21 Nov 2013

New SPC head keen to raise organisation's profile

6:07 pm on 21 November 2013

The incoming director-general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Colin Tukuitonga, says he is keen to raise the organisation's profile.

Dr Tukuitonga, who is Niuean, was part of a review team which looked at the challenges facing the SPC. He spoke to Walter Zweifel.

COLIN TUKUITONGA: A major issue is really to do with improving and modernising the business systems and processes within. By that I mean to modernise the financial systems to improve recruitment and retention of staff - those kind of internal issues that make the internal organisation stronger. What has happened is that the SPC grew quite quickly over a short period of time with the merger of SOPAC and the Pacific Board for Educational Assessment. But the systems within were not quite up to requirements. The SPC has over 600 staff, for example, so the internal urgent issue is that. Related to it, of course, is to try and get more sustainable funding arrangements for SPC programmes to reduce reliance on short-term project funding, but to try and move longer-term, three-to-five year type funding horizons so we can have more certainty so we can plan better and so on. Looking at it externally I think the big issue is profiling more visibly what SPC does. It's really engaged in a number of really good programmes. But people don't necessarily know much about what it does.

WALTER ZWEIFEL: You mentioned the merger with SOPAC about ten years ago. There was a lot of discussion of streamlining regional organisations. Can you see any room that somehow the Pacific Islands Forum could be absorbed in a bigger structure that would include the SPC?

CT: Oh, that's a big conversation that's beyond my brief. That's a largely political organisation and it's recently engaged in a view of the Pacific Plan. It's a policy political organisation, whereas SPC is strictly a technical scientific organisation. So I don't imagine that that sort of merger is likely in the short term.

WZ: Your background is in health. Is your tenure as the head of the SPC likely to focus on what the organisation can do in terms of health, given that we have this tsunami of diabetes and NCDs descending on most Pacific Island countries.

CT: There's no doubt that NCDs, diabetes and heart disease are the big challenge. And the advantage we have at SPC, of course, is we're involved with fisheries, with agriculture and with growing crops and so on, education. So we have already, within SPC, a number of programmes. We're already engaged in those areas that could contribute to the reduction in these conditions. I should say that the new role as director general is one of leadership and management of the entire organisation. So I couldn't just focus on health. And naturally we will be looking for someone to replace me as the director of public health because that's an important programme for SPC and the member states.