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New Pacific Islands Forum leader calls on island nations to strengthen bond


Baron Waqa

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

 

Taking the helm of the Pacific Islands Forum as its new secretary general, former Nauru President Baron Waqa has called on island nations to stick together toward accomplishing regional goals.


“Our PIF membership has never been as strong as it is today. But we cannot afford to become complacent. We must continue to work every day to build and strengthen our bond to ensure the achievement of our regional priorities and aspirations,” Waqa said in a speech in Suva on Thursday.


“As a region, together we will stand strong and firm, and be an exemplary model of solidarity, support and partnership,” the 65-year-old former Nauru leader said.


Waqa succeeded Henry Puna of the Cook Islands, whose three-year term ended this month.


Under his leadership, the region’s safety and security will be a priority, Waqa said. “My vision for the region is peace, harmony and unity, where we as a Blue Pacific, are truly of one heart, mind, and accord. A region that promotes stability and security, with a culture of love and respect,” he said.



Waqa’s assumption of the post satisfied last year’s consensus among Forum members who agreed to pick the next secretary general from the Micronesian cluster consisting of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati.

 

During its retreat on Feb. 13, 2023, the Micronesian Presidents Summit endorsed Nauru as the next secretary general of the Forum.


“It is my great honor to take on this mantle to serve our Blue Pacific Continent and its people,” said Waqa, whose tenure began on June 3.


Waqa was Nauru's president from 2013 to 2019, and served as the Forum's chair from 2018 to 2019.


The Forum is the region's top political and economic organization with 18 members across the Pacific Ocean. It was founded in 1971.


The regional bloc almost fell apart in 2020 when the Micronesian group resigned en masse following the Fiji faction’s move to skip over Marshall Islands Ambassador Gerald Zackios’ candidacy for secretary general. The Forum handed the seat to Puna despite an earlier agreement to rotate the leadership position among member countries, resulting in what became known as "Micronexit."


The forum eventually regrouped after last year’s Suva agreement, which ended the conflict. Besides the Nauru selection for the leadership seat, the agreement also called for establishing a sub-regional office in Kiribati and the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner to be based in Palau.


“I look forward to making my way across the region to hear directly from your governments – from your people – their short- and long-term expectations of Pacific regionalism," Waqa said.

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He vowed to continue the regional initiatives that started under Puna’s term, such as the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent; the 2050 Implementation Plan; and the Revitalized Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration.


I am committed to carrying this momentum— accelerating the implementation of our leaders’ priorities, in pursuit of our common vision,” Waqa said. “Henry leaves a strong legacy, and I am committed to carrying this momentum – accelerating the implementation of our leaders’ priorities, in pursuit of our common vision."


Waqa previously served as a teacher and an education official before he was elected to the Parliament of Nauru in 2003.


He also held leadership positions in various regional organizations such as the Alliance of Small Island States, the Pacific Small Island Developing States, and the Commonwealth Secretariat Observer Group to Papua New Guinea.




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