Pacific Scoop

Pacific development for benefit of all – not just ‘selfish few’, says Bainimarama

Gusmao and Bainimarama

Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao with inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum host Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama at the opening in Fiji. Image: Graham Davis/Grubsheet

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By a special correspondent in Nadi

Fiji’s interim Prime Minister, Commodore Voreque Bainimarama, has told the inaugural gathering of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) it is for the benefit of all stakeholders in the Pacific community.

Bainimarama took a swipe at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), saying the 40-year-old body – Fiji is a founding nation – is currently dominated by just a few governments.

Without mentioning the metropolitan powers of Australia and New Zealand, Bainimarama said the Pacific Islands Forum no longer represented the needs of Pacific Islanders.

“Why do we need a new body, a new framework of cooperation? Because the existing regional structure for the past four decades – the Pacific Islands Forum – is for governments only and has also come to be dominated only by a few. In too many instances, it no longer genuinely represents our interests and needs.

“We want to stand up as Pacific Islanders and with one voice send a clear message to the world at large; that Pacific-Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are vulnerable and face unique sustainable development challenges,” Bainimarama told the delegates at his welcoming address yesterday.

“For instance, the international community must face up to its responsibilities to tackle the issue of climate change, which threatens the very existence of some of our nations. We are not interested in arcane debates about the cause of climate change.

“It is happening and rising sea levels are, for us, a real and present danger. We are not interested in the excuses of the carbon-emitting countries selfishly trying to protect their own economies by refusing to sign up to emission targets. They must act and act now,” he  explained.

New era
He said the leaders had gathered to launch a new era of regional cooperation, solidarity and friendship.

“We are building a new framework for Pacific Islanders -wherever they live – to confront the many challenges and opportunities that face us.

“And we are doing it in the Pacific Way – through genuine consultation between governments, civil society groups and the business community.

“It is a historic occasion.  It has never been done this way in our region before. And I have the great honour to welcome you all to Fiji to the inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum,” he said.

“Sovereign governments have largely determined how the Pacific will respond to its many challenges. The small island territories, dependencies and protectorates haven’t had a direct say.

“And neither have civil society groups and businesses. The people most affected by government decisions – the grassroots and their representatives – have largely been excluded from the decision-making process.

“Not any longer. The PIDF recognises that governments don’t have all the answers. We cannot merely prescribe solutions to the challenges we face in keeping the Pacific Green and Blue,” Bainimarama explained.

Common sense
“We need to listen more to our people and the common sense towards problem-solving that comes with grassroots participation. We need to listen more to our business communities, whose investment generates the jobs we need to raise living standards and improve the lives of our people.

“So for the first time, we are bringing all these stakeholders together to discuss common solutions to our common problems in a practical and holistic way. And we will take those ideas and contribute them to the global debate in other Forums – including the United Nations – the Pacific speaking with one voice based on the consensus we reach here.

“These are practical solutions to the most pressing of problems, to secure the Pacific’s future as Green and Blue.

“So our vision is for sovereign governments, territories and dependencies, civil society groups and the business community, forming a grand coalition to protect our environment. To make sure that development is sustainable. To make sure that the common good comes before sectional interests, that we leave the Pacific to our children and grandchildren in a better state than when we inherited it.

“The other Small Island Developing States around the world share many of the same challenges we do. We can also cooperate with them to address these challenges. That is why it is even more important for the Pacific island countries to speak with one voice,” he said.

He expressed disappointments that some Pacific Islands governments chose not to attend the forum and viewed it as a political forum.

“It is unfortunate that certain Pacific countries are not here with us. They have chosen to regard this forum as a political event rather than grasp its true purpose – which is to address the very real threat that our people face and could be catastrophic if we don’t act in a collaborative and unselfish manner.

People first
“As leaders, we must always put our people first.

“We are one ocean, one people, seeking common solutions.

“And so today we join hands with each other and with our development partners from outside the region to strive for a Green-Blue Pacific economy,” Bainimarama said.

He said the PIDF must be tailored to suit the needs and aspiration of the people.

“Our time is running out. Too often, these gatherings end in fancy words and formal declarations that don’t necessarily translate into action.

“Therefore this forum must deliver outcomes that are achievable, affordable and tailored to our specific needs.

“Now with the PIDF, we bring together a grand alliance of sovereign nations, territories and dependencies with the political will to implement change, civil society groups with the passion to drive change, and businesses that are job creators for our people.

“This is a winning combination. I wish you well in your deliberations on behalf of every Pacific Islander who looks forward to a better future,” Bainimarama said.

The three-day Pacific Islands Development Forum will end tomorrow with the theme “Leadership Innovation and Partnership for Green/Blue Pacific Economies”