Former prime minister Henry Puna, who ends his term as the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum this month, says he is humbled to have been the first Cook Islander to hold the post and fly the flag of his country.

Puna completed his final mission as the leader of the regional body in his home country Cook Islands this week.

In his exit interview with the media from the Pacific region held in Rarotonga Wednesdsay, Puna recalled how he and Forum Chair Prime Minister Mark Brown stood in Parliament back in 2020 where he handed over the reins to Brown.

“We never thought that this would happen, that I’ll be finishing off on my final mission here at home, but that’s how things have turned out,” Puna said.

“It’s lovely to be home, although I say that with some reservation, because really I am still a regional person, and I belong not just to the Cook Islands, but to the whole Forum region.”

Puna says his biggest achievement during his tenure was bringing the Forum family back together again after the 2021 fracture.

His appointment in 2021 became controversial after the Micronesian members threatened to pull out of the Forum. They felt that the Forum members had broken an informal agreement to rotate the position, and that it was Micronesia’s turn to hold the office.

In an effort to patch up the rift some of the Forum leaders met in May 2022 and signed the Suva Agreement, which included having Puna serve the remainder of his three-year term and for the Micronesian candidate to be appointed as the next Secretary General.

Puna said that it was through patience and through grace that they were able to forget about their personal feelings and instead focus on what was best for the Forum family.
Former Nauru president Baron Waqa is expected to take on the Secretary General’s role next month and Puna’s advice to the incoming leader is “(this role is) not for Nauru or any particular country, because you’re not there for your country, you are there for the whole region. And for me, patience and grace are very important qualities if you are to perform in that role.”

Forum chair Brown announced that Waqa will assume the role in June. Contract discussions are currently underway.

Brown said he looked forward to welcoming the incoming Secretary General who he had discussions with already and looked forward to the leaders meeting in Tonga in August this year.

“It’s been a delight this year to be working with our current Secretary General to finish off his tenure under my chairmanship,” Brown said.