30 Sep 2013

Pacific Forum head takes stock of organisation's direction

5:39 pm on 30 September 2013

The Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum says the organisation remains the premier grouping for regional political decision-making.

Speaking while in New York for the UN General Assembly, Tuiloma Neroni Slade says that regional power shifts and the sub-regional groupings being established have implications for the Forum.

Johnny Blades asked him how the Forum can stay relevant.

TUILOMA NERONI SLADE: They say that the power centres are moving to Asia, Asia-Pacific, not only China, but others. So of course the region is changing. Sub-groupings certainly are taking their place. The Melanesian Spearhead Group is well-established, but then others have been. The summit of the northern countries in Micronesia, and now we have the Polynesia Leaders Group. All these, of course, have implications for the Forum. But I believe that to a person, the Forum leaders continue to acknowledge the primacy of the Pacific islands Forum as the premiere body for political decision-making.

JOHNNY BLADES: Does it need to evolve as things change, though, in order to maintain that primacy?

TNS: Certainly. I think it needs to be awake to all these changes. I think there is general acknowledgement amongst the leaders that governance is not the businesses of governments alone. We need to pay attention to the voices that are there in loud measure and voices that need to be heard and to be listened to. This is nothing new. Civil society has made their demands known for many, many years. The Forum has its mechanisms to try to react to it. We cannot do much of business these days without the engagement and involvement of private sector. Young people have their own voices. They need to be listened to. And, yet, of course, as you well know, this is a highly traditional region. In almost each country, elders, the traditional systems, culture, that's the binding force in almost every Pacific community and sub-region.

JB: Do you think the Forum has done enough on the climate change front? You've tried to facilitate this kind of initiative. Is it working?

TNS: Well, I think the climate issue has been before the Forum leaders for a very long time, and they've sought to address this in as comprehensive and as responsible manner as possible. So they are prepared now and they've said they will take the first steps in inviting the rest of the world to join them. Now, obviously, this is not going to resolve the global problem in any significant way, but I think the fact they are prepared to take ownership, they accept responsibility, the political responsibility for it. Every little omission counts, and it's not a question of responsibility for Tuvalu or Tonga or Samoa, but it's the global addition and accumulation of the responsibility of all countries.

JB: Now, another regional issue that West Papuan group is trying to get some form of membership within the Pacific Forum hasn't been granted yet. Where is that process at? What would need to be done, and how does the Forum see itself as being involved in any potential effort to help the situation there?

TNS: West Papua, I think, has come up in the past. It has not come up in my own time. Sub-regional groups, like the Melanesian Spearhead Group, are dealing with the matter or have dealt with the matter and rightfully so. But I think I would be right in saying that Forum countries as a whole are concerned and would call for the protection and upholding of human rights of all residents in Papua. And I have no doubt that it would be the desire of Forum leaders to resolve all differences by all the parties in the countries that are involved in this issue and to do so in the most peaceful manner.

JB: West Papua was, of course, part of the original Pacific Forum, the South Pacific Commission, wasn't it?

TNS: I believe so, but... I believe so, but I cannot be certain on that myself.

JB: Where is the Pacific Plan at and are efforts to foster more regional integration, are they being advanced?

TNS: Sir Mekere Morauta, as you know, has conducted the review of the Pacific Plan. Sir meke will now finalise his report by the end of October and have the finalised document submitted to the Forum secretariat for transmission to leaders. There is emphasis in Sir Mekere's report that there be focus on regional integration. As you know, the Pacific Plan from its inception was a plan for regional co-operation and integration. I believe myself that the region has done good work in co-operation, but perhaps needs to do much more for regional integration.

Tuiloma Neroni Slade says he would await the final Pacific Plan report before talking about areas where closer integration will be pursued, but expects that trade is one of the key areas.