The Hon. Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare had a virtual meeting with the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Hon. Kausea Natano, the Hon. Prime Minister of Tuvalu on Thursday 30th July 2020. The meeting was requested by the Forum Chair and was conducted using a zoom conference capability hosted at our ICTSU Conferencing facility.
The Forum Chair is currently conducting consultations with fellow Leaders on several matters in particular because the Forum Leaders meeting scheduled for August 2020 in Vanuatu, has been cancelled due to COVID-19 and the next face-to-face meeting of Forum leaders now anticipated to take place in Fiji in August 2021.
Both Leaders discussed the gravity of the current COVID-19 pandemic globally. They acknowledged with appreciation the fact that of the 12 remaining countries that are still COOVID-19 free in the whole world, 10 of these are Forum Island member countries, including both Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
Both leaders acknowledged the importance of concerted national action supported by development partners and regional and international agencies and systems to combat COVID-19 effectively. They acknowledged the establishment of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway as an additional corridor through which assistance to Forum members can be provided. However, both leaders agreed that such regional initiatives must complement national and bilateral arrangements and must not add extra burdens to members.
Prime Minister Sogavare reiterated that Solomon Islands welcomed the intent underpinning such a regional mechanism, but that they must not undermine the processes and work done at the national levels which are governed by domestic laws. He further emphasized that any regional mechanism must add value to the support received by countries from bilateral and multilateral development partners to address the threat post by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Forum Chair also sought the Prime Minister’s views on the appointment of the Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat, given the incumbent, Dame Meg Taylor’s tenure will expire in January 2021.
Prime Minister Sogavare reiterated Solomon Islands’ position that the appointment must be done on merit for the betterment of the Forum and the region. He emphasized that the traditional concept of ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ in relation to the appointment of the Head of the region’s Premier political and economic organization cannot continue to be entertained in this day and age.
Given it is difficult to predict the future path of COVID-19 with no certainty as to whether Leaders can meet face-to-face even next year, Prime Minister Sogavare agreed with the proposal to have a virtual Leaders meeting before the year ends to appoint a new Secretary General.
Prime Minister Sogavare informed the Forum Chair, that Solomon Islands wants Forum Leaders to provide the criteria for the appointment and direct the Foreign Ministers led by Troika (comprising the current chair, the former chair and the incoming chair of the Forum) to screen and interview the candidates by virtual mode and present their recommendations to Leaders. Prime Minister Sogavare suggested that the screening committee could be expanded to include one other Foreign Minister form each subregion and one representing the Francophone members. Countries presenting candidates would not be eligible to participate in the screening committee. It would be the role of this committee to interview and recommend candidates for the consideration of Leaders during the virtual meeting.
Prime Minister Sogavare reiterated that it is important for Forum Leaders to select the best candidate possible to lead the Pacific Islands Forum in particular during these trying times for our region and each Forum member. He emphasized the importance of ensuring the virtual meeting is focused on key outcomes to guide the deliberations.
Four countries have proposed candidates for the post of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) including Cook Islands, Fiji, Republic of Marshall Islands, and Solomon Islands.
The Forum Chair thank Prime Minister Sogavare for availing his time to have the virtual meeting. He also thanked Prime Minister Sogavare for his positive suggestions on the appointment of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum.
The Forum Chair will continue with his consultation with other leaders following which he will provide his recommendations to Leaders on the way forward for the appointment of the Secretary General.