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By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Rarotonga, Cook Islands
The newly formed Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG) met for the second time in Cook Islands Saturday to discuss ways to co-operate with each other at the sub-regional level.
Comprising Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, American Samoa, French Polynesia/Tahiti and Tokelau, Leaders met at Rarotonga’s Muri Beach Resort ahead of this week’s Pacific Forum Leaders meeting, to formalise among other things the proposed plan to set up a secretariat for the new group.
“This year we have stepped up the level of work by the PLG and we have tasked a group of officials to work on recommendations to the Group, said Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, whose office in Apia has been co-ordinating the work of the interim Secretariat since the first meeting in November last year.
When questioned on where the Secretariat will be based, the incoming chair of PLG and Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Henry Puna said, ‘the issue of where the Secretariat will be located is subject to on-going discussions.’
The Cooks PM also clarified the role of the new group, which he hopes will become a recognised sub-regional grouping within the Pacific Islands Forum.
“It should be noted that PLG was not set up to compete with other groupings within the Forum. We are finding that within the triangle of Polynesia that there are certain issues that are peculiar to us can be dealt with at the sub-regional level.
“It’s also fair to share that the smaller you are the greater the need to be aligned with a grouping. It is a reality of the world that the voices of small countries are difficult to be heard, if at all. I am sure that there is a need for a small group such as PLG that small nations like ours can identify with because of our common heritage and with whom we share a lot of common issues and challenges, said Prime Minister Puna.
The Cook Islands leader said since the inception of PLG last year, his country has benefited from a shipping arrangement with Samoa to service people in the northern group.
“This is one of the outcomes of this new grouping and is something that we want to strengthen and enhance for the future.
The only other recognised sub-regional group within the Pacific Islands Forum is the seven-member Smaller Island States (SIS), made up of Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau and Tuvalu.
Reporting on the progress made by the PLG, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said discussions in Rarotonga have focused on key areas of collaboration, in compliance with the Pacific Plan.
“We have noted very carefully the major issues in the Pacific Plan and we will focus on areas that are of particular importance to the PLG. As you know in the Pacific Plan there are wider issues to deal with in the areas of climate change, fisheries, ICT and infrastructure development.
“Right now one of our challenges is in ICT development. It is the only way that will eliminate our isolation. ICT has great contribution to telemedicine, distant education, development of tourism, commerce and tourism and shipping. We are strong proponents of the marine cable that was supposed to be funded by France to improve cable connection between Tahiti Nui and New Caledonia. That plan has not proceeded.
“There was another proposal for the Pacific cable from New Zealand, up to the north, which would cover Samoa and Tonga. As of 01 August, that plan also failed. Now we are moving to another alternative connection of marine cable between Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. These are one of the examples of projects that are so important to the development of the group, said Prime Minister Tuilaepa.
Another immediate area of concern for the newly formed group is renewable energy.
“There are a host of problems, especially in dealing with funding the technology involved. There is also the complex issue of fixing price between the producer of solar energy and the distributor which is often a government corporation, explained the Samoan leader.
Endorsing the views of the Samoan PM, his Cook Islands counterpart said there is now a greater need to work together in a core group of like-minded nations to deal with issues of common interest.
“The geographical proximities of our countries makes it sensible that they be working together on issues such as ICT because virtually the cables run past countries within the group, for example Niue, will be very close to any cabling between Samoa and Tonga. And off course the Cook Islands is also seriously looking at options for us to be connected to cable. In that sense when you look at the geographical proximity of the countries, it makes sense that those issues be addressed at sub-regional level than the Pacific wide level approach, said Prime Minister Puna.
Delegations from Rapa Nui (Easter Islands) and representatives of the 56 ‘iwi’ Maori tribes, who met with PLG Leaders, have expressed interests to join the new group.
“We provide opportunity for these groups to be members of our group. We also had the Hawaiian community applying for membership. The iwi gave us a long presentation which illustrated their vast experience in managing the affairs for 56 tribes. We are looking at that kind of experience which would be extremely valuable in the development of our PLG Group, said Tuilaepa.
The meeting in Apia last year agreed that a state, territory or indigenous Polynesian population may be invited to become a member or an observer by consensus decision of the founding members.
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