Monday, June 27, 2016

A Call to Support SODELPA's New Leader: Eyeing Fiji 2018 Election.

Support for Rabuka as Sodelpa Leader More than an Exercise in Political Expediency
- Credit: Sai Lealea
Much has been said and casualties continue to be counted as the ripple effect of Rabuka's election as the new Sodelpa leader rattles support for the party. For some, resignation from the party is the only cause of action to show their repudiation and opposition to the election of the father of coups in Fiji to take the Sodelpa party forward to the 2018 election. I would argue that Rabuka at the helm of the Sodelpa party provides the best chance to wrestle power off Bainimarama and his FijiFirst party. He is best placed to do this given both his tainted legacy and his experience in government and familiarity with the "military group think" that has come to characterize the Bainimarama regime.
The very reason Rabuka is tainted as the author of coups in Fiji can serve as a powerful perverse incentive for him to right that wrong. Having apologised profusely about his past actions, he can now redeem himself by restoring sanity to the political landscape in Fiji. With the political pendulum having swung both ends of the spectrum since his first coup, he can, armed with hindsight and foresight, move to strike a moderate balance between the extremes. On this point, I would suggest the 1997 Constitution offers the best platform for securing that political recalibration. Aided by his experience in government and military background any impact can in turn be moderated.
Rabuka's experience as former PM and military commander makes him more than a match for Bainimarama and his FijiFirst government, populated largely by ex military personnel. It is widely acknowledged he is far smarter than Bainimarama and all his ex military ministers, including the President put together! His colleagues in the Sodelpa lineup in Parliament, have more brains than the rest of the FijiFirst cabinet and parliamentary lineup. The ongoing challenge in parliament is denting the unsightly Khaiyum monopolising proceedings and acting as if he knows it all while Bainimarama momentarily nods through his endorsement when he awakes from his regular naps! Once Rabuka gets to reshuffle his parliamentary lineup by promoting strong debaters such as Tikoca, Gavoka, Niko Nawaikula and the likes to target Bainimarama and Khaiyum, Sodelpa and the NFP can raise their collective impact in a parliament that rarely sits.
Another advantage with Rabuka is the ability to be able to draw the attention and loyalty of the military, especially those who, like him, would like to redeem themselves and sever ties and the label of "pariah". Untangling the "military group think" can go some way for some in the military and Bainimarama's ex military colleagues and supporters in government to rethink the direction of the military and by extension government. It is a well known fact that ex military officers in government still have a sense of loyalty and duty to supporting Bainimarama as their former commander! With Rabuka, they have an alternative and one who has "been there done it" and in a far more democratic manner compared to the Bainimarama path of "my way or no way". Rabuka is therefore a known quantity even when he lost power, he accepted the result and stood down. We all know how much he's sought forgiveness for past wrongs since. Bainimarama has shown no inkling of ever being capable of regretting his treasonous actions, since he has simply thrived and prospered from it at the expense of the country!
But for some, both Rabuka and Bainimarama are still cut from the same coup cloth and just won't align with strongly held principles and values. Sadly, Mick Beddoes and Emele Duituturaga have both resigned from Sodelpa citing this reason and I can understand why. On the surface, electing Rabuka as Sodelppa leader makes a mockery of any claim to upholding democracy and human rights. Others had also doubted Rabuka's steadfastness against Bainimarama when at times he appeared to be "too readily accepting" of the military takeover and wasn't as vocal in opposition.
On other hand, Rabuka's election from within the party selection process can be regarded as democracy in action and indeed upholding human and political rights. Coupled with his various past and recent apologies, he can be labelled as having atoned for his political crimes while others may say he has yet to answer for his criminal actions. Either way, there are inherent conflicts with both points stated. The point here is that those asserting principles and values as the basis for opposing Rabuka will never be able to reconcile it with the practicalities of pragmatism, which after all, are the essence of what politics is about!
For my part, I have satisfied myself that if the selection process is credible and able to withstand scrutiny, I am happy to accept the result. In addition, if key party stalwarts pledge their support and Rabuka demonstrates he is mindful of his tainted legacy but pledges to promote unity and understanding, he has my support. To me he is by far the best candidate for the job required as of now! And that is, marshalling all the efforts and energy of the Sodelpa party to take power off the FijiFirst government and from Bainimarama come the 2018 election.
At a different time and against different political opponents, Rabuka would not necessarily be my choice! It is all about a leader who is "fit for purpose and for now" and Rabuka is it for me for now!

Lest We Forget: Revisiting Islamization of the South Pacific. A New Reality. Where are we Today 2016?



"From the Archives: Green Moon Rising: Islam Is Spreading In Melanesia (Pacific Magazine 2007)"
- Credit: Intelligentsiya
From the Archives: Green Moon Rising: Islam Is Spreading In Melanesia (Pacific Magazine 2007)
Pacific Magazine > Magazine > June 29, 2007
Cover Story
Green Moon Rising
Islam Is Spreading In Melanesia
By Words and Photos by Ben Bohane, Port Vila
http://www.pacificmagazine.net/…/20…/06/29/green-moon-rising
Much of the funding for the Hohola mosque in Port Moresby comes from Malaysian and Saudi sources.
For Mohammed “Sambo” Seddiq, a Ni-Vanuatu Muslim who provided land and a small building that houses Vanuatu’s first mosque, conversion to Islam didn’t happen overnight.
Sitting on a prayer mat inside the green-painted house in Mele village that from the exterior looks like any other house in the community, Seddiq tells me it was a process that happened over many years, beginning with a sense of curiosity, until he felt that “Allah had truly called me” and it was time to change his life.
“I was a Pentecostal Christian before, with the Neil Thomas Mission, but I didn’t feel in control of my life and I had a problem with alcohol,” he says openly. “Islam is straight forward and disciplined and this is what I needed to be a better person in the eyes of Allah. You know, the Bible is only full of stories, but I found that the Qur’an gives direction to life.”
He was first exposed to the faith when one of his relatives, John Henry Nabanga, had returned from India in 1978 where he had been sent for Bible studies and scriptural translations but instead came home converted to Islam.
Seddiq watched how Islam had transformed John “Hussein” Nabanga into an honorable and generous man and the way his extended family began to embrace it through his personal example. In 1992, the Mele mosque was opened and each Friday since then, the dozen or two local Muslims who live in the capital Port Vila can be found at prayers in the stark room, unadorned except for a curtain screening off the women and a large clock with a picture of Mecca on it.
Today, there are between 100 and 200 ni-Vanuatu converts to Islam. Mosques are now springing up in the outer islands of the archipelago, such as in the islands of Malekula and Tanna. Chiefs are often the target of proselytizing efforts on the often correct assumption that if they convert then their extended families, clans and other islanders will also likely convert.
Of course, it is not just Vanuatu witnessing the phenomenon — throughout the Pacific Islands, Islam is on the rise and an umma (Islamic community) is being established in every country of the region.
Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion and the Pacific is proving no exception: indeed it seems to be actively targeted by Malaysian and Saudi-funded organizations, with oversight coming from within the established umma in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. In many instances, African Muslim missionaries are being deployed in the belief that Pacific Islanders will naturally respond better to the efforts of fellow black missionaries.
Nowhere is the growth of Islam more palpable than in Melanesia, which has a culture of religious dynamism and experimentation, where kastom, cargo cult and Christian movements continue to evolve, blend, mutate, syncretise and spawn new belief systems. Now Islam can be added to the mix and its effect on traditional kastom, national politics and regional security can no longer be overlooked.
Although there are no official figures and few academic studies, it is believed there has been thousands of indigenous converts to Islam in recent years in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji alone. New Caledonia also has a large, but unknown number of Muslims who have settled there from all over the Francophone world over the past 100 years.
It was while cruising PNG’s rugged highlands highway two years ago and noticing the increasing number of bush mosques springing up, that first prompted me to ask: why is Islam becoming a serious religious alternative for Pacific Islanders?
My first instinct was to dismiss it, thinking: “nah — Islam is never going to take hold in a region which is based on pig culture.” But perhaps I’m wrong.
There are indeed cultural parallels. First among these may be the fact that Islam developed from a tribal Arabic culture also and maintains decision-making bodies (shurias) that are similar, in their social organization and un-hierarchical nature, to Melanesian chiefly councils.
The notion of “payback” is one that resonates strongly in both Melanesian and Islamic tradition, ie the notion of “eye for an eye.” Although Christian influence is strong, Jesus’ example of “turning the other cheek” has not, it must be said, been largely adopted by Melanesians.
One of the widespread frustrations among islanders to Western law stems from the fact that Western law does not compensate the victim, unlike traditional Melanesian and Islamic law. Polygamy and gender separation (such as Men’s Houses and Women’s Houses in Melanesia) are part of both Pacific and Islamic culture. Seddiq in Vanuatu even suggests that since his people traditionally sat on mats on the floor, mosques feel more natural to them than sitting in Church pews.
Part of the problem Western observers have in understanding the region is that they tend to have a secular outlook and place primacy of their analysis on the role of the State (issues of good governance, corruption, service delivery, unemployment etc) when in fact the world view of Melanesians today is virtually the opposite – their daily lives remain governed by kastom and religious obligations and subsistence agriculture. They place little emphasis on the role of the State since it is an introduced concept, heavily centralized in the capital cities and usually has little impact on the daily lives of islanders living in rural and remote areas.
Scott Flower, a PhD student at the Crawford School of Pacific Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra, is one of the few to take the growth of Islam in Melanesia seriously, with a regional view.
“Melanesian people generally do not comprehend or desire the separation of religion and the State. The centrality of religion in their daily life is very important,” he says, suggesting an inherent feeling towards living in a theocratic State; whether it is in kastom, Christianity or Islam.
Flower argues that Muslim communities in each country will continue to grow in size and number because, like Christianity, Islam and its associated organizations provide islanders with public goods (such as health and education), a moral and spiritual system, and access to other global networks and opportunities, prestige and alternative paths to social and political power.
“In general, conversions from traditional religions to Christianity in Melanesia were not only for theological and spiritual reasons but for practical purposes as well. It is unlikely that the attraction to Islam in this way will be any different,” he says.
Already, an Islamic school in Oro province in PNG is attracting children from neighboring villages happy for any schooling.
I have met families from poor squatter settlements in Port Moresby, Port Vila and other urban centers who are sending their children away to madrassas (Islamic schools) overseas in Malaysia, Yemen, Fiji, and Saudi Arabia “because they will have better opportunities there,” they tell me.
When the deadly Solomons tsunami crashed through Gizo and Western Province killing 53 people and displacing thousands of villagers, the international Muslim Aid organization quickly dispatched medical teams and supplies for the affected areas and islanders embraced this aid as much as any other. It is believed to be the first time a major Islamic charity has offered assistance to a Pacific country following a natural disaster.
The process to become a Muslim is in itself simple, compared to other faiths: one needs only to have made the decision definitively in your mind and recite the basic tenet of the faith three times (“There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet”), in the company of fellow Muslims, to be accepted into the faith.
Foreign and local missionaries alike often suggest that what they offer is not conversion, but reversion–that is, by embracing Islam islanders are reverting back to kastom and ancestral ways. It is clever marketing, but slightly disingenuous. When I discussed this notion with Seddiq in Vanuatu and Yaqub Amaki from the PNG Muslim Association at the Hohola mosque in Port Moresby, both conceded that eventually Islam has primacy and there was little kastom that would survive.
The foundations of much Melanesian kastom relating to pigs, beetlenut chewing, kava drinking, ancestral worship as well as dancing related to courtship or ancestral/ nature worship is not halal ( therefore tabu) for those who truly embrace Islam. This prompts the question: what kastom is left? Can Pacific kastom find a place within orthodox Islamic interpretation?
This question goes to the heart of one of the central questions facing Islam globally–how can Islam separate its faith and philosophy from Arabic cultural practices?
Those interested in preserving Melanesian kastom see Islam as potentially a damaging cultural force, rather than a security one. Professor Kirk Hoffman, one of the founders of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre puts it bluntly: “The growth of Islam will destroy Melanesian kastom in perhaps the same way that strict Christian missionaries did 100 or 200 years ago.”
There is also the issue of Pacific Islanders not being fully aware of the whole breadth and range of Islam to choose from, from the very tolerant, mystical Sufi tradition, to orthodox Sunni and Shia beliefs, to militant *******-ism, to explicitly non-violent sects of Islam such as the Ahmadiyyah, founded in 1889, who believe “there can only ever be a jihad of the heart” and who are deemed heretical by other Muslims for believing that a Sufi-inspired Indian prophet named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was “the last prophet,” not Mohammed.
Often persecuted in their own Muslim countries, some of Ahmadiyyah’s 100 million followers worldwide are ironically seeking sanctuary in Christian countries, including the Pacific. There is already a strong community in Kimbe, PNG and in Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Unlike other Islamic groups, the Ahmadiyyah seem much more transparent with their activities, with information on its Australian and Pacific activities available on its website www.ahmadiyya.org.au.
Given that Islam is on the rise anyway, perhaps it is in the interests of Pacific governments to actively encourage the input of non-violent Islamic groups like the Ahmadiyyas in their local Muslim communities as one of the seeds of Pacific Islam.
Islam can offer a range of benefits to island communities in terms of local service delivery and access to global finance for development (through such organizations as the Islamic Development Bank).
As the Islamic world comes in contact with Pacific culture, so too is it important for Pacific island communities to have a better understanding of the range of Islam—particularly those drawn to the faith—and the likely impact it will have on their societies. Seddiq in the Mele mosque points out that in Vanuatu, unlike other Pacific Islands, Islam was established by “its own sons,” not foreign missionaries, so that it will always maintain a local flavor.
“Islam here is homegrown, so we can control it. Other countries have foreign missionaries but what happens when they leave? Better that we send our children overseas to study and come back with good degrees than having to rely on overseas missionaries coming here.”
Right now, 28 Muslims from Vanuatu are studying in Islamic colleges overseas: in Fiji, Malaysia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. Given that it is the smallest country in Melanesia, it is likely that at any one time hundreds of Pacific Muslims are studying overseas in madrassas throughout the Islamic world.
Already a debate is well underway at the Hohola mosque in PNG’s capital Port Moresby on what kind of Islam is most suitable for this part of the world.
Regular inter-faith dialogues with members of PNG’s Roman Catholic, Anglican, Bahai and Buddhist clergy are also a cause for optimism that dialogue is in progress and communal tensions can be kept in check.
One rainy Friday I attended prayers at the Hohola mosque and was welcomed in with all the hospitality that Muslims are famous for.
The Imam, brother Mikail Abdul Aziz from Nigeria, was away, so I met the acting Imam, Khaled, a Bougainvillean who is the most senior Papua New Guinean Muslim. Khaled comes across as thoughtful and easy-going. He jokes about how his wife has remained a committed Christian who occasionally likes to argue with him on religious matters, but that ultimately it has not affected their personal relationship…why shouldn’t that be something of a metaphor for the wider community, he seems to imply?
Given that much of the funding for the Hohola mosque has come from Saudi and Malaysian sources, that its’ Imam is a Nigerian steeped in *******-ism, (the most puritanical of Muslim ideology which Osama bin Laden also subscribes to) and that all copies of the Holy Qur’an on their shelf have been printed in Saudi Arabia and follow *******-ist interpretations…I feel compelled to ask if this is the most appropriate form of Islam for PNG and the region?
Yaqub Amaki, a Sepik River man who is General Secretary for the PNG Muslim Association replies: “I can say that we have already had some very robust discussions on this issue. Some of us think that a more moderate interpretation, found in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, will be more appropriate for the umma here. We are still finding our way here and while there are no real divisions in Islam, there are different paths and we need to be open to debate.
“Since the Saudis and Malaysians were here in the beginning to assist us, it is only natural that we should follow their lead, but I am confident that Islam here will gradually take on a more PNG style over time.”
The question of funding for Islam in Australia and the Pacific has become a prickly one at times. In January this year a minor spat broke out between the Australian government and the Saudi government following claims that the Saudi Embassy in Canberra was funding unidentified Islamic groups to pay wages for at least 20 Imams in mosques around Australia.
The Saudi government refused to identify the groups and Canberra disputed claims that all the recipients getting Saudi cash had been vetted by Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade, as is required.
Numerous Pacific Island Muslims I have spoken to have said that they receive financial support and other assistance from the Saudi Embassy in Canberra, believing that the mission has diplomatic responsibility and religious oversight for the Pacific Islands as well. Saudi diplomats have visited numerous Pacific Island communities and help channel scholarship funds for students who want to study abroad, often with the assistance of the Islamic Development Bank.
Pacific Magazine approached an information officer at the Saudi Embassy in Canberra recently to ask for an official outline of its assistance to Pacific Island communities, but was told flatly, “the Saudi Government does not provide any help to the Pacific Islands – go and talk to the Malaysians and Indonesians. Further questions were not responded to. Although the range of assistance is likely to be for non-controversial purposes such as mosque-building and education in the islands, it is this lack of transparency that concerns some observers.
Meanwhile a Pacific Imam training course is available for Australians and Pacific Islanders to undergo at the Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A Malaysian organization called RISEAP (Regional Islamic Da’wah Council of South East Asia and the Pacific) has already funded dozens, maybe hundreds, of Pacific Island Muslims to do the intensive three-month course there.
Whether Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are in competition for the souls of Pacific Islander Muslims, or are actually working together in co-ordination is hard to tell at this stage.
The Security Question
While Islam is being quietly and peacefully absorbed into central and eastern Melanesian nations and most parts of the Pacific, the same cannot be said for those in western Melanesia, particularly those under Indonesian control. Here, jihadi groups flourish and sectarian conflict periodically explodes, such as in Ambon and the Molluku islands, where more than 10,000 people died in sectarian conflict between Christians and Muslims in the late 1990s. Locals accuse sections of the Indonesian military of deliberately sparking the conflict in a divide and rule tactic, afraid the once-united community of these islands wanted to break-away from Indonesia after the fall of Suharto.
In West Papua, the OPM (Free West Papua Movement) has for years warned that militant groups such as JI and Laskar Jihad are operating there to suppress the independence movement as well as springboarding across unpatrolled borders into neighboring PNG, Australia and other Pacific Islands.
OPM Commander John Koknak claims there are more than a dozen jihad training camps across West Papua, many of them close the border with PNG and Australia.
An increasing number of bush mosques have sprouted in Papua New Guinea’s highlands region in recent years.
“I have been warning Australia and PNG for some time, but they prefer to trust the Generals in Jakarta” Koknak told me from his base in PNG. “You know, militant Islam in the Pacific is nothing new: JI is using the same networks as the Libyan Mataban groups who came here in the 1980s to set up cells and support Pacific liberation groups.”
Commander Koknak’s assessment is supported by “Robert,” a Papua New Guinean Defense Force intelligence operative with responsibility for PNG’s border, who complained to me recently that infiltration by militant groups and people smugglers is going on regularly across PNG’s unmonitored 800km border with Indonesia, which he described as “the gateway for terrorists into the Pacific.”
“The Australians and Americans keep focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan, but they should be concentrating on their own backyard here in the Pacific instead.” Other Pacific leaders are more skeptical of the threat of terrorism, like former Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Sir Geoffrey Henry.
“Terrorism is not part of our world, it doesn’t matter what anybody else says,” Sir Geoffrey told ABC radio in a 2003 interview, complaining that a regional police conference had taken the threat of terrorism as its top theme that year.
“They’re all wrong. The fact of the matter is we are free of terrorism.”
If we discount the sectarian fighting in the Melanesian territories of Indonesia, it is true that the Pacific has so far not witnessed any Islamic-inspired terrorist incidents and local Islamic communities in the Pacific generally live in peace within the broader community. All Pacific nations have enshrined “freedom of religion” within their Constitutions.
But that has not stopped periodic alerts and the possibility of small Pacific states acting as unwitting springboards for militant Islamic groups.
Two of the September 11 hijackers lived in Fiji for several months immediately prior to flying on to U.S. for their mission.
In August 2002 American Samoa put a blanket ban on visits by Muslim visitors from 23 countries, following the closure of the American consulate there because of a terrorist threat. Apparently two unidentified men “of Middle Eastern appearance” had been seen photographing the consulate and concerns were raised about the visit by Sheik Abdul Majid, director of the Islamic Institute of the South Pacific (based in the Fijian capital Suva) along with a Saudi official from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Sheik Majid claimed the visit was part of a tour of Islamic communities in the Pacific, but soon after, in February 2003 the Sudanese-born cleric was expelled from Fiji on the grounds that he was a security threat.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission had also raised concern for the umma in PNG, following an arsonist attack on the main mosque in Port Moresby in November 2002. The attack may have been inspired by comments made by PNG’s then Deputy Prime Minister that PNG’s Constitution should be changed to allow for the banning of “violent religions,” which many took as a reference to Islam. Muslims have also been periodically attacked in the highlands of PNG, including one incident in Mt Hagen when a mob turned on a group of local and foreign Muslims, which required police to intervene and fire shots into the air before escorting the Muslims to their homes in neighboring Chimbu province.
In the Solomon Islands, Radio SIBC reported in July 2005 claims made by the countries’ Finance Minister Peter Boyers, that Islamic militants from Indonesia had tried recruiting young Solomon Islanders for training camps in Indonesia.
The Minister said that Solomon Islands Muslim groups were against radical Islam and refused the request, something supported by Felix Narasia of the Islamic Society of Solomon Islands. Narasia said the Islamic Society denounces any recruitment of Solomon Island youth for such purposes, saying such contacts were “illegal” and outside the Islamic
Society of Solomon Islands.
Then late last year came the intriguing story of Wolfgang Bohringer and his Slovenian girlfriend, who sailed into Kiribati’s Fanning island in 2005 to set up a flight training school on this remote island close to U.S. territory.
Suspicions arose over his motives, prompting Kiribati officials and the FBI to investigate, but when Bohringer got wind of it, he sailed off, leaving his girlfriend behind.
How worried should we be about Islamic terrorism in the Pacific? Scott Flower at the ANU: “While the more alarmist government and media scenarios of terrorist threats in the Pacific are undoubtedly inflated, the other perspective of a completely benign security environment is also likely to be incorrect.”
While there have been some assessments done on threats to Australia and the U.S. from the region, Flower points out how little study has been done on the potential for domestic conflict within Melanesia as Islam grows. He warns of Muslim groups taking security into their own hands if they face repeated persecution in PNG, particularly in the volatile highlands.
In the Solomons, a situation has developed where the Ahmadiyyas have focused their proselytizing efforts on Guadalcanal island while orthodox Sunni organizations have targeted Malaita islanders. Several former Malaitan Eagle Force militants have reportedly converted to Islam and there is a danger that the on-going ethnic tension between Guadalcanal and Malaita (which caused civil war in the late 1990s and prompted the Australian-led RAMSI intervention) could become exacerbated by religious differences, too.
Clearly there are some warning signs there, but any threats to the Pacific are more likely to come from foreign militants using the cover of local Islamic communities, rather than from indigenous Pacific Muslims themselves. As these local Muslim communities grow, it will be in their interests to identify those among them who are straying from Mohammed’s message of peace, and to “out” militants among them whose actions will only rebound badly on local communities.
Regional Pacific and Australian governments also need to become more nuanced in their approach to dealing with Islam and to better understand the link between conflict and kastom, cargo cult and new religious movements generally, in Melanesia. Too much emphasis on “the State” and not enough on understanding the complex daily spirit worlds of Pacific Islanders risks misunderstanding their real hopes and aspirations.
Posted by Keep The Faith

We are Back in Action!! Getting Ready for Fiji Election 2018.


Addressing NCDs As A Region - Strength in Numbers: DSG Fong Toy's remarks at 2016 Pacific NCD Summit



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Pacific Islands Forum Update
21 June 2016
Addressing NCDs As A Region - Strength in Numbers: DSG Fong Toy's remarks at 2016 Pacific NCD Summit


2016 PACIFIC NCD SUMMIT
20 June, 2016
Nuku'alofa, Tonga

ADDRESSING NCDs AS A REGION – STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Andie Fong Toy, Deputy Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Honourable Jone Usamate, Chair of the Pacific Health Ministers Meeting
Honourable Ministers and distinguished delegates from the region,
Director General of the Pacific Community,
Representatives of Technical Agencies and Development Partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen

1.         May I firstly take this opportunity to convey the well wishes of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor. Dame Meg is currently on her way to Palau for a special meeting of the Leaders of Smaller Island States that will take place later this week.  Incidentally, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are amongst the issues that will be considered by the Leaders of the Smaller Island States. 
2.         I also take this opportunity to commend the Pacific Community and the World Health Organisation for their initiative in convening this important summit. And I thank the Kingdom of Tonga for hosting this event and for your wonderful hospitality.
3.         Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a real honour to address you on the very significant issue of NCDs, an issue that unfortunately has become extremely critical in our Pacific Islands region.

4.         The statistics are alarming. NCDs account for 70 to 75 per cent of all deaths in the Pacific region. Or to describe it in starker terms, NCDs claim approximately fifty thousand Pacific Islander lives every year.  So we are seeing our region's population – which is already small – being devastated by diseases which we know to be largely preventable.  NCDs are not just a medical or public health issue, but also a political issue – and this will be the focus of my discussion today.
5.         My presentation will look at how the issue of NCDs has been addressed at the political level through the Pacific Islands Forum. I will talk about the various policy measures that have been identified by Forum Economic and Trade Ministers, and the opportunities for pursuing strategies to address NCDs through national trade policies. I will also talk about how the Forum is addressing a particular form of NCD, being cervical cancer. And I will conclude with some observations about the importance of partnerships in supporting our regional ambition for a healthy and productive Pacific.

Role of the Pacific Islands Forum
   6.         For those of you who are not familiar with the region or its regional institutions, the Pacific Islands Forum is thepolitical community of 16 independent and self-governing countries in the Pacific islands region. As stated in the Forum's constituent treaty, its purpose is to 'strengthen regional cooperation and integration ….. in order to further Members' shared goals of economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security'.

7.         The pre-eminent decision-making body of the Forum is the annual meeting of Forum Leaders – and we are busy preparing for the 47th meeting of the Forum which will take place in the Federated States of Micronesia from 7 to 11 September. A range of ministerial and officials level meetings also contribute to the development of regional policies and initiatives to promote sustainable development, economic growth, governance and security.

8.         At the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, we work closely with other regional and international organisations to ensure that the Forum's political directives are translated into practical action. And we work to encourage the Forum's various country partners to also support these directives, for example through the provision of development assistance or through political support in other fora for Forum policies and initiatives.
What do we mean by regional action/'strength in numbers'?
 16 Members – 1 Forum
9.         Before I talk about how the Forum has approached the issue of NCDs, I think it worthwhile to briefly reflect on what we mean when we talk about regional action. For many of you here today who are experts in public health issues, I am sure that there is tendency to think of NCDs as largely a national issue – the responsibility of national governments to address. But we are a region that places great stock in regional action to support issues which we all share in common, such as the prevalence of NCDs. Regional action might take different forms, such as through regional dialogue and sharing of information and best practices, or the harmonisation of policies and laws, or the pooling of resources to deliver a particular service.

10.       There are good reasons for this commitment to regional action, not least being the ability to overcome the limited resources of most of our Member countries. In this way, regional action can be seen as an important supplement to national efforts, enabling our membership to overcome shared challenges and achieve common goals.
Framework for Pacific Regionalism
11.       I will be making reference at various points to the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, which I am sure many of you are well acquainted with.  But for those who are not, the Framework represents Leaders' most recent and detailed statement about their expectations for the Pacific region, and how regional action can support these expectations.    
12.       One of the key innovations of the Framework is its emphasis on inclusivity in the identification of priorities for regional action. A new mechanism introduced by the Framework enables anyone in the Pacific to contribute their ideas and proposals for regional initiatives. As I will discuss a bit later on, this new process has led to the increased profile on the Forum's political agenda of the incidence and impact of cervical cancer in the Pacific.
How the Forum has approached the issue of NCDs
13.       At their annual meeting in 2011 in Auckland, Forum Leaders squarely placed the issue of NCDs on the regional political agenda.

NCDs: Political Statements and Discussions
14.       In their statement on NCDs, Leaders expressed their deep concern that NCDs have 'reached epidemic proportions in Pacific Island countries and territories'. Indeed, Leaders recognised the issues as a 'human, social and economic crisis requiring an urgent and comprehensive response'.
15.       Leaders particularly focused on the economic implications of NCDs, including the rapidly rising expenditure on NCDs, which in many island countries accounted for over 50 percent of the total health budget. Leaders also recognised the potential for NCDs to 'undermine labour supply, productivity, investment and education', and the devastating impacts this could have on island economies.
16.       In light of these circumstances, Leaders called for 'a whole of government and whole of society response' to address the crisis of NCDs. They also committed themselves and their governments to expedite implementation of the five key intervention areas that have been proven to reduce NCDs, being tobacco control, improved diets, physical activity, reduced alcohol, and access to essential drugs and technologies.
Economic implications of NCDs
17.       At this point I'd like to give some more detail on the economic implications of NCDs.
18.       NCDs place a significant strain on the social welfare and health systems of government. For example, data provided to the 2013 meeting of Forum Economic Ministers indicated that government spending on NCD-related healthcare ranged from 40% [Fiji] to 60% [Tonga] of the healthcare budgets of our Member countries.
19.       Part of this expenditure relates to the costs of treatment which is generally higher for patients with NCDs than of other patients. For example, data indicates that in Vanuatu it is
eight times more expensive to treat patients with NCDs than communicable diseases.
 Joint Economic and Health Ministerial: Agreed Actions
20.       NCDs present significant economic implications for our Members. But conversely, economic measures can play an important role in addressing the problem of NCDs.
21.       In 2014, Forum Economic and Pacific Health Ministers met to discuss the NCD Roadmap and jointly agreed to a range of actions.  These actions included:

(i)         Strengthening tobacco control by an incremental increase in excise duties;
(ii)        Considering an increase in taxation of alcohol products as a way of reducing
            harmful alcohol consumption;
(iii)      Considering policies that reduce consumption of local and imported food and drink
products that are high in sugar, salt and fat content through targeted preventative
measures, taxes and better regulation;
(iv)       Improving the efficiency and impact of the existing health budget by reallocating scarce health resources to targeted primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and
                        (v)        Strengthening the evidence base for better investment planning and programme
                        effectiveness to ensure interventions work as intended and provide value for
                        money.
22.       The taxation measures relating to alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy foods are gradually being adopted by Forum Island Countries. These reforms are being considered in a time when many Forum Islands Countries are needing to balance comprehensive tax reforms with the anticipated revenue loss due to broader trade liberalisation initiatives which are in train. At the same time, economic responses to NCDs must be supported through better outreach and information campaigns about healthy living practices to make these responses more effective.
23.       At the country level, there are ongoing efforts to introduce food safety regulations requiring nutrient labelling on processed foods.  Efforts have continued to increase the efficiency of spending on health services for NCDs, with continued implementation of the Package of Essential NCDs interventions (PEN) and "best buys" in primary health care, tailored to the specific health challenges, capacities, and resources of individual countries.
24.       More detailed discussions on these matters are expected to take place in later sessions.  And as noted earlier, the progress of the measures identified by Forum Economic and Pacific Health Ministers will also be discussed at this week's special meeting of Leaders of Smaller Island States.
Linkages between trade and NCDs
25.       Let me now briefly touch on the linkages between trade and NCDs.
 Proliferation of trade agreements
26.       In the past two decades, our region – like the rest of the world – has seen an accelerating trend in the negotiation of bilateral and regional trade agreements. These agreements aim to integrate Forum Island Countries into the world economy, liberalise economies, increase foreign investment and exports to foreign markets and reduce prices of imported goods. With this emerges two contrasting experiences:
·         The benefits of trade and its contribution to economic growth and government resources; and
·         Profound changes in lifestyles and consumption, due to increased access to different goods and services and structural changes to economies.
 Main importing origins of processed food
27.       As is well known, our island economies are characterised by very narrow resource bases and are therefore highly dependent on international trade.  Imported foods constitute, on average, 20 – 30% of total imports into Pacific island countries. The increased consumption of imported foods is a well-recognised cause of the increase in NCDs in our region. Similarly, alcohol and tobacco products are largely imported into our countries, and also represent key causes of NCDs.
28.       There is therefore a strong case for addressing NCDs through national trade policies and measures.  Indeed Forum Trade Ministers have recognised the linkages between trade and health and the need for trade and health officials to work closely together in an effort to offer a balanced approach to NCDs
29.       Encouraging the development of comprehensive national trade policies that also take into account the health sector needs, has been a key focus of work by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in recent years. This work seeks to ensure a comprehensive and coherent approach to trade, which is also consistent with other national policy objectives, such as the prevention of NCDs.
30.       The development of national trade policies typically involves the establishment of a functional consultative body such as the National Trade Development Committee that comprises representatives from key departments within government and other key stakeholders. This mechanism presents a valuable opportunity to build linkages between trade and health policies at the national level and consider measures such as 'sin' taxes on products such as alcohol, tobacco and food and drinks which are high in sugar and fat.
31.       Let me also very briefly touch on the trade, health and regionalism nexus using the pooled or bulk procurement mechanism as an illustration.  The Pacific region has not sufficiently explored all possible options for reducing costs and standardising possible solutions for the health sector, particularly for the NCDs.  As small markets, the Pacific Islands need to aggregate their purchasing power to reduce unit costs for various pharmaceutical products and health solutions. For example, many Pacific islanders are unable to access medication and treatment for diabetes and related complications due to the high costs. We need to explore effective regional schemes.
Cervical cancer as a regional priority
32.       While Leaders have generally addressed NCDs as a collective issue, it is worth noting the particular attention that Forum Leaders have given to the issue of one form of NCD, being cervical cancer.

Cervical Cancer

33.       As I mentioned earlier, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism has introduced a new process enabling anyone in the Pacific to contribute ideas or proposals for regional action.  One of the proposals made last year highlighted the incidence of cervical cancer in the Pacific, and argued that this warranted regional intervention. The issue was referred to Forum Leaders who collectively recognised 'the substantial burden that cervical cancer places on women and girls in the Pacific region as well as the insufficient response to address it across the region.' However,
 Leaders sought further consultation on the issue with relevant technical organisations and national authorities.

34.       I am pleased to advise that these consultations are currently being progressed by a
multi-agency taskforce comprising the Pacific Community, the World Health Organisation, the UNFPA, the Asian Development Bank and the Forum Secretariat. The group will explore the full burden of cervical cancer in the region, and current responses and levels of investment by countries.  This analysis will enable the group to provide detailed recommendations for addressing cervical cancer through regional measures. A situation and response analysis report on the burden of cervical cancer will be presented to Leaders in 2016.
Progressing regional priorities with our partners
35.       Before I conclude I would like to briefly reflect on the importance of partnerships in progressing our region's policy priorities.
Partnerships to progress regional priorities
36.       Like many of the issues which Forum Leaders deal with, the issue of NCDs is multi-faceted and complex – it cannot be solved or delivered by any one single organisation, either at the national or regional level. As such, partnerships are essential to our collective endeavour in reducing the prevalence of NCDs in our region.
37.       The Framework for Pacific Regionalism emphasises effective, honest and enduring relationships based on mutual accountability and respect. This expectation is not limited to the relationships between the Member countries of the Forum, but applies to the relationships the Forum has developed with a wide range of regional and international organisations, many of which are represented at this Summit.  Each organisation has its own institutional mandate, but you all share a common purpose in supporting the public policy priorities of Pacific countries. With your technical expertise and skills, regional and international organisations are important actors in achieving the regional goals identified by the Leaders of the Pacific.
38.       The Framework's emphasis on accountable partnerships also relates to the relationships that the Forum has developed with other countries. Seventeen countries are currently recognised by the Forum as Post Forum Dialogue Partners which confers certain privileges of access to Forum Leaders.
39.       The PFD mechanism provides an important platform by which the Forum membership can communicate its collective priorities, and seek the political and developmental support of our partner countries. For representatives of our Post Forum Dialogue Partners in attendance today, I would like to reiterate the call by Leaders that PFD Partners commit to more closely aligning their engagement in the Pacific with the priorities set by Forum Leaders.
 Conclusion
40.       Distinguished delegates, Forum Leaders have articulated a vision for the Pacific in which all Pacific people 'lead free, healthy and productive lives'. This Summit represents an important opportunity for us to make this goal a reality.
41.       Thank you very much for your attention.

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