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February 6, 2002


By Mr. Iosefa Maiava Acting Secretary General Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Resident Representative for UNDP, Mr. Witham, Director of ILO Office for the South Pacific, Mr. Zakaria, Your Excellencies, Workshop participants, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am very pleased to be able to welcome you here today.

This is the first workshop that the Forum has coordinated specifically on this issue of social development -- an area that is challenging but very important for a political and economic/trade organization like the Forum Secretariat.

And I know, looking at the many worrying trends in our region today, that our ultimate goal, of a prosperous and healthy Pacific, remains an elusive dream for the majority. As we will be hearing this week, the majority of the Pacific Islanders now suffer from many social problems including poor health and low educational attainment. And that there are many thousands who are struggling to make ends meet, either because of limited skills or capacity, or because the existing conditions do not provide them with opportunities. There is, we will hear, an increase in the incidence of poverty in the region, although some of us may still try to deny this.

We have also been experiencing increased political instability, corruption and crime, both nationally and internationally, including money laundering, drug trafficking and people smuggling. Rapid population growth, particularly in Melanesia, is putting further pressure on our limited and shrinking resources.

And there are enormous pressures from the forces of globalization, many of which, while creating new opportunities, also create many new problems, such as social disorder and transnational crime. Indeed, we now see a big change in the way people all over the world and in our region view globalization. Whereas many still see it as the catalyst that will hasten development, there is a growing disenchantment with some of results of globalization and unrestrained free trade, the main negative ones being the increased levels of poverty and the growing gaps between rich and poor.

The Forum was set up and has succeeded in its efforts to become a strong united voice for the Pacific and to gain better access to markets and aid.

The challenge for the Forum now, if it wants to remain relevant, is to use its influence and coherence to address the trends I have alluded to here and to help attain the social development goals of the region. This new goal is captured in our new Corporate Plan in the following words:

"A Sustainably Prosperous and Secure Pacific"

This is highly ambitious and much more difficult to achieve than the Forum's original goals. And the operational regional and international environment within which we must pursue this is also a lot less generous than the ones gone by. But the Forum, thanks to its strong leadership, has already started on the road to meeting this new challenge.

Over the last few years the Forum, through its Economic Action Plan and Accountability Principles, has taken up the challenge of assisting member countries reform their economies along good governance principles, something whose omission from previous development efforts is seen to be the major contributory factor in their failure. Most of you have heard about the Forum's Accountability Principles, which if implemented, will promote economic growth with equity and accountability.

Earlier last year, the Forum Education Ministers agreed to a Basic Education Action Plan which seeks to enhance, through education, the capacity of Pacific Islanders to manage change and to use or create opportunities in their new and rapidly changing environment. This Action Plan is also a commitment to basic education as a building bloc for social and economic development.

Two years ago in Kiribati, the Forum in response to increasing political crises adopted the Biketawa Declaration. This declaration contains first, a list of good governance principles that the Forum members agree to live by; and second, a procedure to follow that may result in regional action if one or more of such principles are broken or undermined.

And the Forum's engagement in the international fora like the UN, WTO and the EU/ACP is all aimed at securing a firm commitment from our development partners to "level" the global playing field by giving us special and differential treatment in multilateral trade policies, aid and market access. A message that we want to convey to the international community is that good governance is not just our responsibility in the region. It is the responsibility of everyone including donors and multilateral agencies as well.

The Workshop this week with its focus on social development and poverty alleviation, is yet another demonstration of the Forum's commitment to take this new challenging road.

The Workshop will start by looking at the international context including the World Summit on Social Development that reaffirmed the tackling poverty as the necessary objective of international development efforts. The international context also includes the Asia/Pacific Agenda for Action on Social Development (APAASD) that focused on promoting pro-poor sustainable economic growth, social development, and good governance. There are other international agreements and conventions that Forum Island Countries have signed including:

* UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

* CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women)

* ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development)

* CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child)

* EFA (Education for All)

These represent commitments by our region that need to be honored if we are to succeed in achieving our vision of a sustainably prosperous and secure Pacific.

We also need to focus on or revisit the region's social issues and commitments and how they relate to our international commitments. A key regional agreement is the Suva Declaration on Sustainable Human Development in the Pacific. This was agreed upon by Forum leaders in 1994 and it contains policies and strategy options for sustainable human development. Another significant regional statement that integrated social and economic issues was the Pacific Human Development Report, which was published in 1999. This report talked frankly of poverty in our region, and coined the phrase that is now well used, 'poverty of opportunity.'

I have also made reference to the Forum Basic Education Action Plan and the Biketawa Declaration, two agreements that are of particular interest to this Workshop because of the way they see social issues as underpinning all development initiatives.

The Workshop gives us the opportunity to examine and discuss the relevance of these agreements and conventions to our communities and countries, and to assess constraints to their implementation. We hope to learn more about why some may be having difficulties with implementation so that corrective actions can be taken, either in providing assistance or in resetting targets.

The Workshop will also be looking closely at the issue of poverty in the Pacific context. A deeper understanding of poverty in the Pacific will help in the review of the relevance of our many international and regional agreements and initiatives. It may also throw some light on why the implementation of such agreements is slow.

I am particularly interested in a deeper understanding of the social trends in our region and their causes. A study on regional security commissioned by the Forum Secretariat two years ago concluded that social disharmony and political instability in the region were caused by among other things, socio-economic disparity, poor governance, ethnic differences and land disputes. But what are the contributing factors to disparity and poor governance for example? I believe, and I hope this is something that we can discuss here, that we need to understand and address the root causes of the social problems before we can succeed.

To what extent do the international and regional agreements try to address the roots of our social problems? If they're not or if they address only some, like for example if they focus on domestic good governance and not on international or corporate governance, then maybe that is why we may be having difficulties with implementation. On the other hand, if the reason for not implementing these commitments is because they threaten some vested interests, then maybe we should try and understand those vested interests first.

The final day of the workshop will be spent looking at how we can go about integrating social and economic issues. This is crucial because success in our social agenda is not necessarily dependent on how eloquent or angry we are, but on how successfully we integrate our social goals with the economic, political and other mainstream agendas. We will look at case studies from our region and get a taste of how this has been done successfully.

This is by no means an easy task because it is not just about techniques or procedures. It is a very political exercise as the various goals we're trying to integrate serve different groups and the integration of such diverse goals may still be seen by some as diluting their own special interests. Again I think we need to understand this first before we can come up with successful approaches towards integration or mainstreaming.

At the end of the workshop we're hoping that there will be an indication of a regional response to poverty and social development challenges. This could include ways in which member governments or countries could be assisted, including for example, through training on proper strategies and techniques for integrating poverty alleviation goals with economic ones.

I would like to thank ILO and UNDP for their funding of the Workshop, and also for their co-operation in organizing and planning, and for their participation over the next three days.

I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of ESCAP - POC for their close collaboration on this, notably Alastair Wilkinson, formerly of the Forum Secretariat who started work on this workshop while still with us. I am glad to see Alastair here today as a resource person for the Workshop. Alastair and Helen Tavola who has come in as a Social Policy Consultant while we're recruiting for Alastair's replacement, and who has had the main carriage of Workshop organization, sort of personify the new direction or challenge taken by the Forum. They, together with our Gender Issues Adviser have had the main task of integrating social issues including gender with our mainstream economic, trade and political activities. Our role in coordinating and in participating at this workshop, and seeing so many of you here today, are signs of their success.

I would like to welcome all you once again, particularly those who have had to travel long distance to get here, wish you well in the workshop over the next three days, and say that our staff stand ready to assist you in any way we can.

Thank you.

For additional information, contact: Ulafala Aiavao at 

Ulafala Aiavao Media Adviser Forum Secretariat Private Bag Suva, Fiji

Tel: (679) 220 220 Mob: (679) 998 674 Fax: (679) 305 554 Email:  Web:  Mirror site: 

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