The Pacific Plan review team, led by former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta is of the view that sub-regionalism is an important building block to achieving regional integration.
And they’ve proposed further empowerment of regional and sub-regional organisations and regional meetings - to ‘de-clog’ the Pacific Islands Forum agenda.
What is required is a robust political conversation about the future of the region, which the Sir Mekere Review team observed as not happening.
“We need to create the space and processes for you, the political leadership of the region, to act collectively and effectively to provide for betterment of the region and its people, said Sir Mekere in his statement to Pacific Forum Leaders in Majuro in September this year.
His statement, only made public today on the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat website, exhorts officials of the Forum Secretariat to adjust the Forum agenda to allow Leaders space to debate how best to progress regional integration.
“This means we need to adjust how the agenda is set, who sets it and who influences it.
“Leaders need to be able to talk about the bigger picture, about the process of regional integration – where it might lead and what they collectively want to do to progress it, said Sir Mekere.
As a result, the eminent review team proposes a more robust role for the Pacific Islands Forum and its Secretary General and Secretariat.
They want a stronger and better governed PIFS with a clear mandate to oversee the prioritization process of the regionalism project.
The Pacific Plan Action Committee (PPAC), in the view of the Review Team must be replaced by a smaller and well qualified executive board chaired by the Secretary General – that evolves from simply representing national interests to become directors of the regionalism project.
These proposed reforms, Sir Mekere told Forum Leaders in Majuro, are a response to the overwhelming views from across the Pacific that regionalism has lost its political direction.
“The institutions – the rules of the game – are wrong, or perhaps have gradually been weakened by, on one hand, governance structures that don’t ensure the right outcomes and on the other hand incentives – usually financing incentives – that serves to shape the agenda more than does the exercise of political values and choice.
Sir Mekere said there appears to be a disconnection in the relationship between principals (the political leadership) and their agents (PIFS and CROP agencies).
The Review Team recommends that regional agencies need to be responding and not setting political agenda.
At the centre of this reform is the need to look at how these agencies are financed, “because financing undoubtedly influences the agenda as it does with all international membership organisations that depend heavily on donor finance.”
Sir Mekere said there were clear frustrations that there is still much to be done to get the region’s development pathways right but the institutions are not coming up with the answers.
“Some of the new Pacific politics we see emerging perhaps reflects this frustration, Sir Mekere told Forum Leaders.
The Sir Mekere Review Team has recommended that the Pacific Plan be replaced with a New Regional Framework for Pacific Integration.
The development of this new regional framework will be overseen by a Troika consisting of the current, immediate past and the next Forum chairs with support from the Secretary General.
To rebuild the credibility and momentum of the New Framework, the Review Team identified two quick ‘wins’ to signal that regional integration is still alive and well.
These two quick wins include the speeding up of expansion of the seasonal workers scheme with Australia and New Zealand and the establishment of the feasibility, costs and benefits of sub-regional action to improve critical transport and communication services to Smaller Island States