Later this month, Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) will arrive in Rarotonga to a packed agenda. Looming in the background of diplomatic niceties is the strategic question of how PIF should adapt to the changing architecture of regional cooperation. The task is twofold as PIF has to respond to challenges generated from both within and outside. On the one hand, the draft review of the Forum Secretariat provides ample grounds for self-reflection. On the other, the growing (defacto) acceptance of Fiji’s timetable for elections through the roadmap for democracy highlights how the landscape has changed as a result of Fiji’s suspension from PIF in 2009.
The review of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat—Draft Report was commissioned to address discontent towards the secretariat’s administration. It was released internally in May and prompted a strong defence from the Secretariat itself. No doubt it will be a major topic of discussion in the Leaders meeting in Rarotonga. The Forum Secretariat is responsible for implementing programmes to further the interests of its members through priorities determined by the Leaders. These programmes have practical utility and political significance in relation to trade, development and aid.
It has a track record of achievement, but the implication of the review is clear. Leadership and reform is needed if PIF is to re-engineer itself to face future challenges by focusing on its steering role in pursuit of regional interests. The review highlighted a range of weaknesses in the secretariat’s capacity to achieve its core business.
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