By Pita Ligaiula
Fijian Prime Minister and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum Voreqe Bainimarama says the island nation of Kiribati will always be a part of the Pacific family, despite the country’s withdrawal from the region’s premier political organisation.
While welcoming leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva Tuesday, Bainimarama said their common challenges have never been more serious and the world’s focus in the region has never been more intense.
He said 51st Pacific Islands Forum is perhaps the first of its kind, in terms of the plethora and nature of issues they must consider.
“It is my personal belief as a proud Pacific Islander that we are at our most resilient as a family; we speak more powerfully as a family; and we can only build our best possible future, together, as a family. And in my capacity as Chair, I assure every one of our Pacific sisters and brothers that there is a seat at this table open to you. Among us you will always sit as equals.
“The people and Government of Kiribati have been and will remain always, a part of our Pacific family. We share a rich history, we share a vast ocean, and we share a Pacific culture that has withstood the test of time.
“I respect the current position of Taneti Maamau, President of the Republic of Kiribati and his Government,” Bainimarama stressed.
He said the Forum will continue to dialogue towards a resolution which formalises the deep mutual respect they hold among them as Pacific Leaders.
“A resolution amenable to all our Forum Leaders; and one that is in the best interest of our Pacific people,” PM Bainimarama told leaders and delegates.
He said a key focus of our Forum Leaders Retreat Thursday will be the issue of regional solidarity and how best they as a Forum Family, can bolster and galvanise their unity.
“We simply cannot make the same difference for the health, security, and prosperity of our people, without every Pacific voice helping to chart the course of our region’s direction.
“As we very slowly emerge from the grips of COVID-19, our world and our region remain in a state of turmoil. At home, many of us continue to deal with long standing socio-economic challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Our sources of revenue – from tourism to fisheries to trade have been hit hard; our public health systems have been tested beyond anything they have had to endure; and communities everywhere have had to deal with the anguish of losing a loved one, a livelihood – or both.
“We thus find ourselves in the crossfire of these three deadly C’s – COVID, Climate and Conflict – each factor dangerously compounding the other. That is the inescapable reality of the situation,” said Bainimarama.
He said the Pacific Islands Forum remains critical to fostering our unity at the regional level, while at the same time giving Leaders a powerful means to define their strategic response to ever-evolving threats and opportunities.
“It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge our sisters and brothers from Micronesia. My hope is that through our dialogue mechanism, and the resolutions that we are working towards, our Forum family can thrive.
“There are valuable Pacific lessons we can call to mind from our predecessors this week. Starting with the nurturing of our relationships with one another. Not as Heads of Government but as people. As Mothers and Fathers. As Grandparents. As Daughters and Sons of the Blue Pacific,” said Bainimarama.
The Forum Leaders thanked the Fijian Government for the traditional welcome ceremony and for the warm hospitality accorded to them upon their arrival.
President of Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo speaking on behalf of the Pacific Island Leaders said, “We find strength in unity, as our countries and cultures comes together as one Family, to find common ground to seek peace and prosperity for our Blue Pacific continent and today on this historic occasion as we celebrate 50 years of regionalism Hon. Prime Minister, on behalf of the Pacific Leaders who are here in your presence, we thank you for the tremendous hospitality and warm welcome which you have extended to each and everyone of us.
“Today marks an important day for our Pacific Family where the light shines in our Blue Pacific continent. We thank you Prime Minister and the people of Fiji for welcoming our countries into country to meet and find common ground for the issues as Pacific peoples,” he said.