt that a formidable gap exists between the resources we are able to generate domestically and the requirements of the development investment programmes that must be implemented to meet our goals. The importance therefore of Samoa’s development partners’ support for our efforts could not be overstated. Obviously without the cooperation of development partners, the task for Samoa to achieve its development objectives would have been enormous to say the least. In dealing with Samoa’s development partners, our experience is that our partners’ reservoir of goodwill and patience is deep, but it is not bottomless. For Samoa we learned quickly that a successful partnership is based on mutual trust. As the recipient, not only must our development plans make good sense but it is most important that the donor resources are indeed applied to the purpose for which these are intended.
Aid coordination has always been an important consideration for my countrySamoa. There have also been appropriately more recent calls for greater cooperation in this area on the basis of aid effectiveness in the Pacific and given the state of global aid resources. I have referred to the importance of good planning and implementation to engender a relationship of trust with development partners. We found early that donors often have different requirements and areas where they have greater competence and areas they are not prepared to be involved in. Our experience at this level of coordination is to assign to donors projects that meet their criteria and in areas they are prepared to be involved in. Assigning projects and the engagement of development partners should however be made transparent to help avoid any duplication and wastage. In the case of the assistance our regional organizations provide, the rationalization of their areas of responsibilities and specialization makes coordination of their assistance to our countries either individually or collectively a relatively straight forward exercise.
Our regional organizations must nevertheless exercise close coordination between them to avoid duplication and regressing into trying to carry capacity and work in areas already assigned to other regional organizations. There remains a great deal of work that our regional organizations must continue to concentrate on to support our Pacific countries either individually or collectively. These, as already mentioned, include the environment and climate change, fisheries, trade, tourism, education, health and women in development to name some.
CONCLUSION – BOUNDLESS OPPORTUNITIES
Distinguished guests and friends, it is for you, now, to take this debate further. May I leave you, however, with the assertion that we have before us, in seeking out appropriate regional approaches, boundless opportunities to improve the lives of Pacific peoples. We want practical benefits. We want to achieve real outcomes, and improve the way we interact in the international arena. In order to do this, we must continue to engage, and identify, more closely with one another.