RELEASE: Statement of the Forum Chair, Cook Islands PM Mark Brown on the Transition in Leadership at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

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16 May 2024

16 May 2024

On behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, it is with great honour and deep respect that I acknowledge the service and leadership of Henry Puna in the role of Secretary General to the Pacific Islands Forum whose term draws to a conclusion on 23 May 2024. 

He has served through one of the most difficult tenures of a sitting Secretary General and has done so with integrity, humility, and warm collegiality. The Forum Family has weathered a vast number of challenges in the last 3 years, both politically and economically. But through the uncertainty of this unprecedented period, his leadership and tutelage has guided the Forum in navigating the challenges that emerged and advancing our collective priorities. 

Under his leadership, the Pacific Islands Forum has settled the first long-term political vision and strategy for the region through the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, and its related Implementation Plan. This will underpin ongoing efforts to strengthen regional coordination and coherence to deliver the Leaders priorities. 

Consistent with his passion for climate advocacy and climate action, we have progressed the establishment of the Pacific Resilience Facility and mobilised USD $116million in pledges since November 2024. 

He has demonstrated a strong commitment to elevating the voice of our Pacific Youth, especially on advocacy on inter-generational matters such as climate change. His leadership is synonymous with key political commitments on gender including the Revitalised Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration. 

Economically, his leadership has seen through the maturity and elevation of building block regional policies and decisions in the areas of e-Commerce, sustainable economic development, aid for trade, correspondent banking relationships, and the establishment of the Pacific Trade and Invest Independent (PTI) Advisory Board to oversee the operations of the regional Trade and Investment of the PTI Network.

In terms of strategic engagement, under his leadership we have seen stepped up engagement to bridge relations between multilateral agencies, in particular the United Nations, and regional agencies in the Pacific region at the highest level. He has guided the Pacific Islands Forum in the management of increasing external interest and influence in the region, and we have seen greater engagement with Partners and the Pacific Islands Forum on the basis of the Blue Pacific Principles for Engagement and Dialogue. We have forged new relations with like-minded regional organisations including the Association of South-East Asian Nations and the Caribbean Community. 

Recognising the need to strengthen the services of the Secretariat, under his leadership a change management process has been instituted to ensure that we have a fit-for-purpose organisation.

But most importantly for the Pacific Islands Forum, Secretary General Puna’s role in ensuring the ongoing solidarity of the Forum Family is one that cannot be overlooked. He has demonstrated time and again a quiet resolve, discernment, and statesmanship, especially in supporting our political efforts to ensure our collective solidarity as a Forum Family, and it is something that we, as the Pacific Islands Forum, will remain grateful to Secretary General Puna for. 

Personally, and as a Cook Islander, it has been a distinct honour and privilege to have worked alongside SG Puna during my tenure as Forum Chair. He is a true son of the Cook Islands and as a nation, we have been privileged to have had the honour and the support of the Forum to hold the Office of the Secretary General.  

I look forward to welcoming the new Secretary General, Mr Baron Divavesi Waqa in the coming month.