New Dynamics in Regional Politics

Lala Sowane

One of the stand out features of this year’s Forum Leaders Summit in Palau was the decision to appoint Meg Taylor, a female to head the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. It is not ground breaking though in so far as having a female head of a regional organisation.

That honour belongs to Lou Pangelinan of Guam who was Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. It is however ground breaking for the Forum Secretariat because for the first time in its history, it will be headed by three females. It is paradoxical that this decision was made by an all male Forum Leaders Summit. Our male leaders have no problems doing this at the regional level, but qualm at having more women represented in their national Parliaments where real decisions concerning the social and economic development of our countries are made. Why are they willing to make this structural change at the regional level but not at the national level? The reason is that the Forum does not, in and of itself, make legally binding decisions.

Indeed, someone commented that Forum Summits are a holiday for our leaders. Their work is done for them, programmes of consultations are prearranged with bilateral partners and donors, and the communiqué is pre-developed. So apart from the Retreat where Leaders have space to themselves, most of the work is done before they even arrive for their Summit. Indeed, I was given an advance copy of the draft Forum Oceans Declaration a few weeks before this year’s Forum Summit.

My reaction was it was good piece of work by an NGO; another important changing feature of the regional architecture. The language in the draft Forum Oceans Communiqué was not typical Forum parlance. The alignment of some Forum Leaders with certain NGOs is reflected in the causes that gain prominence in Forum discussions.

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