6 Aug 2013

Regional head supports new Fiji led-body

5:14 pm on 6 August 2013

The head of the Secretariat for the Pacific Community says there is a role for the new Fiji-led regional body because it has a different focus from other regional groups.

Dr Jimmie Rodgers chaired the opening session of the Pacific Islands Development Forum being held in Nadi this week.

Suva's initiative comes in the wake of its continued suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum and this week brought together several Pacific Island governments plus business leaders and civil society at three days of meetings.

Dr Rodgers says the group's broad membership also sets it apart.

JIMMIE RODGERS: It's historic because it is the first time that in one room there's equal partnership between governments, the private sector and civil society at a very high level. It's also, I guess, historic from the perspective that regional organisations and international partners are invited to be part of it and it is linking the regional development of agenda to the international and the global agenda. But it also provides a transition for each individual country to bring their development agenda, and then compare and contrast with other countries, and in that process pull together a regional position. The existing regional structures that we have - civil society or private sector - can attend by invitation. So it's breaking new ground from that perspective, and I think it remains to be seen whether it will deliver to the potential that it has for the region. So it has got to prove itself, but I think just getting it off the ground is historical.

SALLY ROUND: What of the danger of this organisation becoming just another talking shop?

JR: Well, I think the next year will answer that question. If this organisation, which, I guess they want to come out in day three with a series of initiatives, as low-hanging fruits, that they would like to achieve by next year, by the following year, or definitely by 2020. I think they have an agenda to achieve by 2020. However, some of them will come earlier. So really the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The leaders are very supportive of it. In fact, this meeting is as a result of a meeting a year ago by teh same leaders just to say 'Yes, let's formalise the arrangement. I think it has value, it has opportunity'. But if the outcomes of the meeting this week are going to be agendas that are not achieved in the next year or the next two years then of course there will be questions raised as to was it worth, all the while, was it worth money spending?

SR: Are you worried at all that this is just kind of a political football?

JR: Well, I think that that point has been raised. There are perceptions out there, or questions - what is the motive, what is the real intention of this meeting? We take the view at SPC that we needed to engage on this meeting positively. Our engagement is from developmental lens. We are not a political organisation and, therefore, it is important for us, when we come in, and that's my advice for my directors, [that] we address the technical issues, we provide the solutions. And I think if we don't get our advice to shape political positions that will help position Pacific countries better, then we're not doing our job. So I guess from that perspective I'm not worried about that particular aspect of it. Is it a political football? We've watched it grow for a number of years under a different name and come to the conclusion that it's more a developmental agenda than the political agenda. That's my firm belief. I guess my advice, which I gave also to my colleagues and the heads of regional organisations is to look at this as a development agenda, give it time to work. I think we do our bit to try and make sure we invest the resources that we can to try and make it work. If it has other motives that we're not aware of they'll declare themselves.