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Angelo, T --- "Commentary on the Pacific Islands Forum" [2005] NZYbkIntLaw 9; (2005) 2 New Zealand Yearbook of International Law 267


Tony Angelo[*]

This was a remarkable year. It was marked by enthusiasm and a positive outlook, despite the international events in other parts of the world and concerns in some quarters about the “arc of instability”[1] and the travails of Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

The Forum reached agreement on a number of important issues. Among them: the Aviation Action Plan; Leadership Principles; RAMSI; the Pacific Plan; and the Forum Economic Plan 2004.

The Forum prepared, with the appointment of a new Secretary-General[2] and the acceptance of the draft Pacific Plan drawn up by a group of eminent persons, to re-orient itself. The reorientation was to be inspired by the European Union model of common goals: cooperation, harmonisation, collaborative use of natural resources.

A perusal of the documents of the year suggests a determined effort at renewal and strengthening of regional cooperation.

I. Aviation

The Forum Aviation Action Plan of 16 July 2003 dealt with air services for the region, aviation safety regulations and air space management. In particular the July Ministerial meeting endorsed the Pacific Islands Air Services Agreement. This was followed in August by a commitment among the smaller island States to work towards establishing a sub-regional airline in the central Pacific area. The profitability of the national airlines of the Pacific countries and surviving against competition from the regional carriers of the larger States is a continuing concern of the Pacific countries.

II. Leadership Principles

The Forum meeting, which was held in Auckland in August 2003, adopted the Forum Principles of Good Leadership[3]. The emphasis in these Principles is on respect for the rule of law, the separation of powers ideals, integrity in political leadership, and human rights. The Principles also speak of ‘Respect for cultural values, customs, traditions and indigenous rights and observation of traditional protocols in the exercise of power’[4]. Resolution of the dilemma presented by this juxtaposition of different ideas is left to each State. It is exactly the dilemma most of the countries have to address in their domestic constitutional arrangements.

Speaking at a regional integrity seminar in March 2004, the Secretary-General said that “defining good governance in a Pacific context meant there was no one size to fit all”. The effect of regional standards does nevertheless create pressure towards common standards and common responses to governance problems. Any regional audit of State performance against the guidelines is likely to produce comment adverse to States whose systems differ markedly from the norm. One size does not fit all, and despite the frequently heard reference to ‘Westminster systems’ many States do not in fact have a Westminster system or, if they have elements of such a system, those elements are so affected by local circumstances as to warrant a different epithet.


The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was formally noted at the 2003 Forum Meeting. The official declaration is found in Annex 1 to the Forum Communique[5] . It is salutary to remember the extremely positive wording of that declaration, and the fact that it was there acknowledged that ‘recovery in Solomon Islands will be a long-term task’. It belies the sometimes adverse comment made about the advent of RAMSI.

IV. Pacific Plan

The Forum leaders agreed in August 2003 to carry out a review of the Forum and the Secretariat. To this end, an Eminent Persons Group was appointed. That Group reported to a Special Leaders’ Retreat held in Auckland in April 2004. In a beautifully presented but notably diffuse document, the Eminent Persons Group recommended to Forum leaders a “Pacific Plan for intensified regional cooperation”.

The leaders adopted the following vision, almost word for word from the report:

Leaders believe the Pacific region can, should and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all its people can lead free and worthwhile lives. We treasure the diversity of the Pacific and seek a future in which its cultures, traditions and religious beliefs are valued, honoured and developed. We seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values, and for its defence and promotion of human rights. We seek partnerships with our neighbours and beyond to develop our knowledge, to improve our communications and to ensure a sustainable economic existence for all.

The leaders endorsed the Pacific Plan recommendations. The most direct of the recommendations relate to the restructuring and the redirection of the efforts of the Forum Secretariat, and to the suggestion that the Secretary-General take a more proactive role in regional affairs, as follows:

The Role of the Chair
18 Assist the Chair to play a proactive role in taking a strong regional leadership role, in respect of agreed Forum responsibilities and positions, including on the international stage. The country acting as Forum Chair to be responsible for organising a caucus before international meetings to assess common ground among Forum countries.

The Forum Secretariat
28 Appoint a working group of Forum members to draft a new Agreement that updates and clearly sets down the role, functions and responsibilities of the Secretariat. In particular, the document should emphasise that the primary roles of the Secretariat are policy advice, coordination and assistance in implementing Leaders’ decisions, rather than the project implementation and technical assistance functions that it has acquired over the years.

31 Enforce the provision that Secretariat executive/professional staff be hired for no more than two three-year terms of employment at Secretariat, so that people with skills developed at the Secretariat can use these skills in the service of their home countries….

The Secretary General
32 Encourage the Secretary General to take a proactive role in setting Forum agendas and coordinating responses by members to regional events, particularly crises…

V. Forum Economic Plan 2004

The emphasis at the meeting of Forum Economic Ministers in June 2004 was on the following: ‘sustainable development, predicated on economic growth’; ‘institutional reform should recognise the contribution traditional institution can make to sustain growth and development’; ‘particular attention be paid to the efficiency of resource use in the public sector’; and ‘ministers recognise that good governance was essential to economic growth and should be supported by effective laws and institutions... even a perception of corruption, lack of accountability and poor transparency could have harmful social and economic effects’.

In respect of regional transport it was said ‘ministers emphasise the need for economically sustainable services and good governance in the transport sector. Ministers agreed that where subsidies are required for essential services this should be provided in a transparent and contestable manner’. Cooperation on transport has been mooted for many years, nevertheless it remains an area subject to significant national pressures and it proceeds on a largely national-based system with the frequent collapse, establishment and collapse of carriers.

Real national support is needed if the goals are to be achieved: the nations agreeing to the Pacific Plan will also be the nations hindering its realisation by actions or inactions at the domestic level. There is, for instance, a model Pacific bio-security law prepared by the South Pacific Commission. The commonality of bio-security systems for the Pacific would seem to have clear advantages for all concerned, yet even here there is no uniformity of approach and no standard international or national response to the uniform law proposal.

In this environment of enthusiasm for progress and development it is perhaps perverse to sound a negative note. It must, however, be acknowledged that much of the idealism expressed in the documents is not new and that only the future will show whether the previous disjunction between the ideals and the practice of individual States will, this time, be overcome. Only the future will tell whether there is substance to these aspirations.

[*] Professor Tony Angelo, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

[1] Ivan Molloy, The Eye of the Cyclone (PIPSA, Australia, 2004).

[2] In August 2003 for a three year term which began in February 2004.

[3] Annex 2 to the Forum Communique -PIFS (03)11.

[4] Principle 2.

[5] PIFS (03)11.

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