STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE MARK BROWN, PRIME MINISTER OF THE COOK ISLANDS - RECENT PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM DEVELOPMENTS
11 February 2021
I would like to set out briefly my Government’s position regarding recent developments concerning the selection of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
From 1971 when it became a founding Member of the Forum, the Cook Islands has played an active role in Forum activities, firmly committed to regional cooperation and collaboration as the best way to address our concerns and advance our interests in such crucial areas as climate change, regional security and sustainable development. In that light, with the term of the current Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, coming to an end, my Government gave serious consideration to the appointment of her successor.
We were guided first and foremost by the 2002 decision of Forum Leaders that candidates for the position must be assessed on their merits taking into account the circumstances at the time of selection. In light of the enormous challenges facing our region at this time, including the impact of COVID-19 on our region, my Government was pleased to nominate our former Prime Minister, Mr Henry Puna, as Secretary General. It was the first time in the Forum’s 50-year history that the Cook Islands had nominated a candidate for that position.
Mr Puna is a qualified lawyer and had served as our Prime Minister for almost a decade. He is intimately familiar with our region and its challenges, having represented our country at many Forum Leaders meetings, has visited every Forum Member Country and held detailed discussions with Leaders in each. He has also over the last decade served the region in various regional governance roles including Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2012; Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific in 2017; Chair of the Forum Fisheries Commission in 2018; and Chair of Conference for the Pacific Community (SPC) 2019. In the view of my Government, Mr Puna is eminently qualified for the appointment and ideally placed to be of service to the region as Secretary General of the PIF.
At the same time, my Government recognised that the decision to appoint a Secretary General is invariably one of importance to all Forum Leaders. Being a firm adherent of the Pacific Way of discussion and consensus-building, from the time of his nomination, my Government had always wanted the decision to be taken during a face-to-face meeting of Forum Leaders. It was however the collective decision of Leaders to proceed to voting during the Special Retreat and accept the collective decision of Leaders.
While my Government is grateful for the support of Leaders for Mr Puna as Secretary General, we are saddened by the subsequent decision by Leaders of Micronesia taken during the subsequent Micronesian Presidents’ Summit to withdraw from the Forum.
I fully appreciate the desire of Micronesia’s Members to play a full role in Forum activities and contribute to the development of our entire Blue Pacific continent. Our Forum has always been most effective, and delivered best for all our people in the Pacific when we have worked together as a single, unified body. At the same time, I also recognise that our Forum must operate on the basis of principles, procedures and arrangements appropriate for today’s Pacific. Towards that end, as agreed by all Leaders at our Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat on the 3 February, I am committed to working closely with all Forum Leaders to review the 2002 appointment procedures for the Secretary General to ensure that all Forum Members have a fair and equitable opportunity to serve the region at the highest level.
I am confident that, together, the Forum will emerge from our discussions over the next few months stronger and more unified to confront the unprecedented challenges we face as a region in the years to come.
The decision of Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders’ Retreat held on 3 February 2021 can be viewed on the Secretariat website athttps://www.forumsec.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2021-Special-Leaders-Retreat-Decisions.pdf
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