EVER wondered why governments send delegations to international meetings or conferences, particularly for small island nations such as ours for whom these trips must cost a small fortune — considering our relatively minute economies?
Fiji, like most island nations, also has high commissions or embassies in foreign countries. Fiji has a permanent representative to the United Nations and there is always someone in Brussels to be close to the heart of EU trade talks — the sugar and tuna industries come to mind.
Some view and have expressed reservations for such representations, some consider them meaningless jaunts that our small island nations could do without but however one looks at it, the reality of the global system we live in today dictates the participation of our states.
Being present at these deliberations are for the most part, a state's obligation because of the international instruments it has rectified to be a viable member of the global village — some of these international (governance) frameworks require periodic reporting, for example to the international human rights body at The Hague.
A country which consistently participates in such international forums indicate its status as a significant part of the global system; to be able to report against objectives of global intentions framed in this international instruments would imply development and progress. The Pacific may not have a perfect record but it tries and most times, they make an impression at these global meetings.
The benefits to you as an individual and countries as a whole is immense. One just needs to consider how Kiribati has placed the issue of climate change and its impact on these atolls in the global consciousness, because of its decision to attend these high-level conferences and make representations on behalf of iKiribati.
The consistent representation of one's country, particularly its effective contribution at the international negotiating table translates to development approaches that are considerate of local dynamics and resources and thus sustainable, it signals "potential" in trade and investment and can mean millions of dollars' worth of emergency obstetric care equipment for island hospitals.
As individuals, ignorance of such international processes and their significance can be to our detriment for when we do not inform ourselves of these systems of global citizenry, we deprive ourselves of our own progress, and the nation is deprived of your input.
Last week, Fiji's permanent secretary to the UN Ambassador Peter Thomson was elected president of the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for the year 2014. This is a significant landmark for the people of this nation and only possible because there is precedence on Fiji's leadership at this level.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Ratu Inoke Kubuabola said of the appointment "it was a great honour for Fiji to be chosen to chair one of the most important boards of the international system". Fiji's ascension to group's presidency was on the heels of a successful chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China.
Ratu Inoke said of the appointment that the work of the Executive Board in making policy decisions and giving direction to the three agencies, UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS, was fundamental to shaping the developmental work that the UN carried out in developing countries. He said Fiji would use the knowledge it gained from chairing the G77 "into operational action for the funds and programs that the board governs".
The appointment is an incredible opportunity for the region, as it prepares to complete the work towards a post-2014 and post-2015 agendas. And regardless of your ethnicity, faith, age, gender or political affiliation, it would be prudent to follow and know these processes.
The post-2014 and post-2015 processes involve the UN and its member states to deliberate and work towards a plan regarding the latters' vision as far as development is concerned; countries would have or are in the process of assessing how they have done in providing for their people's basic human rights (to education or health for example) and then determine development priorities from here, armed with lessons learnt from these last two decades.
While both agendas are critical to addressing global challenges of poverty, education, health, etc, the UNFPA is working on the post-2014 agenda as it concerns the organisation's main framework of action, the Programme of Action (PoA) of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
The PoA contains development goals to be met within a 20-year plan; it was endorsed at the ICPD in 1994, in Cairo, Egypt. UNFPA began work on revising the PoA in 2010, considerate of progress achieved so far by member states and priorities from now on based on consultations with governments and civil society.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) decided in 2010 that the PoA be extended after its first 20 years ends this year, thus the post-2014 discussion to "ensure its follow-up in order to fully meet its goals and objectives". The UNGA resolution called on governments to recommit themselves to achieving the goals and objectives of the Program of Action, agreed on by 179 countries in Cairo in 1994.
"For the Pacific region, countries have submitted their priorities and this has been forwarded as a collective to the bigger region of Asia Pacific. Some countries requested technical assistance for their assessments and this was one way the UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office helped," UNFPA Pacific director and representative Dr Laurent Zessler said.
The post-2015 agenda is related to the Millennium Development Goals which the UNGA has also decided should continue beyond 2015.
In laying the foundation for a post-2014 agenda, the UNFPA held consultations with governments, civil society and other partners around the world. The Pacific region can celebrate successes such as the steadily increasing number of countries which now have national population policies — an indication of both the political will and leadership that recognises the need to seriously consider population dynamics in their national (development) plans.
A key player in this process is the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) which was established by the UNFPA and the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, to primarily monitor the progress of the ICPD PoA's implementation.
Among other issues, the commission would monitor population issues and trends; integrate population and development strategies; provide population assistance, upon request to member states, to countries with economies in transition and so forth. For the UNFPA and its post-2014 agenda formulation, this year will be crucial for ensuring that the needs and priorities of the people of the Pacific is reflected in the next global development agenda.
A Pacific meeting of parliamentarians in August 2013 on population and development which was also informed of the outcomes of post-2014 Pacific consultations issued the Moana Declaration which featured 18 recommendations including the creation of an enabling environment to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all people and without discrimination, the incorporation of sexual and reproductive health-related issues in development strategies, increased participation of women and young people in decision-making processes and the elimination of gender-based violence.
The Moana Declaration was then submitted at the Asia Pacific meeting bloc a month later as the region's priorities for the post-2014 agenda by a (Pacific) delegation representing Niue, Tuvalu, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Tonga, Nauru, Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Samoa and Papua New Guinea, youth and civil society. This process will continue this year.
As a region, the Pacific may not be able to meet all the goals of the ICPD PoA but as a region, it has participated in the processes leading up to the post-2014 agenda to ensure the voices of Pacific people remained on the table — this is why it's important our representatives are at that table.
"The Pacific was represented by a dynamic delegation at the Asia Pacific meet and stamped its mark as a bloc of nations that knows what its people need, that acknowledges its difficult circumstances but is determined to move forward. UNFPA Pacific will continue to assist if needed in the remaining steps," Dr Zessler said.
* Ariela Zibiah is the communications officer at UNFPA. The views expressed are not of this newspaper.