Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Emele Duitutraga, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-government Organisations

GARRETT: The Forum Secretariat’s failure to consult the peak bodies representing grassroots organisations has been a bone of contention for the past two years – and all the more so as those organisations saw donors such as the World Bank, and the private sector win direct access to the annual Pacific leaders’ summit.

Emele Duitutraga, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association on Non-government Organisations, hopes the comments by Forum Secretary-General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, here on Pacific Beat, are a sign that things are about to change.

DUITUTURAGA: His comments are certainly welcomed. And I think there is a real desire, there is recognition of NGOs (Non Government Organisations) and CSOs (Civil Society Organistions) but I’d have to say that has been the tenure of intentions that we’ve heard of in the last year and so the challenge for both of us now is to move into some action.

GARRETT: Behind the scenes that action is already underway. Last month PIANGO held talks with the Forum Secretary-General to look at it could work work more closely with the Forum Secretariat. Ms Duituturaga says those talks are breakthrough, and, she says, she was particularly interested to hear Secretary-General Slade tell this program that he wants a partnership strategy with Civil Society.

DUITUTRAGA: I think that would be the first concrete commitment is to develop that strategy – meaning to bringing CSOs to a round-table dialogue to develop that strategy. There are some mechanisms which we consider are in place but have not been working, for example, PIANGO and five other CSOs have consultative status but we have not really been consulted so it raises questions about what does having that status mean. We’ve also applied for accreditation to a number of official meetings. I think it is now for the Forum Secretariat to identify what meetings PIANGO and other CSOs could attend.

GARRETT: The Pacific Islands’ Association of Non-government Organisations has been waiting two years for the Forum Secretariat to release funding for Civil Society provided by the European Union – and for it to find money for an unfilled CSO advisor position at its headquarters in Suva. Ms Duituturaga says these issues need action and she would like to see Civil Society offered a formal dialogue at the Pacific leaders summit.

DUITUTURAGA: It would be great to have the opportunity in a similar way that private sector leaders from PIPSO (the Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation) have been able to meet directly with the leaders. Civil Society leaders have wanted that and I am sure that would be a great step in the right direction, plus also to have agenda items that Civil Society have contributed to.

GARRETT: What difference could a better dialogue and partnership with Civil Society Organisations make for the way that regional programs run by the Forum Secretariat are implemented?

DUITUTURAGA: The Secretary-General in his statement yesterday talked about the need for ownership at the community level, the need for Pacific Plan and other issues like climate change, HIV/AIDs to be addressed at the community level. The reality, and I think he acknowledges, is that CSOs are already engaged at that level. We are at the forefront, we’re at the heart of community development, addressing climate change, addressing HIV/AIDS. I think at the regional level, that is where regional mechanisms are out of sync in recognising or bringing that in. So CSO involvement will accelerate MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). I am not convinced that MDGs will be reached by 2015 without CSOs taking the lead. The Pacific Plan will be able to be owned at the country level and implemented at the community level because we are already involved in the issues in the Pacific Plan. And so that recognition or that involvement would also mean that the Pacific Forum would be better able to track MDG implementation, Pacific Plan implementation and report that to the leaders so we would improve reporting. We would also accelerate implementation and I think the issue of ownership will be driven home through CSO efforts.

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