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Pacific Islands Forum Opening Address Hans Keil

Opening Address by Hon. Hans J. Keil,
Minister of Commerce, Labour and Tourism
Forum Officials Committee Meeting
3-10 August 2004
Apia, Samoa

I am honoured to be here this morning to open the Forum Officials Committee meeting. On behalf of the government and people of Samoa, I wish to extend to all of you a warm welcome to Apia. As this is also Mr Greg Urwin’s first Forum and Forum Officials Meeting, I would like to extend to him a warm welcome. Mr Urwin brings with him a wealth of experience on regional issues and on your behalf I wish him a successful term as Secretary General.

It has been seventeen years since the last Forum and the Officials Committee meetings were held here in Apia in May 1987. It was a time of turbulence for our region then, with the first political crisis in Fiji occurring just a few weeks before the Apia Forum. The discussions at that 1987 Forum naturally was dominated by the events in Fiji and how the region should respond to the crisis. Fortunately for us then, there was and still is today the Pacific Way of resolving difficult problems.

Since the last Apia Forum, our membership has increased, and our work programme has expanded considerably. The Secretariat name has also changed twice and its staff numbers have increased.

The problems we faced then are still with us today, but on a much more complex and difficult scale. Poverty elimination, transnational crime, ethnic tensions, bad governance, limited air and sea transportation, rising population, inadequate education, youth unemployment, the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases, depleting natural and fisheries resources, the threat of sea level rise and many others.

One issue we didn’t confront then but we do now on a very serious level is terrorism. Next month marks the third anniversary of 9/11, a day of tragedy and sadness which symbolizes the serious threat of this new evil which has changed the world and the psychology of many people.

We ask ourselves, are we as a region better off and more secure today than we were seventeen years ago? The obvious answer is no. There is an apparent absence of good governance in many of our Pacific Islands, both political and economic. Many of our small island countries are finding it difficult to cope with th4e challenges and the changes of today’s integrated, complex and unsafe world. Poor management of resources, the unsustainable growth and practices associated with our changing lifestyles and which are incompatible with our isolated and small islands must be addressed. The terrorist threat is here and now, we must not be complacent in our efforts to eradicate all forms of terrorism.

Some of these complex issues and problems of course are beyond our control. Increased globalization and trade liberalization are just some of the issues which island countries are grappling with in an increasingly competitive world. The international community especially the developed countries should stop arguing over the causes of global warming and do more to stop it. The numerous obligations associated with the global war on terror since 9/11 is an added cost for small island countries. We must assess therefore how best to respond and benefit from these trends given our isolation and the limited resources that we have.

Regional initiatives such as the PICTA and PACER to facilitate and enhance regional trade, the PASO and PIASA for cost effective cooperation in the area of civil aviation, the Biketawa and the Nasonini Declarations on regional security and terrorism, and other regional plans of action which Pacific Ministers such as FEMM have adopted to guide regional action on key issues, are very important. The success of RAMSI in restoring law and order in the Solomon Islands, is a good illustration of regional action and mechanism that work when there is political will and support from our members.

Against this background I would urge that the success of the work of the Forum in tackling these issues relies very much on how our members work collectively and as individual; countries in implementing what is needed to be done. What is quite obvious elsewhere and especially here in our own Pacific region today, is that the pace of implementation cannot keep up with the number of meetings that are going on.

The unnecessary duplication of regional programmes and staff posts amongst CROP organizations must be controlled and managed effectively. Regional programmes that are implemented by the Forum and the CROP agencies must continue to be driven by the needs and priorities of the countries and not the views of a few. Programmes must also be implementable.

The review of the Forum and the Forum Secretariat therefore comes at a critical time. The Pacific Plan endorsed by Leaders ion Auckland recently sets out a new vision or mandate for the Forum, focusing on four key issues, economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security. The advancement of our work on these issues would require a strengthened and measured regional approach and the pooling together of our limited resources, especially on issues which are better addressed on the regional level.

I take note of some of these key issues such as regional transportation and security which your meeting will be deliberating on this week. Some of these issues as you are aware, are not new and I hope that the recommendations and outcomes of your discussions would take into account the difficulties and the realities that many of our island communities and national governments are faced with, in trying to meet the needs of our people.

Important also to the success of the Pacific Plan is a lean and effective Secretariat. A number of institutional issues are on your agenda that would assist in bringing this about including the review of the Secretariat’s corporate plan and structure, as well as the terms and conditions of staff employment at the Forum Secretariat which should apply where necessary, to other CROP organizations who also have an important role to play in then implementation of the Pacific Plan.

This Forum Officials meeting plays a crucial role in determining the agenda and recommendations on some of the key issues for consideration by our Leaders. I therefore wish you success in your deliberations in the next few days.

Finally, I am sure you are all aware that Samoa will be hosting the next South Pacific Games in 2007. I do hope that some of you who are also here on holiday will have time to visit some of our sporting venues for the Games. I wish your deliberations success and it is my great honour now to declare open this Forum Officials Committee meeting. Soifua.

Forum Secretariat, Apia

3 August 2004

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