PM Brown defends Puna’s selection

Saturday 13 February 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in National, Pacific Islands, Politics, Regional

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PM Brown defends Puna’s selection
Former Prime Minister Henry Puna with his successor, current Prime Minister Mark Brown in June last year. 20061610

Pacific Islands Forum has been most effective when they have worked together as a single, unified body, says Prime Minister Mark Brown.

Henry Puna is “eminently qualified” and ideally placed to be of service to the region as Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, says Prime Minister Mark Brown.

Former PM Puna was voted in as the next Secretary General last week, but his selection by the regional leaders during a virtual meeting has been marked with controversy.

Leaders from Micronesia said their candidate – Marshall Islands ambassador to the United States Gerald Zackios – was overlooked, dishonouring a “gentleman’s agreement” to rotate the post evenly among the three sub-regions of the Pacific. This week they announced their intention to withdraw their five countries from the premier regional body.

In a statement defending Puna’s selection, PM Brown says his predecessor is intimately familiar with region and its challenges, having represented Cook Islands at many Forum Leaders meetings.

Puna, a qualified lawyer who served as the nation’s leader for a decade, had visited every Forum member country and held detailed discussions with Leaders in each, he said.

“He has also over the last decade served the region in various regional governance roles including Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2012; Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific in 2017; Chair of the Forum Fisheries Commission in 2018; and Chair of Conference for the Pacific Community (SPC) 2019.”

Brown in that light, with the term of the current Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, coming to an end, his government gave serious consideration to the appointment of her successor. 

“We were guided first and foremost by the 2002 decision of Forum Leaders that candidates for the position must be assessed on their merits taking into account the circumstances at the time of selection.

“In light of the enormous challenges facing our region at this time, including the impact of Covid-19 on our region, my Government was pleased to nominate our former Prime Minister, Mr Henry Puna, as Secretary General.  It was the first time in the Forum’s 50-year history that the Cook Islands had nominated a candidate for that position.”

Brown said being a firm adherent of the Pacific Way of discussion and consensus-building, from the time of his nomination, his government had always wanted the decision to be taken during a face-to-face meeting of Forum Leaders. 

It was however the collective decision of Leaders to proceed to voting during the Special Retreat and accept the collective decision of Leaders, he added.

Brown said while he was saddened by the subsequent decision by Leaders of Micronesia to withdraw from the Forum, he fully appreciates their desire “to play a full role in Forum activities and contribute to the development of our entire Blue Pacific continent”.

He said the Forum has always been most effective, and delivered best for all people in the Pacific when they have worked together as a single, unified body. 

“At the same time, I also recognise that our Forum must operate on the basis of principles, procedures and arrangements appropriate for today’s Pacific. Towards that end, as agreed by all Leaders at our Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat on the 3 February, I am committed to working closely with all Forum Leaders to review the 2002 appointment procedures for the Secretary General to ensure that all Forum Members have a fair and equitable opportunity to serve the region at the highest level,” Brown said.

“I am confident that, together, the Forum will emerge from our discussions over the next few months stronger and more unified to confront the unprecedented challenges we face as a region in the years to come.”

Henry Puna has been appointed the Secretary General of the Forum for a three-year term. He will be based in Fiji.