SAMOA PM TALKS ABOUT THE POLYNESIAN LEADERS GROUP

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APIA, Samoa (Savali, Nov. 28, 2011) – Last week, eight Polynesian island groups ratified a Memorandum of Understanding in Apia paving the way for the establishment of the Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG).

This week, Savali editor Tupuola Terry Tavita caught up with the inaugural chair of the PLG, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

SAVALI: Can you tell us a bit more about this new group?

TUILAEPA: Well first of all, it’s not a new group, a new idea. The idea of a Polynesian confederation dates back to the 1880s, over a hundred years ago.

It was the height of imperialism in the Pacific and King Kamehameha of Hawaii, King Pomare of Tahiti, Malietoa Laupepa of Samoa and King George Tupou II of Tonga agreed to set up a confederation of Polynesian states at the time. Envoys from Hawaii were received here in Apia and Tahiti and agreements were signed. However, the fall of the Hawaiian kingdom soon after collapsed that initiative.

A Polynesian sub-group within the periphery of the Pacific Islands Forum was again mooted in the mid-1970s, led by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of Fiji, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili the Second, the Queen of Maori and the King of Tonga.

But after several meetings, the initiative was not followed through.

So in essence, we – the Polynesian Leaders Group or the eight founding members - are simply manifesting that dream, that idea, into a reality our forefathers envisioned long ago.

The founding members of the Polynesian Leaders Group who signed the MOU last week include Forum member countries Tuvalu, Niue, Cook Islands, Tonga and Samoa and the Polynesian territorial states of American Samoa, French Polynesia and Tokelau - who are observer members of the Forum.

SAVALI: How strong is this Polynesian group as a political force given that some of its founding members are non self-governing states?

TUILAEPA: The world we live in today is all about building and strengthening regional and international relations. We see it with the many regional free trade blocs and groupings of states with mutual and common interests being established around the globe.

As small island states, we need to work together in areas that will benefit our people the most. By pooling resources we can do much more than if one state were to struggle all alone to develop in such sectors as fisheries, agriculture, tourism, health and education. With climate change posing a major threat to the survival of many of our island states, this makes it all the more justifiable for Polynesian states to have a united front along with our Melanesian Spearhead and Micronesian brothers. To push hard for greater and timely access to global climate change funds for our sustainable development programmes. Our islands, of course, remain the most vulnerable to the impending multi-faceted threats of rising sea levels.

Retrospectively, in 1962, Samoa became the first Pacific Island country to gain independence. Now, nearly 50 years later, there are twelve such states who are either fully independent or enjoy some degree of political independence.

The trend is certainly a movement towards self-determination.

SAVALI: How binding is the MOU the leaders signed last week?

TUILAEPA: The idea is to start simple. To get this group off the ground and running. At some stage in the future, the leaders may look at a more rigid arrangement that befits the group’s evolving status. We are confident that our future leaders will do what is necessary at the right time.

SAVALI: What is the scope of the new group? What do you see as some of its advantages, potentials?

TUILAEPA: It terms of advantages, Polynesians are one big scattered family in a vast spanse of the Pacific Ocean. Our ancestors had salt in their nostrils. They were fearless seafarers who travelled and settled far and wide in the Pacific. Reaching as far as South America and Canada.

All Polynesians share the same traditional values, some slight variations in culture and language and a common ancestor in Tagaloa. Or Tagaroa in some parts of Polynesia.

In this modern world, we continue to share the same value systems in terms of respect for good governance and responsible government, adherence to democratic processes and the rule of law. We also practice the most efficient system of justice.

There is vast economic potential in Polynesian cooperation in the areas of tourism. Polynesia of course remains an element of fascination and mystery to the Western World. It stands for beauty, carefree, peaceful, friendliness and deeply cultured.

Polynesia spans in a triangle from Hawaii up north, Easter Island to the East, Aotearoa to the South, covering a vast span of ocean. In fact, Polynesia covers-two thirds of the Pacific Ocean. So there is enormous economic potential there in terms of Polynesian cooperation in the areas of fishing, telecommunications, aviation, energy development and mineral exploration.

Many big countries are also reviewing their foreign policies and there has been a growing interest in this part of the world. Especially in the areas of fishing and food security. The Pacific Ocean – by far – is the biggest body of water in the world. Much bigger than Europe and Asia put together.

But back to the PLG, There is also huge potential for joint-development in the broad areas of education, health, sports and women and youth social and economic development.

In terms of membership scope, Polynesia, actually, is not confined to these oceanic boundaries. There are Polynesian communities in Vanuatu and the Solomons as well as Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait (Australia). There are also other Polynesian outliers in Micronesia. These Polynesian communities – at some point - are more than welcome to apply for some status in the Polynesian Leaders Group. We are most ecstatic in promoting our extremely lively Polynesian heritage.

As far as Fiji is concerned, the door is open for them to apply for membership provided the regime in power there conforms to democratic values, that the rule of law is respected. But it appears – at the moment at least - that the leadership in Suva is leaning more towards the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

SAVALI: Thank you Mr Chairman.

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