The 51st Meeting of the Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations (CRGA 51) and 12th Conference of the Pacific Community (SPC) concluded this week with the adoption of the organisation’s new 10-year strategic plan and the return of the United Kingdom as a full SPC member.
CRGA 51 was chaired by French Polynesia, while Vanuatu was host for the 12th Conference.
Despite the challenges across the region, CRGA and Conference are critical gatherings for the membership of SPC. While many regional meetings have been postponed or cancelled, Pacific leaders have placed a high priority on these sessions, which were held in a hybrid style to allow more than 140 representatives from the organisation’s 27 members, partners, donors and friends from across the globe, to take part.
CRGA was opened by SPC Director-General Stuart Minchin with recognition of the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on lives across the Pacific. A moment of silence was held to remember the families, friends and colleagues of those who had passed on.
Addressing participants through a video message, Conference host, Vanuatu’s Prime Minister, Bob Loughman Weibur, said: “This year Pacific members are facing the challenges of COVID, in addition to the ever-increasing threats from climate change, making the 2021 [CRGA and] Conference a critical gathering for the future of the region. Today, we are charged with establishing the high-level, strategic orientations of SPC, and planning our way forward as a region.”
David W. Panuelo, President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) delivered opening remarks to the Conference participants. He took the opportunity to recognise the challenges faced by all SPC members in the face of the pandemic and highlighted SPC’s, “ability to execute substantive work programs under these extraordinary conditions. In my view, this is truly a testament to excellent leadership and management by our Secretariat, supported by capable, dedicated, and experienced personnel.” President Panuelo also noted the upcoming 75th Anniversary of SPC in 2022.
“Throughout the lifespan of our organisation, much has been accomplished in regional service delivery, with dedication and professionalism, which has always been the hallmark of our family and our Secretariat. The depth and breadth of what SPC continue to do remains unmatched in our region.”
During Conference, interventions were made from representatives from across the SPC membership on a range of issues important to the Pacific, leading to lively discussions and debates. The success of Pacific mutual cooperation and collaboration over the past year was a common theme throughout.
One of the key outcomes of the week’s discussions was the adoption of the SPC Strategic Plan 2021+, setting out the organisation’s common vision for the next 10 years. The plan, which aligns with the region’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, was created through a process that was led and driven by members and encapsulates common values, priorities and visions. Pacific indigenous languages were incorporated for the first time in the overarching values that will guide the organisation: aroha (care); kaitiakitanga (stewardship); enginkelap (generosity); and gida gaituvwa (unity).
Kiribati High Commissioner David A. Teaabo highlighted the importance of this strategy not only for SPC but for the entire region saying, “This strategy is much more than a workplan; it represents our commitment to the Pacific way of living, our determination to protect Pacific culture and traditions, and our ambition to lead the efforts towards protecting the future of the Pacific waters, lands and people.”
Affirming the prominence of climate change as the existential threat facing the region and considering the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Strategic Plan 2021+ also acknowledges the tremendous strengths of the Blue Pacific, including its culture and traditions, resilience, and island and ocean resources.
CRGA and Conference took on a celebratory tone as the organisation welcomed the return of the United Kingdom as an SPC member. As a founding Member State of SPC, the UK’s resumption of membership represents its strong commitment to supporting the region’s sustainable development and building a better future for all the people of the region. It brings the total number of Pacific Community members to 27.
Paul Welsh, UK Acting High Commissioner to Fiji expressed his country’s pleasure in returning as a member saying: “The heath and sustainability of the Pacific will be absolutely critical for global efforts on climate change and the members of SPC, guided by the visionary strategy adopted this week, will be leading this effort. We are honoured to once again be a member of the Pacific Community family and look forward to adding our voice in support of resilient and sustainable Pacific”.
Other highlights of the week included, the inaugural participation of the European Union as a Permanent Observer to SPC; an agreement to establish an SPC Polynesian Regional Office and to begin a process to select a host country for this facility; and the adoption of a balanced budget for 2022 that allows the organisation to continue its investment in, and support for, sustainable development across the Pacific region. SPC members also renewed the contract of SPC’s Director-General for a second two-year term.
Dr Minchin closed the meeting with acknowledgement and thanks to the SPC membership and partners for their support and commitment: “We look forward to working together to address the unprecedented challenges of our times – tackling climate change, protecting the environment, and addressing the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies and livelihoods.”
While the CRGA and Conference sessions have now concluded, Pacific Community members, partners and friends will gather for an extension of Conference and a celebration of SPC 75th Anniversary planned for July 2022 in Vanuatu.