Interim PIDF leader distances himself from political arguments

Australia Plus Pacific:

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The interim Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Development Forum, Feleti Te'o, is distancing himself from the political arguments over its formation.

With Fiji's interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama as the main instigator, some Pacific leaders have suggested the PIDF is not necessary, and designed only to distract attention away from Fiji's continued exclusion from the Pacific Islands Forum.

But Mr Te'o, who was previously Deputy Secretary-General of that long established body, says the new organisation has a legitimate place alongside the old one.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Feleti Te'o, Interim Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Development Forum

TE'O: The Development Forum provides for the first time a different space for a different kind of organisation in terms of the inclusive sustainable development for small Pacific Island countries, because what it is designed to embrace is a much broader coalition of stakeholders than what is currently available through your typical intergovernmental regional organisation. So the way the Forum is being designed is to have a space where stakeholders from the public, government officials, the private sector and civil society all coming together and have genuine discussions about their development needs, which has not been catered for in any current regional organisation.

EWART: So do you see the future of the Pacific Islands Development Forum as separate from the Pacific Islands Forum, complimentary to or taking over from that body?

TE'O: I think it will be very much complimentary to the present forum, which has a very long history and it will continue to operate. I think where there is issues in the Pacific Island Forum that are unable to address because of the different compositions, then the Development Forum will provide for that space, where its number is limited to only the small island developing states, and also contain a much broader stakeholder, in terms of the engagement of not only public officers, but also a representative of the private sector and civil society.

EWART: What do you say to those critics who suggested that the reason that the Development Forum has been put together with the interim Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of course is the driving force, that it was a way to get Fiji back on the international stage in the Pacific when they're currently excluded from the Pacific Islands Forum? Indeed the Samoan Prime Minister - amongst others - has gone as far as saying that this is really all about pandering to the ego of Rear Admiral Bainimarama?

TE'O: Well I don't think that the interim secretary general of the Development Forum is in a position to provide a response for that.

EWART: You don't feel that the whole formation of the organisation though has become something of a political football if you like?

TE'O: Well I agreed to take on this task because they assured me of the non-political nature of the path that I've been asked to assist in, and it'll only be up to the end of June when I set some organisational processes that are required to lay out the foundation of the organisation. So I think I will not engage in the politics of the organisation.

EWART: So does that mean that you will walk away from your position come the end of June, or would you like to take the role on permanently?

TE'O: Well I think there are quite a number of factors that obviously will have to come into play, because at the moment my engagement is now on a consultancy basis. The position of the Secretary General substantive position obviously will need to go through a more transparent and accountable process in the sense that the governing body that will be created who've managed the organisation will have to have the final say on that.

EWART: And can you confirm the view that's been expressed by Fiji's roving ambassador, that there is increasing interest in the new Development Forum, and that more countries are likely to turn up for the next meeting than turned up for the last?

TE'O: From our current reading yes, there has been a lot of interest indicated, and that has been very much to the promotion that the Fiji government has undertaken in terms of their own bilateral consultations with potential members of the Development Forum.

EWART: The fact that the organisation is based in Fiji though, does that mean that if the elections planned for September do not succeed in the eyes of the world of returning Fiji to a state of democracy, will that impact on the new Forum and how it operates?

TE'O: I'm sorry I don't think I'll be able to respond to that.

EWART: Ok to go back to my previous point, if there are more countries showing interest in the Pacific Islands Development Forum, does that mean that those who are maybe critical some months ago are now beginning to realise that there is something in it for them, that there are real benefits to be had?

TE'O: Well I would assume so, and I think the invitation that has gone out to the small island development countries, including those that did not turn up to the meeting last year.

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