Tuvalu candidate vying for Commonwealth SG role appeals for Pacific support


The former governor-general of Tuvalu vying to head the Commonwealth as its next secretary-general is hoping the region will get behind his campaign to become the first Pacific Islander to get the top role.

Sir Iakoba Italeli is a long-serving Tuvalu government official, who has been the Queen’s representative between 2010 to 2019; and also held the position of attorney-general from 2002 to 2006.

Sir Italeli said he made the decision to run for the Commonwealth’s number one diplomat post because he believes “it is time for a Pacific Islander to guide the organisation.”

“I only hope that Pacific islands can come together and support me so that we can be seen as a region working together,” he told RNZ Pacific.

The Commonwealth – headed by Queen Elizabeth II – is made up of 54 “independent and equal countries” representing 2.5 billion people across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, Europe and the Pacific.

Tuvalu is one of eleven nations from the Pacific that holds membership.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is the main intergovernmental organisation responsible to drive the Commonwealth’s agenda. The organisation is led by a secretary-general, a role that is currently held by Patricia Scotland.

The secretary-general is elected at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

The last CHOGM was held in 2018 but due to Covid-19, it has been postponed twice in 2020.

But in late June, Rawanda is confirmed to host the high-level meeting under the theme ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’ where a new Commonwealth secretary-general will also be selected.

Sir Italeli said the Commonwealth Secretariat needed a “change for the better” to serve its member states.

While there are “at least two other candidates” from other regions campaigning for the top position, he believes Tuvalu and the Pacific Islands should have the chance to lead and to unite the Commonwealth.

“There are so many people who have raised their concerns and about the problems with the current Commonwealth Secretariat,” he said.

“The Secretariat could function better…to harness more funding for the Commonwealth member states and better guide the organisation.”

Climate change and protecting the Oceans will be priority issues he will be advocating to the international community.

Sir Italeli said the climate crisis is a matter of “life and death” for people from all the regions of the Commonwealth.

But even though the latest IPCC reports have confirmed the need for a global effort to fight climate change, “we are not [doing enough] to address the problem,” he said.

One of the initiatives he will be promoting as part of his campaign is what he calls the “Tuvalu Initiative”.

Sir Italeli said the initiative will be the establishment of a negotiating bloc made up of Commonwealth member states at the COP27 meeting in Egypt later this year.

He said such a negotiating group does not exist currently and it could make a significant difference at the United Nations annual climate change conference if the 54 Commonwealth nations spoke with “one voice”.

“So that we have a considered negotiating group to negotiate our concerns of climate change, and to do something for that,” he said.

“I think we have to come together and work together so that we can have a one voice,” Sir Italeli said.