Submitted by admin on Thu, 06/13/2013 - 20:45
June 13, 2013 by admin
Reverend Nu'uausala Siutaia,
Director-General of SPREP,
Chief Executive Officer, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Staff of SPREP, Ladies & Gentlemen

VitoluiI thank the Director-General for inviting me to this momentous occasion and for the privilege to make some remarks.

As we are well behind in our programme, I'll confine my very brief remarks to a personal recollection and experience of the formative years of SPREP, particularly since its migration to Samoa. And I'll conclude with my own personal take of SPREP and its work and how I wish it to advance into the next 20 years.

In the latter half of the 1980s when SPREP's regional work programme and funding were expanding quickly with a corresponding increase in its staff establishment to implement the increased workload and demand from Island countries for assistance, SPC could not physically accommodate SPREP at its old WWII Headquarters or contain the high costs of operating out of Noumea. Leaders of the Region had also, at that time, come to a consensus that it was time for SPREP and the Environment to be prioritised, specialised and independent.

During this period, I was a staff member of Samoa's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and generally the country's representative to regional organisations including the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Forum Secretariat.

I remember well, some time either in 1990 or at the end of the 1980s, a conversation with Vili Fuavao, then Head of SPREP, in the margins of one of the SPREP Intergovernmental Meetings (as the SPREP Meeting was called in those days) in Noumea, where he asked me whether Samoa would be interested in hosting SPREP and if so to make an offer. I recall responding to the effect that I did not think it would be a problem convincing our leaders to host and make an offer. And it wasn't as SPREP's presence here attests.

Samoa has been fortunate to get SPREP's hand as it was not the only suitor competing for SPREP's company. But I recall Samoa was the first to propose and made the most attractive offer. And I believe, reciprocally, Samoa had also been a good partner and host to SPREP. While I'm very sincere in saying this, I confess that I'm not a disinterested party because of my nationality and personal involvement. But I'm sure you all have your own personal assessment and evaluation of Samoa as host. Samoa however should not rest on its laurels, because if SPREP is to continue to operate effectively and optimally, the host has to do all that is possible to facilitate the organisation's work.

After moving to Apia in early 1992 and setting up operations at Vaitele while a more suitable and permanent home was being sought, an Interim Order was promulgated under the aegis of SPC to accord SPREP and its staff the requisite privileges and immunities to allow them to function effectively and independently in Samoa. At the same time, regional efforts to conclude a SPREP Treaty that would confer SPREP sovereignty, in its own right, were redoubled, concluding with the signing of that Treaty a kilometre or so down the hill at Papauta on 16 June 1993 - the event we commemorate today.

It took a while of course for the Treaty to enter into force but having dispensed with the Treaty, Samoa proceeded, in consultation with SPREP, to identify a suitable site for its permanent Headquarters and drafted a Headquarters Agreement as well as a Lease Agreement for the property. Both these agreements between Samoa and SPREP were concluded and signed about three years later in April 1996.

As I recalled and reflected on these developments and events, what jumped out at me, so to speak, was that many of the people and individuals involved in these developments are still here, either in SPREP or in Apia serving the Pacific Islands' Region or the Environment.

Vili Fuavao directed SPREP during the Treaty process and negotiated and signed the Headquarters and Lease Agreements for SPREP. He remained in Apia to serve the Region through FAO. Kosimiki Latu drafted the bulk, if not the entirety, of these two agreements as Principal State Solicitor of the Attorney General's Office; and if you read the Final Act of the SPREP Treaty, his name should appear under the Samoan delegation. He is here today as your MC and Deputy Director-General. David Sheppard was one of the original SPREP migration team from Noumea to establish operations in Apia. He presides today at this ceremony as SPREP's Director-General. Then, there is Iosefatu Reti, better known affectionately and simply as Joe Reti to the Environment fraternity here in the region and internationally. He was the first Pacific Island Co-ordinator of SPREP in the mid-1980s and instrumental in establishing SPREP's environmental credentials in its first decade here in Apia. He has just spoken to you and resides and operates out of Apia, still consulting in environmental issues.

The above can also be observed with support and professional staff who have joined since February 1992. Many have continued to serve or have returned to enhance SPREP's mission.

What conclusions could we draw from this? I suspect different people would draw different conclusions depending on their perspective; and they could be conflicting. For me, the impression is that these people's service to SPREP, were not "flash-in-the-pan" type – where you join, make a contribution or impression, make some money, enhance the CV and move on – as is normal and expected. And there's nothing wrong or bad about this. But these individuals, it seems to me, not only pass through the normal employment experience I've just described, but in addition, are committed to the environment and the region for the long term. And I for one would like to acknowledge this uncommon commitment.

After reflecting on these events and developments, I feel assured and comfortable that SPREP has, not only, come a long way over the past 20 years but environmental protection is in good hands. SPREP's future and prospects for the next 20 years also look bright and promising. This is not to say that SPREP's achievements had been easy or without challenges and difficulties or that it would be plain sailing into the future. SPREP has had its fair share of trouble, the most recent and perhaps most serious, had come from the RIF exercise – the Regional Institutional Framework review - of the past four or five years. While there was no danger at all to SPREP existence from the RIF, the uncertainty it caused staff and the drain it put on scarce SPREP human and financial resources, affected it. My take is that SPREP got through this difficult exercise, not only, through the strong political support of Samoa and the Leaders of the region, but also because it resisted the temptation and natural human and organisational urge to acquire new territory and mandates and the trappings that often accompany these, more often than not, at the expense of effective core services to members. I think SPREP should heed this lesson. The Region's leaders established SPREP – to provide dedicated and specialised services to the island countries on environmental protection.

In my view, if SPREP continues to keep to its core focus where it has the comparative and competitive advantage, knowledge and expertise, it and the Pacific island members can look forward to another 20 years of success and a better regional environment.

Let me conclude by wishing the Director-General and staff a Happy 20th Anniversary and continuing success into the next 20 years and more.

Soifua ma ia manuia.

F. Vitolio Lui - SPREP Deputy-Director, 2002-2008