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Puna’s final mission as head of PIF

Tuesday 14 May 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in National, Pacific Islands, Regional


Puna’s final mission as  head of PIF
Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna. PIFS/24051325

Henry Puna is on his final mission as the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General in the country where it all began – his homeland, the Cook Islands.

The former prime minister took over the top regional role on May 24, 2021. Puna’s initial term comes to an end later this month and contrary to the past practice where the incumbent gets another three years, the 73-year-old will step down to make way for the former Nauru president and incoming Secretary General Baron Waqa.

In a statement released yesterday, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat said Puna is embarking on a pivotal mission, focusing on Pacific regionalism for the future. 

His visit to Rarotonga this week is part of a Forum programme of national missions aimed at fostering stronger ties and understanding of regional unity and how the Forum delivers on its mandate.

The three-day engagement programme supported by the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) is being held at Te Are Pua Community Hall in Takuvaine.

“This mission also carries emotional significance in that it is SG Puna’s final mission before completing his tenure as PIF Secretary General, and it is in his homeland where it all began,” the statement said.

The Cook Islands visit began yesterday with a formal courtesy calls on the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Mark Brown, Minister of Foreign Affairs Tingika Elikana, and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs Tepaeru Herrmann.

Puna said: “There is strong agreement and focus on ensuring our regional agencies can work smarter to serve our Pacific nations. We are also taking a deeper look at how groupings such as the Small Islands States Leaders are serving unity and regional cooperation. All this work requires national talanoa sessions to really help us see how regional public policy is being delivered and implemented.”

“Three years ago, I came into this role determined to ensure the values of talanoa and respectful sharing and hearing of views, would be a strong feature of how the secretariat listens to the leaders, and the people of the Pacific. National consultations are an important part of our monitoring and evaluation and must continue to be a key feature of engagement with our Blue Pacific continent.”

MFAI director of Pacific and Regional Affairs Division, Teuru Passfield said: “We look forward to an update from the Secretariat on progress relating to key regional priorities and tasking by Forum Leaders from last year’s Leaders meeting to ensure we see and can measure tangible impacts and results from those efforts at domestic and community levels within the Cook Islands in years to come.”

“Of particular interest is ensuring the Secretariat forward work streams avail resourcing support for Smaller Islands States like the Cook Islands given the particular vulnerabilities related to isolation and smallness that must be overcome.”

The consultations by the Secretariat are set within the frame of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. On Friday, MFAI said it encouraged national stakeholders to engage to ensure Cook Islands priorities are incorporated in shaping the Secretariat, regional organisations’ forward work plans, and resource allocation.

“The bulk of new development funding and resources allocated by development partners for the Pacific are being channelled through regional organisations,” said Passfield, “so it is important member countries like the Cook Islands ensure ownership and directing of those regional resource allocations through in-country consultations like that scheduled next week, and through the appropriate regional governance mechanisms, to ensure the bulk of the resources reach our people and communities.”

The visiting delegation from Suva, Fiji, is led by Puna with engagements planned with key government and beyond government representatives to consult on key regional priorities that comprise the Secretariat’s work programme and have emanated from the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM52) hosted by the Cook Islands in November last year.

Mindful of the Forum’s founding mandate, economic and trade priorities will also feature in the consultations. Presentations and feedback on a new Pacific roadmap for economic development, private sector and climate finance strategies, and updates on the multi-million-dollar Pacific Resilience Facility will feature during the discussions through to Wednesday, May 15.