The aspirations for prosperity, and national and global resilience, which are shared by members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Commonwealth, are a reflection of the interconnectedness of the two associations in their collective goals for progress, said Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma.
“Through trade and economy, through culture and history, through politics and governance, we are woven together. This is the basis on which we work together in forging a future that is strong and sustainable for all,” stated the Secretary-General in his address to delegates at the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland, New Zealand, on 7 September 2011.
Mr Sharma said the PIF’s theme, 'Converting Potential into Prosperity', resonates with the theme of the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, in October 2011, 'Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience'.
The Secretary-General observed that many Pacific island countries suffer from the negative effects of geographical remoteness compounded by economies that are small and lacking in diversity. These setbacks in global trade and liquidity deal severe blows to the infrastructure of such economies, and take a heavy toll on the financial and social well-being of small island states. This, he said, undermines a country’s resilience in the face of global issues, which impact on the vulnerability of small states. Mr Sharma stressed the need for countries to broaden their economic base to achieve sustainable development which can withstand cyclical setbacks or sudden crises. He noted that the heavy reliance on oil for energy generation means that oil price increases are a huge shock to already fragile economies.
“Rising transport costs affect the price of imports and make it harder to compete in export markets. The impact on tourism and on the wider economy is severe. Combined with heavy indebtedness, such burdens magnify the impact of any economic downturn. The need to exploit opportunities for generating energy from renewable sources is urgent both economically and environmentally,” said the Secretary-General.
He also underscored the important role women and young people can play in contributing to national resilience when they are able to realise their potential.
The Secretary-General reiterated the Commonwealth’s support for Pacific island states in overcoming their vulnerability and strengthening their resilience. This includes partnerships to build institutional capacity in democratic institutions, as well as in public sector management and expenditure, and to support enterprise development and income generation. Mr Sharma said the Commonwealth is also advocating gender equality and empowerment of women, advancing social protection and strengthening social services.
On the issue of Fiji, the Secretary-General expressed hope that circumstances in the country would change to allow the restoration of normal and fruitful relations with the PIF and the Commonwealth, and for the Pacific island state to participate fully again as a member of both associations.
The Secretary-General also paid special tribute to the devoted service of the late Sir Paul Reeves, who had served as his Special Representative on Fiji until his death in August this year.