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  • Tuvalu
  • Tauaasa Taafaki (bio)

The World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in2002 provided the impetus for Tuva­lu's first-ever National Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place from late June through early July 2004. Invited participants included several from each island (chiefs, elected councilors or kaupule, women, and youth delegates), representatives from each of the eight island communities on Funafuti, senior officials, ministers, politicians, and representatives from youth groups, faith-based organizations, women's associations, regional bodies (South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, Forum Secretariat, Pacific Regional Environment Programme, University of the South Pacific), and business houses. Four orfive expatriate Tuvaluans working abroad (including myself) were also invited by the government to act as resource people at the summit. The purpose of the summit was to consult widely and map out strategies for Tuvalu's development over the next ten years (2005–2015). An estimated four hundred people gathered in Funa­futi at the Tausoa Lima Falekau­pule (Council of Elders Meeting Hall) for the summit.

In an attempt to demonstrate political neutrality, the government agreed that Minister of Finance Bikeni Paeniu [End Page 276] and Leader of the Opposition Kamuta Latasi would cochair the summit. The two of them skillfully steered the meeting through difficult and sensitive issues, kept the interest of the participants alive through good humor, prompted the discussion when there might have been a stalemate, and tactfully managed the more vocal participants to ensure that everyone had a chance to express his or her views.

The entire summit was therefore characterized by the rich quality of consultation and expressions of genuine concern over the country's development needs—specific to each island and also common to all. The diversity of participants and the different and rich cultural and traditional nuances they brought to the summit added flavor to a fully consultative and participatory meeting. The combined contributions of all the delegates, their active participation and keen interest, and the support of various island com­munities who provided abundant refreshments, all made for a most ­creative and enriching experience.

This was the first time that such anextensive consultation had taken place at the national level regarding the country's development. National development strategies have hitherto been widely understood as the sole preserve of the government. A few years before, only the planning office—mostly staffed by expatriate officers—was assumed to possess the skills and knowledge to write development policies and strategies for Tuvalu. In fact, an expatriate officer from one regional organization said his special mission at the summit was to develop and write the vision statement for Tuvalu. However, the quality of what transpired proved that such assumptions are no longer valid.

Eight main thematic areas were agreed to and formed the substantive agenda: strengthening macroeconomic stability; improving the provision of social services; improving development of the islands and Falekaupule (Council of Elders); creating employment opportunities and enhancing private sector development; improving capacity and human resources development; developing Tuvalu's natural resources; improving the provision of support services; mainstreaming of women in development; and good governance.

After each plenary session, the large gathering usually split up into four groups to discuss the items in more depth and to come up with find­ings. Both the plenary and group discussions were considered to be of very high quality. Visits to the islands and the different island communities by task groups from the Ministry of Finance to familiarize people with the agenda preceded the actual summit. The submissions from the islands and island communities were therefore very well prepared and clearly articulated. This led to focused, engaged, and stimulating general discussions. Such extensive consultation, especially in a fragmented place like Tuvalu where transportation and movement of people is difficult and requires considerable effort to coordinate, does not come cheap. However, many ­delegates applauded support for the process and the inclusion of a large number of people; many also felt excited at actually being part of making the country's development plans [End Page 277] and policies. For a great number of participants, the summit presented a fertile arena to learn from and...


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pp. 276-286
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