5 Aug 2013

Regional meeting underway in Fiji described as more than a talk-fest

7:22 pm on 5 August 2013

The inaugural Pacific Island Development Forum meeting has begun in Nadi, with the host Frank Bainimarama insisting that the event is not just a talk-fest.

'Looking forward, honouring the past' is the slogan of the three-day meeting, which some observers say is the Fiji regime's attempt to rival the Pacific Islands Forum from which Fiji has been suspended since 2009.

Publicity material brands it as the Pacific's first broad alliance of public and private sector and civil society organisations all working together to secure the future of the region through the so-called 'green economy'.

Sally Round is at the meeting, and I asked her if it felt like an important event.

SALLY ROUND: Well, it certainly had the aura of being an important event this morning at the official opening ceremony, when there was a guard of honour for the main leaders who were attending and a big dais set up - Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who has instigated this meeting, sitting in the middle, and flanked, eventually, by the chief guest Xanana Gusmao, the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, the Vice President of Micronesia, the President of Nauru and the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands.

JOHNNY BLADES: It sounds like there's a bit of an assortment of leaders from the wider Pacific region, isn't there?

SR: Yes, but there are some that are notable for their absence and some have sent lower-ranking officials, for example Papua New Guinea. This forum is billed as one that is encouraging sustainable development. The 'green economy' is the watchword. So many are viewing that as a chance to send that level of technical sort of official to just see what the forum is about, rather than viewing it more as a political statement. Commodore Frank Bainimarama, in his speech, noted that those who chose not to attend were treating it as a political event and he was at pains to point out that it was not. It was more a chance for the Pacific Island countries to stand up for themselves, be unified and challenge countries that are putting the Pacific Island countries in dire straights in terms of environmental factors.

JB: All right. And are there New Zealand and/or Australian observers at the meeting?

SR: Yes. Australia and New Zealand have both sent representatives from their missions in Suva. The American ambassador is here. I've also spoken to the Singapore ambassador to the Pacific Islands Forum, and he was also very interested to note that the chairman of the forum was a very respected Pacific Island regional body leader, Dr Jimmie Rodgers of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.