The Pacific Islands Forum Secretary general Henry Puna has welcomed the input of civil society leaders to regional policy, saying that regional stakeholders must rally together to “face the multiple challenges before us”.
At the opening sessions of the 2021 Pacific Civil Society forum today, Puna stressed that working together is imperative for the Forum and civil society groups.
“The world, and indeed our region, is at an unprecedented juncture in our history. Now more than ever, we must rally together as one Blue Pacific Continent to face the multiple challenges before us – we must work together to address the impacts of COVID- 19; face the challenges of the ongoing climate crisis head-on and secure the future of our Blue Pacific Continent.”
He told more than 30 civil society leaders in a livestreamed event via the Forum’s Facebook platform that they “bring an authentic and realistic voice to the regional policy space. You have the unique opportunity of annual dialogues with our Economic Ministers and our Leaders – whilst these have been useful, there is room to strengthen these dialogues further. I encourage you to be innovative and strategic in deciding what and how you approach these political conversations.”
Those political conversations have seen Forum economic ministers hear directly from civil society and private sector leaders in FEMM meetings, held virtually last year and again in 2021. “I would have hoped that our first meeting would have been in person, however, given our current circumstances, I do appreciate the opportunity to still engage and continue our dialogues on matters most pertinent to our region through this virtual platform,” the Forum Secretary General told the CSO forum.
“As you will all agree, conversation and dialogue has always been the foundation of our decision-making processes in our cultures and societies. It is in this spirit that I encourage us all to continue to engage in a robust and respectful manner on issues of key concern to our region and our people.”
It is the first CSO Forum for the new SG, who thanked regional activists for their messages to Japan on Fukushima.
“With Japan’s announcement to discharge nuclear treated water into the Pacific Ocean, I was pleased to learn that a group of CSOs and concerned Pacific youths that attended last year’s CSO Forum wrote a letter addressed directly to the Prime Minister of Japan in June titled ‘Dumping Hemi Tabu’ – Dumping is illegal. I look forward to seeing more of these types of targeted advocacy on our shared priorities, from CSOs,” he said.
He also assured the CSO forum of his ongoing intentions to keep up relationships between the Forum and regional stakeholders and partners, CSOs and community groups including women’s and youth organisations – “be assured that my intention is to build on this, moving forward. As alluded to earlier, current regional priorities including the development of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, COVID- 19 response and recovery work both at the national and regional level, climate change and nuclear legacy issues require our collective efforts.”
SG Puna thanked civil society leaders to raising their voices as a collective, saying the regional policy landscape and regional priorities are “no easy task and I commend you for taking on this challenge to ensure that your voices are heard through these collective, and often bureaucratic, processes– You must use this opportunity to make your voices heard and sow the seeds of change that you would like to see in our region and I very much look forward to the outcome of your discussions,” he said.
He also acknowledged the work of former SG, Dame Meg Taylor. “She has been instrumental in strengthening the inclusive element in regional dialogue and regional policy development in the Pacific which has brought about rich and robust discussions to topical regional policies, including the 2050 strategy and ocean governance.”
SG Puna thanked European Union and the Pacific Partnerships to End Violence Against Women and Girls for the ongoing support to continue to shape and enhance the engagement of civil society and their communities with the Pacific Islands Forum.