Submitted by admin on Thu, 06/13/2013 - 20:54
June 13, 2013 by admin
Rev. Nuuausala Siutaia
Dr. David Sheppard
Director General of SPREP,
Management and Staff of SPREP,
Members of the Diplomatic Corp,
Guests and Friends of SPREP
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Talofa and warm greetings to you all!

It is indeed a great pleasure and an honour to be part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the SPREP Treaty.

I wanted to decline the Director General's invitation to be part of this celebration as I cannot pretend to remember too much about the signing of the SPREP Treaty except that it was during a Plenipotentiary Meeting held at the Papauta's Girls School down the road from Vailima. If you are wondering why it was held there, it was because there were not many places in Apia at the time large enough to hold more than 100 people expected to come for the meeting after cyclones Ofa and Valeria in 1990 and 1991 had destroyed many buildings and homes in town.

2013 SPREP 20th Anniversary TusaniIosefaReti 1Tusani Joe Reti - former coordinator of SPREP, South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Project (SPBCP) Programme Manager.

The signing of the SPREP Treaty was a momentous occasion for the Government of Samoa that had just won the bid to have SPREP
relocated to Apia against some tough competition from a number of other Pacific Island countries. However, it wasn't such a joyous occasion for some of the SPREP staff who did not want to leave the bright lights of Noumea to relocate to Samoa. I was happy to hear that some of them were fortunate to find other jobs within the SPC; others weren't so lucky. Your Director did come to Samoa for a short while before moving on to Geneva and the IUCN. He must have missed Samoa so much that he decided to return and we have much to thank for David's decision to return to SPREP instead of other organisations who I am sure were also vying for his leadership and expertise.

I remember most if not all member countries of SPREP came prepared to sign the SPREP Treaty during the meeting at Papauta. However, as is sometimes the case with Pacific island delegations to high level meetings, some came without the proper authorisation from their governments to sign. So what did they do? Some tried to argue that it was alright for them to sign without their government's formal say so. They claimed this was the "Pacific Way". For some territories and administrations, it was an opportunity to seek some clarity from metropolitan countries with responsibilities for their international affairs on matters relating to SPREP and the environment. I remember the amount of time wasted on issues that should have been clarified before the meeting such as whether or not countries like American Samoa, Cook Islands, Guam, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Tokelau could sign on their own behalfs. Some delegations had to revert to their Capitals for instructions on these issues causing long and unnecessary delays to the completion of the business of the meeting. In any case, at the end of the day only 12 of the 18 eligible countries were able to sign the Treaty on 16 June 1993. The Cook Islands wanted to sign but was not sure if this was possible under its special relations with New Zealand. New Zealand on the other hand did not sign as it was not clear if its signature would include the Cook Islands.

As we celebrate 20 years of the SPREP Treaty today, we need to spend some time to reflect on the real reason why the granting of independence for SPREP was considered an absolute necessity for SPREP and its member countries especially at a time when more developed regions of the world were still trying to come to terms with the emerging role of environmental groups worldwide?" This wasn't an easy decision but despite some very strong concerns about funding yet another regional organisation, the Pacific island countries were unanimous that this was the right decision for SPREP. Ensuring financial sustainability for SPREP was considered a high priority but unlikely to be achieved if SPREP was to continue to rely on voluntary contributions from its members. Therefore, to enable member countries to contribute to SPREP on a more permanent basis, it was absolutely necessary to transform SPREP from a separate Programme within the SPC, to an autonomous Organisation like the SPC. And to facilitate such a transformation, the SPREP Treaty was drafted and adopted and a proposal for a name change for the Organisation was discussed. This subsequently led to the final name change from the "South Pacific Regional Environment Programme" to the "Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme" a year or two later.

I remember the days when the Noumea-based SPREP secretariat was just a handful of people with two desk top computers, one with a French keyboard for the French language secretary and the other with an English keyboard for the English language secretary. The four professional staff had no computers of their own and had to wait to do their reports after working hours when the secretaries go home and a computer is free.

I remember the impossible task of trying to make do with a US$0.5 million budget shared amongst the 21 Pacific island governments, ten regional research and training institutions and the hundreds of national and regional projects they wanted SPREP to support. I also remember the efforts that went into trying to convince some member countries that some projects needed more money than others. The smaller countries thought it their right to receive the same amount of money given to the larger countries despite the small size of their projects.

I believe SPREP has made enormous strides since it gained independence in 1993 in addressing some of the challenges I have outlined above. The secretariat staff has increased to close to a hundred (if not more) from four individuals during our time in New Caledonia. The uncertainty of financial support that gave rise to the need to look at SPREP as a separate entity from SPC is I believe a lot more manageable now, with bilateral and multilateral support from GEF, UNDP, JICA, AusAID, NZAID and others bringing much relief. I am somewhat disappointed though that the voluntary nature of country contributions remains unresolved to this day. I commend you all for your untiring efforts in making our partner organisations and governments believe in SPREP and what it stands for. SPREP is leading the way in raising regional and international awareness about climate change, biodiversity conservation, waste management, and other environmental and social issues affecting the Pacific region. It is incumbent on the SPREP Secretariat and its member countries to continue to work together to promote and support national and global actions to address these environmental issues for the benefit of our current and future generations. I wish you well in your efforts.
Dear Colleagues and Friends of SPREP, as we celebrate the SPREP Treaty Day today, please spare a thought for our Pacific Island colleagues (some have passed on) whose foresight and determination helped pave the way for this celebration today. People like Sione Tongilava of Tonga, Tony Utanga of the Cook Islands, Epeli Nakasone of Fiji, Moses Biliki of the Solomon Islands, Ilamo Ira and Guy Kula of PNG, Ernest Bani of Vanuatu, Dr. Kirifoti Eteuati of Samoa, and Leo Keke of Nauru to name a few. Let us also pay tribute to members of the secretariat whose leadership, dedication and hard work provided the foundation on which SPREP was launched as the leading environmental organisation in the region. We remember especially people like Dr. Arthur Dahl, Dr. Jeremy Carew-Reid, Dr. Vili Fuavao, Ms. Neva Wendt, Mr. Tamarii Pierre and Mr. Vito Lui, Mr. Asterio Takesy not to mention your current team of Dr. David Sheppard and Mr. Leota Kosi Latu. We owe a great deal of gratitude to their professional guidance and commitment to SPREP.

Before I sit down, let me just bring to your attention one other relevant and key milestone in the history of SPREP that is very much linked to today's celebrations. I am referring of course to the first ever Plenipotentiary Meeting held here in Apia on 12 June 1976. That meeting adopted the Apia Convention which, as you know, was the first regional agreement on the conservation of nature in the South Pacific region. Although the Convention has faced many difficulties especially in getting enough countries to accede and contribute financially to it, the Apia Convention provided the momentum for the Conference on the Human Environment held in Rarotonga in 1982. That Rarotonga Conference resolved to establish SPREP as a separate entity within the SPC.

Colleagues and friends, I have mentioned the 1976 Conference because whilst Rarotonga was the rightful birth place of SPREP, the SPREP idea was actually conceived 37 years ago here in Apia in June 1976. It took six long years of hard labour and pain before water was broken and the baby SPREP was born during the conference in 1982. From 1982 to 1992 SPREP started to crawl and walk, both as a professional technical organisation and a learning institution, and was finally granted manhood in 1993 when it no longer depended on its mother, the SPC for sustenance, but has became a mature, healthy, independent and respected leader in regional and international matters on the environment. The member countries, the collaborating partners of SPREP, the Secretariat and the Pacific community can all be very proud of their role in making SPREP the leader it is today. That is what we are celebrating today - the collective efforts of our governments and people (past and present) that made SPREP the success it is 20 years from when it was granted independence. So when you go to the SPREP bar this evening to celebrate, please offer a toast in honour of our colleagues whose vision and inspiration over the years enabled SPREP to grow out of its diapers and become the success it is today. Without these peoples beliefs and dedication to the environment cause, I very much doubt that we will have much to celebrate today.

I wish SPREP, its member countries and partners, the management team and staff all the best as you celebrate the 20th anniversary of the SPREP Treaty today.

Happy Anniversary and God Bless!


Tusani Joe Reti - former coordinator of SPREP, South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Project (SPBCP) Programme Manager.