FORUM FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTERS MEETING

SOUTH PACIFIC FORUM SECRETARIAT Suva, Fiji Islands

August 10, 2000 Apia, Samoa

OPENING STATEMENT

Prime Minister of Samoa and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

It is a great pleasure to warmly welcome you all to Apia. I only wish that the purpose of your visit and the circumstances of our meeting were different.

Unfortunately there is no mitigating the gravity of the issues that confront us, which we must address as a result of the crises in Fiji and Solomon Islands. The Forum Leaders will be looking to this meeting to provide them with a firm steer to help them with decisions that they must make at the Kiribati Forum (in October 2000) to determine what the Forum’s actions and engagement should be in the immediate cases of Fiji and Solomon Islands, as well as what role and responses the Forum should make in future crises in the region.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the reality is that existing Forum arrangements do not prescribe a process for implementing a Forum response to help in the kind of crises that have occurred in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. Nor, I should add, are there any measures, such as various levels of participation rights in the Forum family, which the Forum can invoke to show its concern with any member country that breaches fundamental Forum principles and changes its government through unlawful and unconstitutional means. Very importantly, a process does not exist either for the Forum to provide assistance to member countries in crises, like Fiji and Solomon Islands, to help them return to the proper rule of law and the re-establishment of constitutional institutions as well as minimise the effects of the crises on the welfare of their people.

I suppose that the lack of such mechanisms and specific measures to guide a Forum response accounted for much of the inability of the Forum and member governments to react decisively or with more confidence to the crises in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. Needless to say, this inaction on the part of the Forum attracted much criticism and called into question the principles the Forum stands for and upheld by regional governments.

In a sense the studied procrastination of the Forum in not having in place an effective response mechanism is rooted in our long held belief that we were blessed with a truly tranquil region. It was admittedly a comforting vision and such was the depth of this complacency that the earlier coups in Fiji were somehow viewed as having a special and palatable Pacific flavour and were therefore considered merely aberrations to the otherwise underlying peaceful and serene nature of our traditional societies. In defence of the Forum leaderships since that time, even the founding fathers of the Forum had not anticipated the kind of crises as have now occurred in Fiji and the Solomon Islands and Heaven forbid in any other country of our region.

Quite clearly, it is incumbent on the current regional leadership to do everything it can, as individual governments and as a Forum, to discourage in no uncertain terms what some observers think is the emergency in the region of a political culture which encourages the use of force to effect political and consequently economic and social change. In my mind, we cannot do this by treating unlawful and unconstitutional changes to a government as an internal matter for the country concerned to sort out. That would be tantamount to accepting into the Forum family, to sit amongst constitutionally elected leaders of the region, anyone who manages to grasp the leadership of his country irrespective of how this is achieved.

It is evident that the adverse effects of the crises in Fiji and Solomons are not confined to just these countries, but affects the rest of the region. As noted by the Secretariat, the reputation of the Pacific as a peaceful and stable region has been tarnished with negative impacts on tourism, trade and investment flows to the region as a whole. Our integrity as the Forum is also at stake.

As also pointed out in the Secretariat’s report, both Fiji and Solomons host a number of regional organizations and key educational institutions. The impact of the crises affect both the operations of regional organizations and services in the area of tertiary education provided by the USP and the School of Medicine.

The Forum members jointly own the regional organizations and tertiary institutions and are worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. They represent a considerable collective investment for the region. Just as important if not more so than just financial investment, particularly in the case of the tertiary institutions, is the dependence of a number of Forum Island governments on these organizations to deliver human resources training to the island countries. With our heavy reliance on the USP and the School of Medicine to provide instruction for large numbers of our students, the effect of the crises in Fiji on these institutions raises deep concerns that we must move as a region to address as quickly as possible. It goes without saying that all of our governments will sooner or later be asked the hard question by our people on what is being done to safeguard the access and opportunities for tertiary education when crises as we have witnessed occur in countries hosting these institutions.

In the case of Samoa the question of the safety and security of our students is so important that we have decided to forego sending our students for the remainder of the academic year to the USP and the Fiji School of Medicine. I am talking of two hundred plus students, which comprises over 70% of all our students at tertiary level studying abroad.

I am certain that all of us bring to our meeting specific concerns that you would like canvassed in our discussions as well as ideas on how the Forum should appropriately respond to the crises in Fiji and Solomon Islands and the role of the Forum in future crises in the region. I hope that these together with those set out by the Secretariat will provide us with a comprehensive set of options from which to make meaningful and realistic recommendations to the Forum Leaders. We will be traversing essentially new ground and the recommendations of this meeting will not only bear on how Fiji and Solomon Islands can be helped but may also have far reaching implications for the Forum and its future. I therefore look forward to your inspired contributions to help guide the Leaders on how the Forum and regional governments respond to the new challenges the Pacific faces.

To close my remarks, I would like to record my appreciation to the Forum Chairman, President Nakamura, and the Forum Leadership for their decision to convene this important meeting. I am of course glad that we were asked to host and I thank you for the support of your governments in this regard.

For additional information, contact: Ulafala Aiavao at UlafalaA@forumsec.org.fj

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