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Kiribati, Pacific Islands Forum

President Anote Tong opens Forum Economic Ministers Meeting

(Speech courtesy Pacific Islands Forum)

OPENING REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT OF KIRIBATI, HE ANOTE TONG

16TH Forum Economic Ministers Meeting, Tarawa, Kiribati

3 July 2012

Honourable Ministers
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Representatives of Regional and International Agencies
Ladies and Gentlemen

Kam na bane ni Mauri and a very warm welcome to Kiribati!

On behalf of the Government and the people of Kiribati, I have great pleasure to welcome you to the 16th Forum Economic Ministers Meeting 2012.

This year’s FEMM reminds us again that our Pacific Community is an integral part of the global village. The latter depends on us the way we depend on it and if there is one lesson to take from this meeting, it’s the role of connectedness and how we must all remain connected as a region, to move and develop together, to achieve and succeed together as a community. The FEMM is the very essence of the spirit of regionalism we need to survive as a region in the globalised community.

On a daily basis we are constantly reminded of global events happening in distant parts of the world which we have no part in, yet impact on our daily lives and our very existence in such profound ways. Who in our village communities would ever believe that the outcome of elections in Greece or the sanctions on Iran could have anything to do with the price of fish in here in Kiribati?

Over the years, we have watched events such as the global economic crisis unfold before our very eyes without truly realising that we must have a role to play in it simply because it impacts on our very existence and particularly those of our people and future generations. Over the years we have convinced ourselves that there is very little we can do as small island states to influence global events even though they will affect our lives so profoundly. Perhaps in our typical trusting Pacific Way, we have always believed that our bigger brothers will look after our interests in this highly competitive global community. And whilst that may be true to some extent, experience has shown us that each have their own priorities to deal with before the coming elections. That is the reality of this world and it is imperative that we understand that reality.

The challenge of Climate Change has been the severest test of the international community’s genuine desire and ability to redress imbalances wherever they occur; to ensure that democracy is truly applied universally not only when convenient; that the rights of all citizen of this planet to a good life is guaranteed. The challenge of climate change has truly shown us that if we must survive, we must act together in order to be relevant in the global debate; in order to be able in any way possible to influence the outcome of decisions taken behind closed doors on the other side of the world.

I have no doubt that the question we often ask of ourselves is “Are we really ever going to able to influence such events?” But I believe the real question is – do we have a choice?

At the 2011 Forum Meeting in Auckland, leaders made a decision to embark on a path of sustainable economic development as detailed in the Waiheke Declaration. That move was in itself an initiative taken even before the global community had met and made a similar declaration at the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil. In 2009, leaders endorsed the concept of a Pacific Oceanscape and in subsequent meetings in 2010 and 2011 approved further detailed development of the concept. On the margins of the recent Rio+20 Conference, the World Bank has adopted the Pacific Oceascape model and taken it to a global level in launching what is now the World Bank Global Partnership for Oceans. Our region hosts one of the last remaining and healthy stocks of tuna in the world. A number of member countries are in active discussions with companies interested in the deep seabed minerals within our jurisdictions and beyond in adjoining high seas.

Ladies and gentlemen, my point is simply that we have in the past stood by while events which will now affect our very survival as people and nations have unfolded without our participation. We have in the past regarded ourselves as small island nations. Ladies and Gentlemen let us today truly believe that we are large ocean states; states which have a large stake in global events; states without the choice but to influence decisions affecting our future. We can make a difference for our future generations and we must make that difference before it is too late again. Let us believe that we can determine the price of fish.

I have taken note of your busy agenda which includes governance and accountability systems in the region to address corruption and increase government revenue; the strengthening of initiatives and mechanisms in the context of the Forum Accountability Principles and the Public Financial Management. These are absolutely vital to the process of sustainable development and responsible government.

Kiribati Experience with FEMM

I would like to take a little time to share with you our experience with some of the work you as FEMM have done. In Kiribati, a number of initiatives implemented through the FEMM in particular the Pacific Regional Audit Initiative (PRAI), the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) assessments, and the Forum Compact peer review process. The reform program had assisted Kiribati greatly in its budget planning cycle process, tax and customs management systems.

Just last week, the Kiribati Development Partners Forum was convened here in Tarawa to discuss major financial and economic challenges. It was highlighted during that meeting that structural reforms will need to be put in place in order to ensure a sustainable future. This I believe is a challenge for most of us gathered today and I invite you give this your consideration.

Streamlining Climate Change into Development

Climate Change is undoubtedly the most significant and dominant issue for all of us in the region and we cannot ignore it. We in Kiribati have made the decision to mainstream it into our development process. I am happy to note that this is also a matter you will address during your meeting.

I believe that innovative financing mechanisms can make a positive contribution by assisting our economies to mobilise additional resources for financing development. I am pleased to note that the agenda for this year’s FEMM also looks into a number of financing issues of relevance to the Pacific island economies, including financing for small and medium enterprises, climate change financing, and financing at the household level through remittances.

The decisions you will make over the next two days must make that positive difference to our region. Despite our region’s economic diversity, I have no doubt that you will always have at the centre of your deliberations, the Pacific spirit of regionalism.

I wish you all the best in your deliberations and encourage that outside of the meeting zone, you also take the opportunity to see more of our island and to enjoy the hospitality of our people and culture. Once again it is indeed my pleasure to welcome you on behalf of the government and the people of Kiribati.

With those remarks ladies and gentlemen, it is my honour to declare that this 16th Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting is open with our traditional blessings of –

Te Mauri, Te Raoi ao Te Tabomoa.

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About Samantha Magick

Journalist and editor

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