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Changing prescription for regionalism

The former Secretary General (SG) of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), Dame Meg Taylor, discussed her prescription for Forum leadership when she participated at the Blue Pacific Futures Webinar on 3 November 2020. That prescription was “regionalism can only work if we have strong leaders who remain committed to this ideal.”

I discussed Dame Meg’s idea in my opinion column of this magazine – see Islands Business’ May 2021 issue. I did proffer the view that the former SG would have made such a statement fully cognisant of the nature of Pacific regionalism as being voluntary; as it has been so for the last 50 years.

I acknowledged in my own discussion that for national political leaders who also double up as regional leaders for Pacific regionalism, meeting the requirements of Dame Meg’s prescription is not easy. National political leaders are very much aware that the strength and prominence of their political status comes from winning national elections. Regional issues do not win elections for them.

I suggested a way forward at the national level where prospective regional leaders – national leaders who will be involved in Pacific regionalism by way of the respective political responsibilities they carry – can be assisted, prepared and managed. Such groundwork could direct, partially perhaps, the strength of their personalities and commitment for greater regional gains. Such, however, remains as food for thought for regional planners.

But Dame Meg has left for greener pastures after her six-year stint at PIFS. The selection of her replacement, former Prime Minister Henry Puna of the Cook Islands, has left the PIF fractured. Five Micronesian members of the Forum have left disappointed that the gentlemen’s agreement which would have led to the appointment of their candidate was not honoured.  Their decision to leave the PIF, however, is subject to respective ratification processes in each of the five Micronesian countries.

Clearly, regional leaders were unable to meet the leadership requirements prescribed by Dame Meg. If they were committed to regionalism, they would have complied with the gentlemen’s agreement, notwithstanding its informality. They would have honoured the same on the strength of their commitment to Pacific regionalism and enforced it. But this didn’t happen.

The task facing the Forum now is to reunite the group. There is convergence as regards this judging from utterances from leaders who have spoken on the matter. It can be derived therefore that the majority decision to derogate from the gentlemen’s agreement may have been a collective faux pas.  As such, it can be anticipated that the slip-up could possibly be corrected.

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