Date: 7 Sep 2011
Speaker: Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma
Location: 42nd Pacific Islands Forum – Auckland, New Zealand
Forum Chair, Prime Minister Key;
Forum Leaders and Distinguished Ministers;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
PIF 40th anniversary year
It is a distinction and a pleasure to address the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum in this, your 40th anniversary year. Thank you for giving me this honour. This gathering had its beginnings in 1971 here in New Zealand, and met in Wellington with seven countries represented. It met to discuss issues of common concern to the region. The Forum has certainly grown in stature and contribution since then.
Let me begin by acknowledging that rugby is a sport intimately associated with the Commonwealth, even if I am more familiar with another sport that lasts – often inconclusively – over five days. Whilst one must tread diplomatically, let me affirm my expectation – and reveal my bias – that a Commonwealth member will lift the cup in eight weeks’ time, and indeed one from the Pacific Commonwealth.
Deepening my knowledge of countries belonging to the Forum, and strengthening links with them, is a truly rewarding duty for me. Thank you for the time that has been generously extended to myself and to my Secretariat colleagues during our ongoing, regular visits to this region. We have sought to lift the Commonwealth engagement even further through recent visits to the region by myself and Deputy Secretaries-General Smith and Masire-Mwamba.
The Pacific is integral to the wider Commonwealth, and mirrors it in its diversity and range of economies; the preponderance of small states; the resolute commitment to shared political values, including the culture of democracy and rule of law; and the enormous development challenges at their most fundamental – even existential – in human and economic terms.
And as the wider Pacific region increases its profile, both the Forum and the Commonwealth have important roles in ensuring that the benefits of growth and prosperity extend to all the people of the region.
PIF and CHOGM themes: ‘converting potential’ and ‘resilience’
We need to continue seeking innovative ways of building on the theme chosen for this meeting: ‘Converting Potential into Prosperity’. This morning’s interaction with the United Nations Secretary-General has highlighted that clearly.
This means working for opportunity to be accessible equitably to citizens of all countries, irrespective of size, location or endowment. And it means that the conceptual must be underpinned by the practical and tangible.
Mr Chair, this theme and approach resonate with the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, where the theme will similarly be: 'Building
National Resilience, Building Global Resilience'.
The interconnectedness of the potential for prosperity, of national resilience, of global resilience, is reflected in the multiple links shared by members of this Forum, and of the Commonwealth.
Through trade and economy; through culture and history; through politics and governance; we are closely woven together.
This is the basis on which we work together in forging a future that is strong and sustainable for all.
Global economy and debt management
Mr Chair, many countries represented here suffer from the negative effects of a geographical remoteness compounded by economies that are small and lacking in diversity.
Setbacks in global trade and liquidity deal severe blows to the infrastructure of such economies, and take a heavy toll in terms of financial and social well-being.
The impact that high levels of debt are now having on advanced economies will, we hope, lead to greater understanding of the crippling effects that have been endured for many years by Highly Indebted Poor Countries, and by middle income small states as well.
The Commonwealth has responded practically in its contribution to global advocacy to break the cycle of debt and poverty.
Our Commonwealth Secretariat Debt Recording and Management System is an excellent and proven software programme that enables countries to record and analyse their external and domestic debt flows.
Advocacy to G20 of non-G20 nations’ concerns
Early next month, together with the Secretary-General of the Francophonie, I expect to meet President Sarkozy in preparation for the forthcoming G20 Summit in Cannes.
Our role in expressing the concerns and priorities of the 90% of the world's countries which do not have a seat at the G20 table becomes ever more crucial. The G20 must also view itself as the ‘T20’, trustees of the wider world, or there will be a danger of its work lacking sustainability or global credibility.
This dialogue with G20 leaders enables us to raise and work on the shared concerns of Commonwealth members so that they receive the priority they deserve.
Five Commonwealth members are in the G20, and forty-nine outside it, so this interface is a vital opportunity for creative dialogue.
With the World Bank putting the current international aid shortfall at over US$ 300 billion, and budgets unlikely to increase in the current economic climate, innovative funding options need to be identified.
Thus, the key issues that we will be bringing to the G20 table are: trade; debt; financial inclusion; growth with resilience; and, innovative financing for development.
I would welcome your thoughts on these topics, especially if there are specific Pacific viewpoints that ought to be conveyed.
Broadening economic base and diversity
Mr Chair, if we are to achieve sustainable economic development that can withstand cyclical setbacks or sudden crisis - ‘resilience’ in a word - we need ways of converting potential into prosperity. This means broadening the economic base, as recognised by Forum Economic Ministers in Apia this year - not an easy goal for small states to achieve.
Heavy reliance on oil for energy generation means that oil price increases are a huge shock to already fragile economies.
Rising transport costs affect the price of imports and make it harder to compete in export markets. The impact on tourism and on the wider economy is severe.
Combined with heavy indebtedness, such burdens magnify the impact of any economic downturn.
The need to exploit opportunities for generating energy from renewable sources is urgent both economically and environmentally.
In preparation for next year’s Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, the Commonwealth Secretariat is working with small island developing states on the green economy, fast start funds, and measures to tackle the adaptation and mitigation challenges of climate change.
As well as co-ordinating plans to mobilise assistance from the international community, collaborative work is underway to build capacity on climate financing.
We will shortly be launching a training programme for officials and negotiators on accessing global financial resources to promote practical and sustainable development in small states.
Commonwealth Private Investment Initiative – CPII
Progressive initiatives that are environmentally sustainable go hand-in-hand with the work of the Commonwealth Secretariat on encouraging sustainable private investment.
The Commonwealth Private Investment Initiative promotes access to capital. This can give a significant boost to economic development which, in turn, contributes to increased incomes and to more general prosperity. Some leaders here will recall the launch of an initiative – the Kula II Fund – under the patronage of Sir Michael Somare at the Forum summit in Port Moresby in 2005.
The Kula II Fund has since unlocked US$16 million for investment in small and medium sized enterprises in this region.
Kula II has invested in Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea and has also helped build management capacity within those companies selected for investment by the fund.
Financial Literacy and Rural Banking
At local level, in small and vulnerable states, training programmes designed by the Commonwealth Secretariat in financial literacy and rural banking are helping to open up economies and develop capacity for growth.
In partnership with the National Bank of Vanuatu, the Secretariat has supported a programme promoting financial literacy and access to financial services for rural populations. This has shown the hidden potential of small and remote markets to generate capital for investment from internal sources once they are connected to the formal financial system.
We intend to explore how best we can apply the lessons learnt from this scheme and adapt the model for implementation in other countries of the region.
The economic, social and political benefits that flow from financial inclusion are self-evident. However, there are still many impediments that prevent women and young people – who are a priority concern – from realising their potential.
National resilience is impaired where such significant sectors of the population are thwarted in fulfilling their capability as economic participants.
Geneva Small States Office
The role of the Commonwealth in facilitating advocacy, and finding ways for the voices of small states to be heard directly, is increasing.
In January this year we opened our new Commonwealth Small States Office in Geneva.
The office allows small states to establish a diplomatic presence for bilateral accreditation in Europe and to the many multilateral organisations based in Geneva.
It provides a subsidised base for diplomatic missions from Commonwealth small states that could not otherwise afford the full cost of a permanent mission, but the concept builds on our New York office – where many states here are represented – and is a more ambitious one.
The office has a business centre that can be used by visiting delegations attending multilateral meetings in Geneva. We are recruiting trade and human rights experts to service the tenants and wider community of small states. More can be engaged for specific events.
It will hopefully emerge as a multilateral hub for small states to work together on issues of concern such as trade, private investment, human rights, health and labour...and for the Geneva multilateral community to engage with them.
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is one of the first tenants and we value their presence enormously.
Commonwealth Pacific Governance Facility
Mr Chair, I am pleased to inform leaders that the Commonwealth Pacific Governance Facility in Honiara is working well in support of the Pacific Plan. Working in partnership with others, we are committed to adding practical value.
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is our front row partner, and we are even now discussing new work together on political governance. This shows the mutual support and fruitful collaboration that flourishes between our institutions.
Women as Agents of Change, Sport and Youth
Mr Chair, our current Commonwealth theme, Women as Agents of Change, has helped shine a spotlight on the dynamic and comprehensive contribution women make in every walk of life once barriers of prejudice and discrimination are dismantled. We share your concern at the under-representation of women in executive and political leadership, and are committed to working with you to address this.
Youth empowerment is another area of highest priority for the Commonwealth, with a special focus on opportunities for youth employment and entrepreneurship.
Where a climate is created that provides for investment in youth enterprise, new jobs are generated and economic benefits multiplied for the wider community. Commercial banks are closely involved in Commonwealth initiatives that are opening up access to finance for young people.
I began with mention of the Rugby World Cup. The Commonwealth has a long and distinguished history of encouraging and celebrating the best in sport.
But, important though they are, sport is not just about cups and medals. Sport for all round-development and social integration and nation-building – especially with youth – is an aspect of our work to which we attach increasing importance.
It offers an interface on a wide range of social, health, educational and employment issues, and in advancing a vibrant culture of democracy. In Commonwealth thinking, teamwork, co-operation and collaboration start young.
Commonwealth assistance in the region
Mr Chair, I have mentioned some of the practical ways in which the Commonwealth is present in the Pacific, working to help your own plans and efforts to overcome vulnerability and to strengthen resilience. We continue to work here to build institutional strength in democratic institutions, as well as in public sector management and expenditure; to support enterprise development and income generation; to promote gender equality and empowerment of women; to advance social protection and stronger social services; and more.
Our door remains open to partnership and collaboration in these areas where we have a track record of added value and comparative advantage.
Political developments and Fiji
Mr Chair, the people of this region are justly proud of their resourcefulness, and of an approach to social and political affairs that is known as, ‘the Pacific Way’.
As with our Commonwealth way, it sets great store by respect and understanding. Democracy is central to our way of doing things – as is consensus: a process of collective reasoning that brings more information, more perspectives and more voices to the table.
The Commonwealth and the Forum are ‘joined at the hip’ in this. The Biketawa Declaration has a significant Commonwealth inspiration.
And the trend in the Commonwealth is to raise the bar further: most recently, the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles and the direction given by our Heads of Government has seen our 54 member governments strengthen their resolve as a values-based association with a constructive practical engagement to match.
I know this Forum shares with the Commonwealth a desire for conditions in Fiji to be such that normal and fruitful relations and full participation in our affairs can be restored.
In that connection, and to conclude, I pay special tribute to the devoted work and service of Sir Paul Reeves, whose loss we mourn. His dedication to this region as a son of New Zealand, a servant of the people of the Pacific, and a counsellor to the Commonwealth to the very last, leaves us only too conscious of how much we shall miss his counsel and wisdom.
His engagement with Fiji shows how the Commonwealth is there – patiently and practically and sympathetically – for the long haul.
With that sombre but always aspirational reflection, I reaffirm the Commonwealth’s commitment to working alongside you as we strengthen the peaceful and prosperous Pacific future.
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