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Tuesday 27 June 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Economy, Pacific Islands, Regional


PIFS Secretary-General home on first official visit

Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), Henry Puna, received a warm welcome home on Monday, on his first official visit to the Cook Islands since becoming the Secretary-General in 2021.

The Cook Islands is host of the 52nd  Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM52) that will be held on November 6-10 later this year, with the theme 'Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper'.

Secretary-General Puna is in the Cook Islands undertaking regional high-level consultations.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) is working with PIFS to coordinate the annual Meeting that unites Pacific Leaders who articulate regional collective actions for the year ahead to help advance the interests of Pacific Islands people, expressed MFAI in a media release.

Prime Minister Mark Brown, will remain at the helm as Chair of the Forum until the Pacific baton is passed to Tonga as the next incoming Chair in 2024.

In addressing Cook Islands Parliament on Tuesday Puna said:

“Standing before you in this parliamentary chamber today, is a strong reminder that the work that we do at the regional level through the Pacific Islands Forum, must be responsive to the decisions taken by Member Governments and Parliaments, like this very House, throughout the region.”

Puna used this opportunity to register formally with Parliament his recognition and appreciation of the Cook Islands as a Member of the Pacific Islands Forum, and as a strong and consistent leader on current and emerging regional priorities.

He said, we are living in unprecedented times and have just emerged from a pandemic that has tested every fabric of our national systems.

Puna said,        we cannot and must not return to “business as usual” as a region and as individual nations, and we must capitalise on the current strategic interest in the Pacific region.

“We are in a window of opportunity that will not last long and must continue the innovative momentum gained during the pandemic, must strengthen our strategic leverage as a collective, and be clear about our strategic priorities as a region, and as individual countries.

In regards to Regionalism, Puna said “the Cook Islands is well-positioned to demonstrate and uphold the strong regional leadership that we, as the Blue Pacific, are able to capitalise on the opportunities before us today.”

Puna commended the leadership of Prime Minister Brown (Forum Chair) and his team.

He said his appointment as Secretary General is an honour, to represent the Cook Islands in the highest regional office in the Blue Pacific.

He assumed the role of Secretary General in May 2021 amidst much controversy, and in the middle of a pandemic.

Puna disclosed that he now has a much deeper appreciation for regionalism and collective action - a much deeper appreciation that he did not have, as a political leader (former Prime Minister) of the Cook Islands.

“This role is critical: to upholding regionalism; to brokering political settlements; and to advising our Forum Leaders on policy options, to overcome challenges that are common across our region…

 “Regionalism is about the strength, commitment and collective efforts of the full Membership, and more so, the political commitment of Leaders to our principles of collective action and our Pacific Way.

“As I have learnt the hard way in the last two years, this role and position is not for the faint-hearted.

“It has pushed me to my limits both physically and mentally; it has required me to dig deep into my political experience to strategically assess emerging issues; it has tested my diplomatic skills to the wire, and it has forced me to be increasingly decisive and assertive…. it is a journey which has built on the experiences and teachings of my parents and my elders.”

It has been a journey that has been made richer by the support of my family – my brothers and sisters, my wife Akaiti, my children and all those who have stood with me through it all.

Puna said it is an honour to have the privilege to have served both his country the Cook Islands and the Pacific region, through its highest political offices.

  • Melina Etches
  • Extracts from MFAI, Pacific Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS).