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Review Chair's Remarks: Pacific Plan Action Committee Meeting

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Presentation to the Pacific Plan Action Committee, 6 August 2013

Introduction by the Review Chair: The Rt. Hon. Sir Mekere Morauta, KCMG

Thank you, Secretary General and members of PPAC, for the opportunity to present the conclusions of our review.

It has truly been an honour to have chaired what has been perhaps one of the most substantive and far-reaching reviews of Pacific issues ever mounted. I hope that what we have concluded and recommended may have a lasting impact on our region, and the lives and livelihoods of our people, for years to come.

Firstly however let me re-introduce my team:

  • I was assisted and ably guided by two prominent Pacific Island country-representatives, who also kindly deputised for me when I was not able to attend all our meetings – Noumea Simi  from Samoa and Redley Killion from the Federated States of Micronesia;

  • The two international members of the team – Peter Bazeley from the UK and Nick Poletti from New Zealand – provided a breadth of institutional and development expertise, based on many years’ experience in the Pacific and further afield.

  • And my own country, Papua New Guinea, helpfully provided me with an adviser who became an integral part of the team – Robert Igara.

I am grateful to them all for their work and their dedication to the Review.

May I here also express my very great appreciation to the Secretary General and the staff of the Forum Secretariat who have so diligently supported us throughout the Review, not just in logistics, but for their completely unrestricted approach to the conduct of this independent exercise? It is not easy to have one’s work and priorities being put under such intense scrutiny, and they did well.

My special thanks go to the staff of the Pacific Plan Office for organising everything – and reorganising everything whenever we changed our minds: Seini O’Connor, Rosi Banuve, Alex Knox (who has just completed his term here – I hope it is not because we wore you out!) and also, previously, Sala Mataikabara (whom we wore out a few months ago).

Although no public recognition of this has ever been sought, much of the cost of the Review was met through an unconditional grant made to the Secretariat by the government of Australia, for which I and I am sure the whole Forum membership is grateful.

However I raise this last point not so much to recognise generosity, but to record here my appreciation again of the freedom afforded us in conducting – lest there be any shadow of doubt about it – a completely independent review, unfettered by external influence of any kind. A review which has, throughout, held to its principles of openness, inclusiveness and independence, and which has striven – above all – to articulate Pacific citizens’ own values and priorities. 

So let me now make a few introductory remarks about our findings and conclusions, before handing over to others in the team to present some of the detail.

Although we have consulted with over half-a-thousand Pacific citizens and stakeholders, the messages we have received have been remarkably consistent, and our diagnosis is disarmingly simple:

  • The region is at a crossroads: the social, economic and political context for regionalism is quite different to the period when the Pacific Plan was framed, and choices have to be made about how the region responds to that changing context.

  • We see a region that is more, not less, vulnerable than it used to be, and one that is becoming more, not less, dependent on forces and factors (and I don’t just mean aid) beyond the region. How the region deals with modernity – including its many socially-, economically- and politically-challenging facets – while holding true to its deep-rooted social and cultural values is not yet resolved.

  • Yet we hear – loudly – from citizens and politicians alike that the right political conversations are not being had about these things. That the region is stumbling into the future, rather than confidently striding forwards certain of where it wants to go.

  • Citizens’ voices, we were told time and time again, are not being heard by the political elite.

  • The region – rightly so proud of its identity, independence, and values – is allowing some of its members to fall behind to an alarming extent – sometimes through the region’s own actions and inaction.  New forms of poverty and inequality are emerging in the Pacific, which should not sit within this proud region’s – or anybody else’s – limits of tolerance.

  • In short, regionalism has lost its political direction, and it became clear to me at an early stage of this review that the solution lies in re-establishing a robust political process around regionalism, as opposed to – simply – refreshing a list of Pacific Plan priorities.

  • So that led us to look at why the political process is failing. And here again, the diagnosis is simple – although the treatment is complex and requires big doses of medicine:

  • The institutions – the ‘rules of the game’ – are wrong, or perhaps have gradually been weakened by, on one hand, governance structures that don’t ensure the right outcomes, and on the other hand incentives – usually financing incentives – that serve to shape the agenda more than does the exercise of political values and choice.

  • But I want to emphasise that these are not Machiavellian attempts by anybody to change the nature and process of regionalism. They are the inevitable – passive – outcomes of not getting right the relationships between principals (the political leadership) and their agents (for example PIFS and the CROP agencies). And they are the inevitable outcomes of financing arrangements – perhaps themselves born out of other institutional failings and weaknesses – that ultimately create the need for separate – apolitical – dialogues about the agenda. 

I referred just now to big doses of medicine. Let me expand on that.

There is a palpable frustration that there is still much to do to get the region’s development paths and pathways right, but that the institutions we have for that are somehow not coming up with the answers. Some of the new Pacific politics we see emerging perhaps reflect this.

But my earnest view, having listened to so many Pacific citizens and their leaders these last few months, is that the Forum and its Secretariat – as the peak political body of the Pacific – has a hugely important role to play, now and into the future. But it must adapt, just as any forward-looking, learning, organisation must adapt.

And it is that adaptation that is at the heart of our conclusions. It is not, I am afraid, simply a matter of tweaking the Plan, or of devising a better reporting system. It is a matter of reaffirming the role of politics in Pacific development and how political choices are prosecuted through the region’s peak political body.

So, our firm conclusion is that the Pacific Plan should not be seen as a sort of ‘regional development plan’, trying in vain to capture and deal with everything that everybody thinks is important in the Pacific. Rather, it should be seen as a framework for advancing the political principle of regionalism through robust, inclusive, processes of political dialogue, the expression of political values about regionalism and sovereignty, and the decisive implementation of key, game-changing, drivers of regional economic integration.

I will now hand over to Noumea Simi who will elaborate on some of these things.

Thank you.

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