At the center of the recent crisis in Pacific regionalism has been a high-stakes tussle over the appointment of the next Pacific Islands Forum secretary-general. As is the case with the United Nations secretary-general, the role of the Forum secretary-general has expanded significantly beyond the narrow managerial role prescribed in the founding agreement – that of a chief public servant in charge of the secretariat, and secretary to the leaders’ meeting – to a more proactive, representational, and diplomatic, role in advocating for Pacific island country interests in a rapidly changing global context.
Dame Meg Taylor has taken this broader interpretation of the role to a new and impressive level. Her very significant contribution over the past six years is however in danger of being overshadowed by the controversy over the appointment of her successor. The decision of the Micronesian states to give notice of their intention to leave the Forum should not be seen, however, as affecting Dame Meg’s important legacy. The selection of the secretary-general and the criteria on which it is based is a matter for the Pacific leaders, not the secretary-general.
Dame Meg came to the position in late 2014 with an impressive record of international and national public service as the Papua New Guinea ambassador to Washington and as a vice president at the World Bank Group, among other achievements. After two three-year terms, she finishes in the role this month.
She took up the role at a particularly challenging time for the organization, and for the region. The Forum’s political legitimacy was in question. The guiding strategy of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Plan, had failed to capture the imagination of Pacific leaders and the broader Pacific society. It had not resulted in any tangible benefits.