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  • The Region in Review:International Issues and Events, 2011
  • Nic Maclellan (bio)

Throughout 2011, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) celebrated the fortieth anniversary of its founding meeting, which was held in New Zealand (NZ) from 5 to 7 August 1971. Leaders such as Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of Fiji, Sir Albert Henry of Cook Islands, and Hammer deRoburt of Nauru had created the Forum (then called the South Pacific Forum) because the colonial powers refused to allow "political" issues like nuclear testing and independence to be discussed at meetings of the South Pacific Commission (SPC).

Australia and New Zealand were founding members of the Forum and retain their influence today in the organization. But the anniversary celebrations have highlighted the changing membership, mandate, and capacity of the regional body.

The range of players in Forum activities has broadened, with non-independent Pacific Island nations incorporated into PIF meetings and multilateral agencies increasing their influence. This has added to the regional agenda and complicated decision making, as PIF Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade lamented: "We are seeing some progress in a number of areas in our region, but unfortunately the challenges don't get any easier" (PIFS 2011e).

With Slade completing his first three-year term of office during 2011, the leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) was debated in the lead-up to the annual Forum meeting held in Auckland in September. In recent years, there have been widespread rumblings about the role the secretariat is playing with regard to Fiji, trade, and regional integration under the Pacific Plan. In 2011, this culminated in tentative moves to find an alternative candidate to Slade.

Members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) debated the nomination of former Fiji Minister of Foreign Affairs Kaliopate Tavola as a possible replacement, but pif leaders were reluctant to issue an unprecedented criticism of the secretary-general by granting him just one term. Slade was unanimously reconfirmed for a second term at the Auckland leaders' meeting.

There were other significant changes among senior PIFS staff in 2011. One of two deputy secretaries-general, Peter Forau of Solomon Islands, completed his term in March, moving to replace Papua New Guinea's Rima Ravusiro as director general of the MSG Secretariat in Port Vila.

In June, Andie Fong Toy replaced Forau at the Forum, joining Feleti Teo of Tuvalu as deputy secretary-general. Fong Toy previously served in a number of legal and political positions in the secretariat, but her appointment was another regional milestone. As Tuiloma Neroni Slade noted, "I have much pleasure in congratulating and welcoming Ms. Fong Toy as the first woman to take up the position [End Page 360] of Deputy Secretary General" (PIFS 2011b).

By year's end there were other significant changes, with Australians Rick Nimmo, director of political governance and security, and Tanya Chakriya Bowman, director of economic governance, ending their contracts. Some PIF member countries have criticized the secretariat's role in regional trade negotiations, and the departure of Bowman, a former AusAID trade advisor, opens the way for a refocusing of negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU).

In spite of recent critiques of their role (Bohane 2010), PIFS staff marked the fortieth anniversary with significant pride. Feleti Teo noted: "Some people have questioned the value of the Forum and its Secretariat and whether we will still exist in 40 years. I would like to think so. . . . Many of the challenges that we face can only be best addressed through regional integration and cooperation. There really is no other way" (PIFS 2011d).

The Forum's formal membership links Australia, New Zealand, and the fourteen independent island states, with Fiji currently suspended from activities. However, it now has two associate members (the French dependencies of New Caledonia and French Polynesia) and other territories with observer status (Tokelau and Wallis and Futuna) or special observer status (Timor-Leste).

In recent years, these Pacific Island observers have jostled for space with multilateral agencies that have observer status, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Commonwealth, and the United Nations (UN). Starting in 2012, the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Secretariat and three US territories...


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