The incoming Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum intends to push ‘as hard and as fast as I can, so that the Forum family will remain intact and complete as it is’.
Henry Puna, the former prime minister of the Cook Islands, was speaking at a small accreditation ceremony on Tuesday in the grounds of the Office of the Prime Minister.
His selection as the Forum’s SG was mired in controversy and he said important first steps to addressing those concerns are being made.
Puna said Forum officials’ committees will look at how secretaries-general are selected in future. The ‘Troika’, which is comprised of the previous, current, and incoming Forum chairs, will play a role in the discussions. At the Tuesday ceremony, the secretary general-designate spoke on what he sees as being priorities of the Fiji-headquartered Forum.
Security is an overriding issue for the Pacific “not just in terms of warfare, but particularly in terms of cyber security, health security and people security”.
The Pacific also faces an even bigger problem of how to “recover the economies of our small island states”.
And there are other issues he thinks that merits deeper thought and strategic thinking.
“Because, when we talk about the region sometimes, it’s so generalised and we come up with answers that we hope will apply to everybody, and I think the economy and economic development is one of those issues.”
Puna firmly believes the Pacific Islands Forum should look at the economic challenges of each country separately.
“We’re not all the same, we’re different in our location, we’re different in our geography, we’re different in our size; and these things must be taken into account when working out strategies to address issues in those areas,” he said.
Puna is pleased that the BOE (Bill of Entry 2018) declaration embodies all those priorities in the Pacific region.
And there are issues that are common among the region which should be addressed as a whole, he adds.
Climate change is one, and for the Cook Islands, Te Marae Moana is a success story.
“It’s a story that we all want to work hard to inspire the region to do what in many ways the Cook Islands is doing, and has done. I’m proud that we are leaders in environmental endeavors, and our Marae Moana is a shining example,” Puna said.
He said Marae Moana is one initiative that he hopes to persuade the leaders of the Pacific to seriously look at and to adopt.
“Because the ocean connects us all and therefore, we have a shared concern with the ocean. It is something that belongs to all of us, including the fishes that swim in that ocean.”
Prime Minister Mark Brown has no doubt that the decision of selecting Henry Puna for the SG role was the right one.
“What’s needed to lead the organisation that represents our Pacific countries is someone with the skills and the expertise to pull together all of the different countries, the leaders, so that we can work in collaboration as a region to get ourselves through the Covid situation,” Brown said.
He is confident Puna is going to be able to work with each of the leaders and will “use his skills as a person who can bring a team together to identify the issues that need to be addressed and to come up with solutions”.
“As a country everybody in the Cook Islands should be rightfully proud of the role that you have undertaken,” the prime minister said to his predecessor.
Puna said he was chuffed that Brown had also referred to him as ‘A son of the Pacific’. “That means I am still young, although the hair is a bit grey and the mo…Thank you PM, that’s a compliment.”
He added, amusing the guests: “I’m sorry I can’t help you grow your hair.”
Puna said he looks forward to the challenges of his new role as secretary general, and in closing said: “Let’s continue on the paths that we’ve taken over the past 10 years, and may God Bless our little paradise.”
Founded in 1971, the Pacific Islands Forum is the region’s premier political and economic policy organisation.
It comprises 18 members: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
In February this year Henry Puna was voted in as secretary general over Micronesia’s candidate, the Marshall Islands’ ambassador to the United States Gerald Zackios, by nine votes to eight.