Forum gears up for Samoa meeting

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Dame Meg Taylor

Dame Meg Taylor 

Secretary General 

Pacific Islands Forum 

Statement at Pacific 

pre-Forum Meeting 


Let me extend a very warm welcome back to your Secretariat and allow me to offer my gratitude for your efforts to travel, from near and far, across the Blue Pacific Ocean to be here today.  

Your presence here reflects a willingness and commitment to guide this, your organisation as it moves forward. It reflects your investment in the Pacific Islands Forum, and it’s Secretariat.  It reflects the value that you place on regionalism, on working as a collective with unified purpose for our common good.  

Your ownership and engagement is central to the effectiveness of the Forum as a political community. Since the establishment of the Forum, it has been a basic truth that the Secretariat’s work, its activities and its areas of focus are intended to provide tangible results to its Members. And so our effectiveness as a Secretariat in many ways depends on the continued ownership and guidance that you, as Members, invest.

Let me say that I have been heartened by Members’ engagement in various aspects of the Pacific Islands Forum and Secretariat changes since I took office in late 2014, but I have noted a step-up in interest and involvement over the past 12 months, which is most encouraging – and in this regard the engagement of the various F.O.C. sub-committees, such as the Sub-Committee on Prioritisation and Funding has been appreciated. 

This engagement has provided valuable guidance, particularly with respect to the development of the proposed strategic framework and sustainable funding strategy, which I will discuss shortly.

Members, over the past 12 months we have achieved a few key activities and milestones which give us cause for positive reflection. These achievements have provided me with the basis to present a new strategic framework and funding strategy, which set out the mid-term vision for the Secretariat that is based on our role as the region’s political and policy organisation, and which is guided by the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

Members, through your agenda over the next two days I trust that we will work together to shape a number of regional policy proposals which will ultimately be considered by Leaders when they meet in a matter of weeks in Samoa.

 

Major Achievements

If I may touch on some of the things we have achieved since late 2014.

In an overarching sense, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism has provided the platform and processes for a reinvigorated regionalism, enabling a more lively and inclusive debate about the things that matter to us as a region; and ensuring that Leaders preside over a regional agenda that requires their political attention. This renewed and re-energised regionalism has allowed us to achieve significant and tangible outcomes over the last two and a half years.

The signing of the Paris Agreement at COP21 in December 2015 stands out for me as a key highlight. Not only because we secured many of our own positions in the text of the Agreement, but because of our collective commitment to work together as Members and as regional agencies in pursuit of our shared goals. This demonstrated the strength and benefit of a collective regional diplomacy in pursuit of a common goal.

Staying with climate change, I note that Leaders’ endorsement of the Pacific Resilience Partnership is being sought, and the PRP governance arrangements have been tabled here for your consideration. Again, I wish to highlight that the F.R.D.P. and the P.R.P. are truly unique regional instruments that demonstrate our ability to work innovatively, inclusively and across multiple sectors to address climate change and disaster risk management to ensure that development is both sustainable and resilient.

Members, I have been pleased with the increased inter-agency coordination by the key stakeholders across our fisheries sector, led by the Forum Fisheries Agency, in pursuit of the Leaders priority on increasing economic returns on fisheries. Members of the fisheries taskforce have come together to make real progress on this priority, as demonstrated by their recent report at the Forum Fisheries Ministers Meeting last month.

The signing of the S.I.S. Strategy at the S.I.S. Leaders’ Special Meeting in Palau last year was a milestone for the S.I.S. and the broader Forum, generating a great sense of solidarity and collective political will amongst the S.I.S. As we discussed in the S.I.S. Officials Meeting yesterday, S.I.S. countries must provide against their commitments under the articles of the SIS Strategy and its companion implementation plan in order to give full effectiveness to these commitments.  

Members, the signing of P.A.C.E.R. plus by the 10 signatory Member countries is a significant achievement, given the protracted negotiations and the political and technical issues that inevitably accompany trade negotiations. The signature of the Agreement demonstrates to me a continued appetite by Members to pursue trade and economic integration as a means of economic development across our region. Given its significance, P.A.C.E.R. Plus will be discussed during this meeting and by our Leaders.  

Members, you will also recall that the official drawdown of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (R.A.M.S.I.) occurred at the end of June. At the invitation of the Government of Solomon Islands, Forum Leaders and the Secretariat attended a number of high level events in Honiara to mark the occasion, reflecting on the many successes of the mission, as well as the issues that require further attention in the future. Let me acknowledge our representatives from the Solomon Islands for their hosting of these events, and for hosting the Regional Mission over these past 14 years.

The drawdown events were an occasion for solemnity as well as appreciation, as the people and Government of the Solomon Islands’ bade farewell to the men and women from across the region who participated over the years of R.A.M.S.I’s existence. There was a real spirit of solidarity and helpem fren on display, demonstrating the strength and commitment of the Forum to support its members in times of need. And so it was with a great deal of regional pride and sentiment that R.A.M.S.I. officially bade farewell to the Government and the peoples of the Solomon Islands, calling an end to the Mission.

I have been most impressed by the region’s efforts to both inform, influence and progress the Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda, – and for the Secretariat, it’s efforts to support and coordinate the S.D.G’s Regional Taskforce to develop the Pacific S.D.G’s Roadmap, which responds to the Leaders directive to streamline regional reporting and implementation of the S.D.G’s, the SAMOA Pathway and the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

Members, the United Nations Ocean Conference, co-hosted by Fiji and Sweden in June this year in New York presented an important opportunity to consider regional approaches to achieving S.D.G. 14 and other relevant S.D.G’s, given the opportunities, issues and challenges that our Ocean presents. In my capacity as the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (O.P.O.C.) supported preparations for the Conference through the regional preparatory meeting for the U.N. Ocean Conference convened by Fiji in March, which consolidated a regional consultative process for Members, C.R.O.P. agencies and other key stakeholders and supported the establishment of key regional priorities for collective advocacy at the Conference and in the Call for Action document.

Members, let me also talk to our important work in election monitoring, which remains an important function of the Pacific Islands Forum. Since my time in office there have been seven national level elections and two sub-national level elections for which the Pacific Islands Forum has been invited to observe. This includes the most recent elections in my own country, which have recently come to an end. Elections are a key milestone in any democratic process, and it is vital that we continue to ensure that our elections remain free and fair across the Forum Membership, in accordance with the Biketawa Declaration, and the provisions of our own constitutions.

 

Regional Reforms

Let me reflect for a few moments on the work we have led over the past two and a half years to ensure that our regional arrangements deliver on the strategic principles, objectives, and processes set out in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

There have been great strides made by my fellow C.R.O.P. Heads and I to ensure that the arrangements and processes under C.R.O.P. respond to the expectations of our Leaders and Members as articulated through the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

We have come a long way as organisations in our own right and as a collective that exists under C.R.O.P. to deliver on the agenda articulated by our Leaders. We have on many occasions demonstrated a one-C.R.O.P. approach, delivering outcomes for Members through coordinated efforts at the U.N.F.C.C.C. C.O.P. (such as for C.O.P21) and at the various U.N. meetings on B.B.N.J. (coordinated by O.P.O.C.), and also at the recent inaugural Global Oceans Conference, to name a few examples. Moreover, we have been able to look at our structural arrangements through reform of the C.R.O.P. Working Group mechanism as well as of the C.R.O.P. Charter.

I would like to take to this opportunity to recognise and commend my fellow C.R.O.P. Executives for driving the implementation of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism – together and in their respective agencies. I want to make particular note of S.P.C, which has really demonstrated its leadership by embedding the relevant Leaders’ priorities in its governance and resourcing discussions - as many of you will have noted at the latest meeting of the C.R.G.A. held just a few weeks ago.

As a related segway, we will consider the draft report on the Analysis of Governance and Financing, and the key findings and recommendations highlighted in the report which speak to the importance of governance and ownership of the resources that flow into our regional agencies. This is a point which is linked to the broader principle of ownership which I will touch on in relation to the discussion on the sustainable funding strategy.  

But the Analysis of Governance and Finance really calls for us to reflect on the effectiveness of our regional arrangements as we pursue our collective regional agenda. Therefore the outcomes of your discussions will help to inform Pacific Leaders decisions around the optimal governance arrangements for regionalism – and in particular about whole-of-government engagement with regionalism. I am sure you would agree that these are important discussions that speak to the future of our regional arrangements, and so I look forward to your guidance and counsel on these matters. 

At this juncture, may I also acknowledge my C.R.O.P. colleagues and the Chairs of their governing councils for their contribution to this work over the past 18-months.

Members, you will recall that the Secretariat conducted a review of Forum Regional Meetings in 2016. 

The recommendations of this review are aimed at ensuring a set of Forum meeting arrangements that support the delivery of the Forum Leaders’ vision and objectives for the region as per the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. In a broad sense the report’s findings and recommendations are linked to the Analysis of Governance and Financing, in that they call for meetings to demonstrate alignment and coherence to the regionalism agenda as articulated by Leaders – through ensuring that the right meetings are held, and that meetings agendas are linked up.   

Members, let me also state that I am proud of the spirit of inclusivity that we have instituted through the implementation of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. This has been especially so through the pubic submissions process under the FPR, but also through the range of other entry points for civil society and private sector across the Forum policy making architecture. While the composition of the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism reflects broad cross-region experience and expertise, other avenues have opened up, including the CSO Dialogue with Forum Leaders, which was first instituted in 2015, and which will expand to include all Leaders at this year’s Forum Leaders Meeting. In addition, Civil Society and Private Sector engaged in dialogues with Economic Ministers at the 2017 FEMM in April, a practice which could potentially benefit all major regional Ministerial meetings.  

This increased stakeholder engagement across Forum processes has served to generate a more robust regional policy discussion, which I trust you would agree ensures a more rounded and widely consulted set of outcomes for our Leaders to settle upon.  

 

Organisational Reforms

If I may now turn to the efforts that we have made over the past two and a half years to ensure that the Secretariat is “fit-for-purpose”. You would note that a number of the most recent organisational reforms are set out in the Secretariat’s Progress Report that is before you.

Members will recall that at the beginning of 2015, the Secretariat faced significant challenges, including a major budget crisis, which led to my commissioning of an independent internal review of the organisation. While the organisation’s financial position at-the-time had spurred the review, other recommendations of that review for a fit-for-purpose organisation able to deliver on Members’ expectations sparked the organisational reform process for the Secretariat.

It has often been a difficult process, requiring an ability to do more with less and to work through more innovative and streamlined approaches. You will recall that we had to put a recruitment freeze in place for 12 months, while staff performance and CPI increases were frozen. But despite these constraints, let me say that I am proud of how staff have responded to the imposed reforms, and also for their efforts and initiative to drive many of the reforms that we have been able to institute.  

As our budget position begins to stabilise, our most recent reforms focus on ensuring that the organisation has the right human capital, business processes, and enabling environment to deliver efficiently and effectively. And I have been encouraged over these past 12 months to see that our support for the Forum Leaders priorities has drawn on the breadth of the organisation’s full capability set.

 

Looking Forward: A Strategic Vision for the Secretariat

With Members indulgence, let me now turn to the future of the Pacific Islands Forum, and how it may best serve the interests of Members. You will note that the agenda includes discussion on the Secretariat’s proposed strategic framework and a sustainable funding strategy. These documents outline the Secretariat’s strategy for the future – a strategy grounded on the basis that this Secretariat exists for the benefit of its members, and that members should therefore retain effective ownership of the Secretariat through its funding and governance structures.

From this basis, the Strategic Framework sets out the Secretariat’s mid-term strategy – through a set of strategic and enabling outcomes – to achieve the Leaders vision for the region within the context of the principles and objectives of the FPR, and based on the Secretariat’s policy and political functions within the Forum.

The strategic framework serves to anchor the Secretariat’s operational and resource frameworks. Thus while the Key Results Framework draws the links between the Secretariat’s outputs and key result areas, the Strategic Framework ensures alignment between the Secretariat’s KRAs and higher level outcomes on one hand to the enduring regional objectives and processes set out in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism on the other. 

Members, the strategic framework has been developed in concert with the development of a proposed sustainable funding strategy for the Secretariat.  As you will recall, the Forum Officials Committee recognised in 2015 the need to seriously examine the funding model for the Secretariat, and it established the Sub-Committee on Prioritisation and Funding to work with the Secretariat to propose options for a sustainable funding model. The importance of this work was stressed to me by the incoming Chair of the Forum, the Honourable Prime Minister of Samoa, and he specifically requested that a proposal be tabled for Leaders’ consideration at this year’s Forum meeting.

As I stated earlier, at the heart of the sustainable funding strategy is the principle of Member ownership of the Secretariat, as the body responsible for supporting the Pacific Islands Forum, the political community to which you all belong. The Strategy recognises that the primary function of the Secretariat is to provide robust policy advice to drive Forum Leaders’ ambitions for regionalism. And it recognises that Members should be the primary funder of this function, given that it is for the benefit of the collective membership.

The Strategy seeks to ensure greater ownership by Members through a proposed new share structure of assessed and voluntary contributions to the primary budget, as well as Members funding of a greater proportion of the Primary Budget. In this way, the Strategy seeks to reverse the trend of past years whereby Members’ contributions have significantly declined as a proportion of the Secretariat’s primary budget. This trend has given rise to greater reliance on external funding sources, with the associated risks of a lack of predictability of funding, as well as a diversion of the Secretariat away from non-core functions. In short it seeks to ensure that the Secretariat remains independent and free from external influence in its advice to the sovereign members of the Forum.

Let me acknowledge the FOC Sub-Committee on Prioritization and Funding, which worked closely with the Secretariat in finalising the strategy that will be discussed in this meeting. The committee comprised representatives from Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

I recognise that the Strategy presents reforms which have financial implications for most Members and this I expect will make our discussions less easy.  But I do encourage you to come to the discussions with an open mind, and an understanding that the Strategy is based on Principles that emphasise Members’ ownership of the Forum, its agenda and its Secretariat that is established to deliver its agenda.

Members, let me turn to the theme of the forthcoming Pacific Islands Forum, identified by the incoming Forum Chair as The Blue Pacific: Our Sea of Islands Provide For Our Secure Future Through Sustainable Development, Management and Conservation.

In preparation for the Forum Leaders Meeting, the Secretariat has prepared a paper to articulate the concept of the Blue Pacific. As the paper sets out, this concept seeks to re-capture and reclaim the collective potential of our shared stewardship of that part of the Pacific Ocean that is ours - based on an explicit recognition of our shared ocean identity, geography, and resources. It aims to strengthen collective action as one Blue Pacific Continent by putting the Blue Pacific at the centre of policy making and collective action for advancing the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Vision for our Region.

The concept represents an important narrative shift in the way we view ourselves and how we engage with the world, emphasising the need to work together to ensure the sustainable development, management and conservation of our shared Pacific Ocean for the wellbeing of Pacific Island people and communities. It emphasises leveraging the physical and intangible components of the Blue Pacific to expand our influence and opportunities in the economic, political and socio-cultural spheres in a manner that will yield benefits to all of the peoples of the region.

Members, ultimately the Blue Pacific articulates a new lens for collective identity and focus around which we can give effect and focus to the Leaders vision, objectives, as well as political dimensions and processes articulated in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. In this way I see the Blue Pacific as key to supporting the ambitions set out in the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, and many of the SDGs and regional indicators identified in the Pacific SDGs Roadmap.

Members, I am also pleased to note that the Secretariat has recently published a document that provides a geo-political analysis of the trends, threats and opportunities facing the region’s political and development ambitions. This document, titled the State of Pacific Regionalism Report serves as a conversation starter about the strategies we can employ to build a stronger and increasingly responsive region. Clearly, this document will have utility in all of our discussions, and it will serve to frame our policy discussions in the broader geopolitical context. 

The State of Pacific Regionalism report will be launched this Friday after the Foreign Ministers Meeting. You have before you an information paper that captures the content of the report.  However, we have hard copies of the report here today and it is also available from our website. Members, I would encourage you to read this document with a view to considering and seeing how it may inform your broader discussions.

 

Closing Remarks

Members, I am sure you would agree that we have all achieved a lot over these past few years, in terms of tangible outcomes, real and positive changes to the regional architecture, and reforms that have made the Forum Secretariat a more effective and efficient workplace. I stand by my record as Secretary General over these past two and a half years, and I am proud of the things we have achieved so far.

But, my sense is that we have a lot to look forward to – both in the immediate and long term. The draft Strategic Framework and the Sustainable Funding Strategy provide a clear link between the work and resourcing of the Secretariat, and its roles and responsibilities to the Forum and the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. The Blue Pacific is in many ways a framing of our collective identity that has the potential to solidify Pacific regionalism in a way that would enable us to tap into our vast regional potential. These are exciting prospects.

As we reflect on this potential, I again urge you to consider the importance of ownership of the Pacific Islands Forum and a prioritised regional agenda, as well as to ensure that your Secretariat has the means to be able to deliver on the agenda that you, as members, seek to achieve the objectives and overall vision of the Leaders FPR.

Finally, let me take this opportunity to thank the outgoing Deputy Secretary General, Ms Andie Fong Toy for her many years of service to the Secretariat and the region. I reiterate also my thanks to my colleagues – the staff of the Secretariat who continue to work hard to contribute to the agenda before you, amongst other things.

Members of the Forum Officials Committee, I thank you again for your time and commitment to be here, and I wish you all the best in your deliberations. Thank you.

 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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