Melanesian Spearhead Group: The Helm Changes

Front de Libération Nationale
Kanak et Socialiste

[Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Fiji]
MSG Foreign Ministers Meeting (FMM)
17-18 June 2013
Loyalty Islands Province, New Caledonia

Head of Delegation of the FLNKS and Chair of the FMM
Representative of the Outgoing Chair and Head of Delegation of Fiji
Honourable Ministers
The President of the Loyalty Islands
Chiefs and Assembly Members
Distinguished Members of the MSG Senior Officials Meeting (SOM);
Staff of the MSG Secretariat;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

May I on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Fiji, congratulate you Chair on your appointment and wish you well in your leadership. Our profound appreciation and gratitude is extended to the FLNKS Political Bureau and the Government of New Caledonia for the courtesies extended to my delegation since our arrival and the excellent meetings arrangements made here in this beautiful island of Lifou in Kanaky-land. Fiji also wishes to pay respects to the Chiefs and traditional owners of this land and acknowledge the kind generosity of the Loyalty Islands Provincial Government for allowing FMM members to gather in this excellent meeting venue.
As outgoing Chair, I wish to thank members for your support to Fiji during our tenure as Chair. Indeed, it has been 2 years of effective collaboration, consensus and dialogue on areas of mutual interest, which has yielded exceptional results.

Ladies and gentlemen, when we assumed the Chairmanship in March 2011, the Prime Minister in his opening Address at the Leaders Summit in March 2011, stated, and I quote,
“I have directed the Fijian Government to provide all the assistance to the MSG Secretariat, to ensure inter-alia regional integration vis a vis a comprehensive trade and economic agreement facilitating free movement of goods, services, capital and labour across our borders; committing regional co-operation and collaboration with our law enforcement agencies to tackle transnational crimes; and, safeguarding our environment and eco-systems and mitigating the devastating effects of climate change.’ End of quote
This mandate has consistently guided Fiji’s contribution towards the MSG over the past 2 years of its chairmanship.

From Fiji’s perspective, I am pleased that enormous achievements have been made in each of these strategic areas. I intend to highlight some of these achievements later.

However, at the outset may I say that this year is unique! We are gathered here not only to meet as Forum Ministers but also to celebrate our 25 years of existence as an organization. We must be proud of our achievements and heritage. Since the six Agreed Principles of Cooperation were signed by our founding fathers on 14th March 1988, we have proven that MSG is an organization that is here to stay. Our organization is now poised to take a quantum leap into the future! We shall be strong and assume our rightful role as a leader in regional geo-political, trade and economic affairs. The MSG has the natural resources, the people and land area to determine its own destiny.
It is only fitting that we celebrate and showcase our achievement in unison to recognize the humble beginnings and aspirations of our founding fathers. After 25 years, we have learnt from our experiences and attained some competencies that make us unique. The launching of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations, Port Vila in January and the holding of the Melanesian Weeks in each of our Capital has lifted our profile and raised the interest of many. My Delegation looks forward to the culmination of Silver Jubilee celebrations in Noumea on 21st July.

On the political and security front, I am pleased to acknowledge that achievement has been made by our Police Commissioners in advancing the work on the Department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO). This Department once fully operational, will be responsible for overseeing the Formed Police Unit, Regional Police Academy, Humanitarian and Emergency Response Coordinating Centre and Police Cooperation. It is important that we collectively realize our true potential in peace keeping operations internationally. Our unique customs and traditions make us effective peace keepers. We must also respond effectively in sharing information to prevent our countries against the threats of globalization and liberalization. May I therefore congratulate our Police Commissioners and Sub-committee on Security for a job well done. This is highly commendable!

Another notable achievement is the conclusion by our officials of the review our Constitution. The review essentially attempts to improve the efficacy of our decision making, to address new membership applications and add further clarity to specific provisions. Our Sub-committee on Legal and Institutional Issues have worked tirelessly, and must be congratulated for developing and putting before Foreign Ministers a number of instruments of cooperation that will further elevate our organization’s cooperation. These instruments include the Custody and Maintenance of Children, Legal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments, and the MOA on Police Cooperation.

Over the past two years, significant progress has also been made in fostering our trade and Economic cooperation. In March 2011, our Leaders agreed to a broad vision on the future of MSG’s Economic Integration. This involves a vision of Closer Economic Relations and the possible creation of a common market through the expansion of the MSGTA into services and labour mobility.
I am delighted that we will be considering a revised trade and economic cooperation architecture as part of the Trade Ministers Meeting Report. It signifies the continued evolution and maturity of our trade relations. It also reflects our members’ acceptance and readiness to embark on a deeper level of cooperation and integration. Overtime, this will entail the relaxation of regulations on services, investment and capital and public procurement between our MSG borders. Growth in trade and financial flows brought about by this new architecture will stimulate economic growth. It will improve the livelihoods of our people.

As we attempt to address our development objectives, our Government’s financial resources are often limited by the many sectoral demands. Managing our public finance has been a daunting task for some of our members. Increased fiscal deficits, public debt and contingent liabilities pose a serious threat to our macro-economic stability. If we want a vibrant and deeper level of economic integration, our fiscal and monetary policies must be synchronized to create a stable macro-economic environment for our future sustainable growth. The signing of the Principles of Enhancing Fiscal Management in Melanesia by our Leaders is a genuine effort to adopt a set of minimum requirements on sound public finance management. Undoubtedly, the Euro debt crisis provides useful lessons for living within our means. The public sector must not crowd out but facilitate private sector growth.

Notwithstanding this new architecture, it is also gratifying from Fiji’s perspective to witness the signing of the MOU on Skills Movement Scheme by our Leaders in 2012. The Scheme has been in force since 30th September 2013 and provides the impetus for the movement of skilled personnel between our members to fill skill shortages. I look forward to the SOM Chair’s report on the implementation of the Scheme and plans for achieving its intended objectives.

We have also entered into an MoU on Cultural Cooperation which has paved the way for members to assist each other in hosting regional cultural events including the promotion of our unique cultures through work attachments. Solomon Islands had benefitted from this cooperation and needs to be congratulated for successfully hosting the festival of Pacific Arts last year. To further strengthen ownership of our traditional knowledge and expressions of culture, our Leaders have signed a Framework Treaty on Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture. This is a milestone achievement. This Treaty protects our people from any possible misappropriation and abuse of their Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture. As a Group, we must prevent unscrupulous individuals from violating the rights of owners of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture under the pretext of scientific research or cultural exchanges. I hope we will be able to implement our TK Laws at the national level in order to further strengthen our commitment to this cause.

During Fiji’s Chairmanship, members have also brought to the forefront our own environment and climate change issues. As the largest geographical areas amongst Pacific Islands, with a rich biodiversity and ecosystem, our climate change issues are unique and deserve special attention. The signing of the Environment and Climate Change Declaration by our Leaders is indicative of our common desire to elevate our climate change concerns to the international fora such as the UNFCCC, and embrace a Framework on Green Growth for our future development.

On the institutional front, it is pleasing to see that the reorganization of our Secretariat has yielded positive results. Our Secretariat is now effectively responding to and serving our interest. We need a Secretariat that is efficient, cost effective and adequately resourced. Whilst I wish to acknowledge your support of this reform process, I must also call upon your indulgence in the timely payment of our contributions to allow our Secretariat to discharge their roles and responsibilities effectively.

As we celebrate 25 years of our existence, our Leaders have seen it timely and appropriate to evaluate our past and determine our future direction. An Eminent Persons Group was appointed by Leaders to review our performance, consult our people, identify our competencies, determine our common objective interests, and use this to chart a new direction for our organization. I am excited of the proposals our Eminent Persons will be submitting for our consideration. I am very confident that the proposed Vision and Plan will set a solid platform on which to catapult our organization into the future. I would like to thank Members for your assistance towards the EPG during their five (5) weeks of in-country consultations. It has been a worthwhile and rewarding exercise. In this regard, I acknowledge the presence of the Chair of the EPG, Ambassador Kaliopate Tavola who will be presenting their report.

Madam Chair, I have attempted to highlight a few notable milestones under Fiji’s chairmanship over the past 2 years. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as Chair of this esteemed Forum. The unwavering support of members is deeply admired and appreciated. The collegial manner and stewardship in which we have conducted our business is a manifestation of the goodwill and respect within our membership. We have embraced the principles and spirit of dialogue, and consensus through our unique Melanesian culture, tradition and heritage in spearheading our shared interests. We can only build on this further.
On a personal level as I with respect handover the Chair of our meeting to the representative of the FLNKS, I wish to say that I am deeply grateful to all our Ministers for always supporting me in the discharge of my responsibilities as Chair of the FMM. Your personal respect to me is an asset that I will always treasure and as I assume my normal role as a member of the FMM I can do so with knowledge that together we have done our job and together we will continue to serve our organization with the same dedication and commitment.

Finally, as we look to the future, it is useful to remind ourselves that we are equal owners of our organization. We complement our regional organizations and can draw from their competencies and assistance to advance our cause. I firmly believe that we need to carve our own niche in Pacific regionalism and extend our presence internationally. We have the potential to strengthen our relationship with other metropolitan powers to determine our destiny. MSG should not be too concerned about what others think of us. We must determine our common goals and cooperate in activities that enhance our cooperation and integration. Creation of wealth, employment, access to basic services and empowerment of our underprivileged communities is the penultimate outcome of our deeper integration. Let us look at the bigger picture and empower our Secretariat to advance our cause.

I congratulate you Madam Chair for your leadership. Fiji looks forward to contributing effectively under your leadership, and we look forward to fully supporting the common desire of our Kanaky brothers and sisters to achieve full independence and freedom.

Vinaka vakalevu


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