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
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
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
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,
“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.