Former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna has been appointed Pacific Islands Forum’s new Secretary-General, replacing Dame Meg Taylor who steps down after two consecutive terms in office.
Forum Secretariat confirmed the news in a statement early this morning, after the leaders’ virtual deliberation that lasted more than 10 hours, but did not disclose the voting tally. However, reports say Puna ousted Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia’s nominee Gerald Zackios nine (9) votes to eight (8).
This, after Fiji reportedly withdrew its nominee in Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, before Tonga followed suit after the first round of votes. Solomon Islands’ nominee in former Pacific Community Director-General Dr Jimmy Rodgers was the fifth candidate and his second attempt at the role.
Dame Meg Taylor had completed her six-year-term in January but stayed on because Pacific leaders were not able to appoint her successor.
Forum Chair and Prime Minister of Tuvalu Kausea Natano expressed the leaders’ gratitude to Dame Meg for her “stellar leadership and guidance” at the helm of the organisation.
In confirming Puna’s appointment, Natano said his’ comes at a critical time in the region’s history and, amongst other things, will guide the region’s COVID-19 recovery.
“The Special Leaders Retreat discussions began with reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the region. Leaders reaffirmed that the wellbeing of the Pacific people remain their highest priority and emphasised the importance of the equitable distribution of safe and effective vaccines in the region,” Natano said in the statement.
Leaders also discussed the complexities facing the Pacific region at this time in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing threat of climate change and the increasing geostrategic competition in the region.
“Leaders also acknowledged the region’s efforts to date to manage the spread of the COIVD-19 pandemic in the Pacific region, including through the establishment and operationalisation of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19. Leaders also welcomed the significant support from Australia and New Zealand to secure vaccines for all Pacific people and the multilateral and bilateral partnerships working to ensure one hundred per cent coverage. ”
Photo Source: PIFS