Government of the Cook Islands
Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration
Thursday 3 February, 0400
Prime Minister Mark Brown met on Tuesday from 12pm CKT with the other 17 Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum for a Special Leaders Retreat.
Chaired by the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, the Hon Kausea Natano, it was the first-ever meeting of Forum Leaders held virtually, a consequence of the ongoing COVID-19-related travel restrictions. As well, it was historic for the Cook Islands because the Prime Minister participated in the Retreat via zoom from Pukapuka where he was leading a mission.
Opening the Retreat, Forum Leaders reviewed the disastrous impact of COVID-19 on the region since their last meeting in 2019. Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen regional coordination and collaboration to overcome the challenges caused by the pandemic, including through the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway for COVID-19. They also acknowledged with appreciation the efforts of Australia and New Zealand to secure safe and effective vaccines for the region.
Addressing the Retreat, the Prime Minister emphasised the impact of the pandemic on the Cook Islands and the need to re-open the country’s borders safely. “COVID-19 challenges require national, regional and global responses if we are to overcome them,” emphasised the Prime Minister. “We have put into place strong measures at the national level to mitigate against COVID impact. Ensuring safe and effective access to vaccines with full coverage for all our people in the Pacific is integral to the future health our people and the health and recovery of our respective economies that have in some instances collapsed from closed borders and extensive global economic impacts. Regional co-operation and working with international partners is critical to support our efforts at national level and I welcome the opportunity to converse with my colleague Leaders to share insights and explore further co-operation, albeit virtually.”
With the term of the current Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), Dame Meg Taylor, coming to an end, Forum Leaders also discussed and progressed the selection of the next Secretary General. Among the five regional candidates for the position was Mr Henry Puna, former Cook Islands Prime Minister who was nominated by the Cook Islands Government for the Secretary General post.
Early this morning, leaders confirmed Mr Puna as the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, replacing outgoing SG Dame Meg Taylor. “We sincerely commend the high calibre of all 5 candidates for the post of Secretary General of the PIF Secretariat and are grateful for the confirmation by Leaders of Mr Puna to serve as Secretary General,” said Prime Minister Brown. “We recognise this is a significant undertaking particularly the myriad of complex challenges compounded by COVID. Nevertheless, we are confident Mr Puna has the requisite experience and expertise in terms of political acumen, diplomacy, negotiating skills and networks at the regional and international levels to guide and support Pacific Leaders navigate complex geopolitical issues whilst ensuring the Secretariat is effective in its implementation of the directives and priorities of Forum Leaders. It is imperative Secretariat service delivery meets in an equitable and country needs driven manner on regional priorities. As Secretary General, the marshalling of existing regional mechanisms to respond to the directives of Forum Leaders will be critical and we look forward to elevated levels of co-operation between the Secretariat, regional organisations and member countries in the coming months”.
Leaders discussions extended from 12pm Tuesday through to early this morning and will resume at midday later today.
The Prime Minister was supported on Rarotonga by the Hon Patrick Arioka, Minister of Tourism; Ms Tepaeru Herrmann, Secretary of Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki/Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) and MFAI officials.
Queries regarding this media release can be directed to Dr. Jim Gosselin, Director of MFAI’s Pacific and Regional Affairs Division at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 29347.
1 2 February 2021 - virtual meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders;
2 2 February 2021, Pukapuka Island Administration – Prime Minister Puna participating in virtual meeting of PIC Leaders;
3 October 2020, VIP lounge Rarotonga – Cook Islands former Prime Minister and now confirmed Secretary General PIFS Henry Puna and Prime Minister Mark Brown