Tonga and Pacific Islands Forum reaffirm priorities


Forum priorities on the 2050 Pacific Strategy were reaffirmed in Nuku’alofa between the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Henry Puna and Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni, during his visit last week.

This new long-term strategy aims to address present and future challenges faced by Pacific people that was endorsed in July 2022 by Pacific Leaders, at the conclusion of the 51st Forum Leaders’ Meeting.

In a joint press conference with the Prime Minister on Friday, Secretary General Puna said their visit was to consult with government and different sectors of the community in Tonga on the 2050 Pacific Strategy.

They do not want to draw up an implementation plan without securing views as to how we should move forward together.

“It really is a blueprint for us moving in to the future.”

The 2050 Pacific Strategy is a plan designed to adapt us to the changes in the world, as we all know it is fast changing and, we need a plan like 2050 to allow us to keep pace and adapt to the changes,” he said.

Consultations with civil society and other members of the public sector, including a dialogue with Government were also held.

“I enjoyed working and engaging with the civil society yesterday. The women, youth, church representatives and all the other non-government agencies. What really warmed me was the fact that when the volcanic eruption and tsunami took place, they all came together instead of just relying or depending on the government. That’s the spirit that’s within us as Pacific people.

“We think of ourselves as one family, when something happens we come together. That is really wonderful and it’s the one thing I’ll be taking back from my visit here in Tonga,” said Puna.

He reiterated there are many channels of assistance from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and his task as Forum Secretary General is to get all our dialogue partners to accept and respect that engagement process as set out under the 2050 Strategy.

“We still also have a lot of work to do climate change of course it is a big threat for us here in the Pacific and if anybody knows about the climate better it’s us…. We live it, it’s our daily reality, we live it every day.”

Secretary General Puna then commended the return of Kirbati to the Forum and said that he is looking forward to the Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat. This will be held on 23-24 February in Fiji.

The Forum and Japan have also come to an agreement to postpone the release of the releasing of more than a million tons of treated water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean this year, he said.

“We have agreed to postpone that while we work on the technical aspect of the issue to ensure that our scientists are happy that the water is not contaminated in any way.”

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku said he was one of the leaders that endorsed the 2050 Pacific Strategy.

“One of the good things is that it highlights the priorities of the region. It also recognises the sovereignty of nations, that we have our own rights to prioritise what we believe is important.2

He discussed with the Secretary General various regional topics, including the Suva Agreement, Kiribati returning to the Forum, and the upcoming Special Leaders Retreat, which he will attend.

The Prime Minister said he will raise with the Pacific Leaders two topics in the upcoming Leaders Retreat.

“One of them is visas. As you probably know, we issue visas on arrival for most of our friends from Australia and New Zealand, On the flip side, we are required a visa before we travel to New Zealand and Australia. We should be talking about reciprocating that right, even if we are starting on the official level, that is something to raise and discuss.”

He said the other issue is school fees in universities.

“In New Zealand and Australia, they have International fees for international students and that for their citizens/residents. There is nothing in between for Pacific students. I’ll raise it at the Leader’s level. We should look into providing student fees specifically for the Pacific students, so that we can have more of our students studying in Australia and New Zealand, especially those private students.”

The Prime Minister said when Pacific students go to New Zealand and Australia, they pay the same school fees as international students coming from Japan and China.

The Secretary General also had an opportunity to be updated of the reconstruction efforts after the volcanic eruption and tsunami in 2022.

“I’m glad that he got to actually visit some of the sites, to see first-hand the devastation but, to also have a look at some of the reconstruction like ‘Atata Si’i.”