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Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill and PIF host Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa share a joke in Apia. Image: PNGFacts

OPINION: By Mata’afa Keni Lesa in Apia

There is no doubt about it. The leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in Apia this week have had their work cut out. Or so we hope.

As they do at these meetings, it has everything to do with trying to save our people and our part of the planet from eternal damnation.

Time will fly and with climate change taking most of the focus, this meeting is as good as finished already with the communiqué probably being written as we speak.

Keep in mind that climate change is not an issue that can be fixed overnight, you know. Truth be told, regardless of how many accords, frameworks and promises our leaders make, the fact is our islands are sinking and there is little we can do about it.

That shouldn’t stop us from pretending we are doing something about it.

And when you have a well-travelled group of officials who claim to be doing it for the sake of those poor folks in the village, we can at least rest well knowing they will have a jolly good time doing well … who knows.


Of course, there is a lot of noise being made about the issues.

Pretend to look busy
That’s about the best part of gatherings such as the one we are having in Apia this week. We can come together, wear our finest clothes, move from one meeting to the next and pretend to look busy.

But what does that mean for the person who is struggling to make ends meet in the village?

Does it change the prospects for the subsistence farmer who is toiling day and night to make ten tala to feed his family of 12?

Does it really empower the average woman who has to overcome so much to look after herself and family?

Let’s not forget, someone is picking up the bill for all this. What about taxpayers who are forking out for the bill, what do they get in return?

And how do we measure the return on investment?

Questions for a simple reason
We ask these questions for a very simple reason.

At the beginning of this meeting, the Secretary-General Dame Meg Taylor made the point that “Pacific people must be the recipients of the common good delivered by the policies and initiatives” discussed at such meetings.

She couldn’t have said it better.

But lets pause here for a second.

How many Forum meetings have we had now and where exactly are we today?

Looking at some of the recent developments, has the Forum become a stronger regional body to represent the voices of the Pacific? What are we to make of the emergence and strengthening of sub groups like the Polynesian Leaders Group and others? Is it possible that the emergence of these groups could spell the beginning of the end for the Forum?

Nobody wants to be the person asking these questions. But if we are serious, they have got to be asked and our leaders must respond.

Fancy closing ceremony
The fact is before you know it, this meeting will wrap up with a fancy closing ceremony and dinner at an exotic five star place where delegates and leaders will have fine wine and be merry.

That’s okay. They’ve got to have a bit of fun too, don’t you think?

You see, today in those meetings, we guarantee you that they will already be preparing for the next meeting. It’s just the way these things work. And it’s not confined to the Pacific.

The talkfests have become a way of life and you really have to wonder when it will end. If saving the planet is the goal, can you imagine the amount of carbon footprint these guys are burning in the process?

But then who cares?

The point is that somewhere somehow somebody is going to have to justify the need for one meeting after another meeting to prepare for another meeting to analyse the last meeting.

Please don’t get me wrong; we support the cause and we should never deride the value of talking about these issues. Talking about them is a lot better than not acknowledging them at all.

A line should be drawn
But we should also be mindful that a line should be drawn where talking stops and actions begin.

From our standpoint, actions are lacking. And when it comes to the Pacific islands, the reality is that a lot of so-called problems discussed during these meetings are deteriorating while our leaders are still talking.

You can pick any one of them issues whether it’s health, education, environment, governance, justice, gender and you will find that progress has been very slow, if any at all, and yet the poor taxpayers are still forking out for those beers and fine meals dished out in the name of officialdom and the pursuit for progress.

Let’s make the Apia experience a meaningful one, shall we? And tell me please that there is method in thy madness with all these meetings. Have productive Thursday Samoa, God bless!

Mata’afa Keni Lesa is editor of the Samoa Observer. This editorial coinciding with the 48th Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting has been republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.