Speech | 02 Mar, 2024

Remarks by IUCN Oceania Regional Director for Welcome Reception - 23 February 2024

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Photo: RD Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago with former Regional Directors Taholo Kami (L) and Mason Smith (R)

Fai mai a masi’i Tupu ma Tamali’i o Samoa i luga o Tiaseu, ona fa’apea lea o upu a faleupolu se ua liligo le fogatia, ua mamalu le tua’au ma le fuemalu, ma ua paū le tuāvao! Aisea? Leaga e faigata o lea ua tagata loaloa le vao; ua nofoia āu oloolo, aua o lea ua potopoto le pa’ia maualuga o le aso ma le taeao na liugalua.

Tulouna la paia maualuga o lenei aso i ona tulaga fa’alupea

Tulouna eleele sa o Suvavou ma tapua fanua o Fiti nei

Tulouna le paia lasilasi ua aofia, i le afio o le Afioga i le Minista Lagolago, o le Ofisa o le Palemia, afifio fa’aao o Malo o le Pasefika ma atunu’u e mamao mo Fiti, afifio taiulu ma sui o Ofisa o le Itulagi o le Pasefika faapea faalapotopotoga tumaoti.

E faigata se fa’atala’u’ula atu aua se fa’aaloalo maualuga a le Ofisa nei mo le auauna ma lona vala’auina, a o ai ea le tagata ua outou manatu mai i ai!

Tulou, tulouna ia, tulouna lava!

The Assistant Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Office of the Prime Minister, of the Government of the Republic of Fiji, Honourable Sakiusa Tubuna

Your Excellencies the High Commissioners, Ambassadors and Heads of Missions

Heads and Representatives of Regional and International Organisations

Members of the Diplomatic corps

Permanent Secretaries and representatives of Government Ministries

Can I acknowledge the presence of the former Regional Director of IUCN Oceania

Colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen

ALL PROTOCOLS OBSERVED!

It is my privilege to welcome all of you to our very humble abode here on Ma’afu Street, and as I look around, the wisdom of my Samoan ancestors come to mind – E le o le fale, a o le anofale… Our anofale which refers to the people, our relationships, the practice of our values, our cultural identity and who we are, is of more importance than where we live, our house and the physical structures we call our homes… and certainly your presence and your company holds more value and significance than our humble abode… Thank you all so very much for accepting our invitation to be here!

I therefore stand before all of you today with a humble heart full of gratitude, knowing that I am home and I am with family and friends.

It is indeed a great honour and privilege to be amongst esteemed colleagues and partners and to be given the opportunity to be part of this great organisation where I can continue to tautua and to be of service to our Pacific communities and the people of Oceania.

The work of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – IUCN, as one of the oldest and largest global environmental organisations, provides a resource that our people of Oceania can access to advance our efforts on the conservation of nature. Since 2007, the IUCN Oceania Regional Office, established under the leadership of Mr Taholo Kami, has provided a platform for our members in Oceania to better engage with IUCN to progress our goals and aspirations for conservation, and today, much work remains, and our journey on our va’a must continue.

As a global leader for the conservation of nature we accept that we cannot do this work on our own, we acknowledge our collective strengths as a community, we recognise your expertise as our respective partners and stakeholders, and we embrace our relationships, premised on our Pacific values of love, loloma, alofa, aroha; respect, vaka rokoroko, tauhi va, va tausi and va nonofo, our values of manaakitanga, stewards and guardians of our environment and our ocean; our values of tautua, service to our people, and our value of reciprocity and/or fetausia’i. As I take on this new role, I draw strength from these values to guard and inform our engagements with our members, and with our partners, to enhance our collaboration, not just as a matter of courtesy, but as part of an entrenched culture and ways of working that truly represents our Pacific ways of knowing, Pacific ways of thinking and Pacific ways of being, as we respond to the needs of our members and the people of Oceania that we continue to serve.

Colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen, on the occasion of welcoming this humble regional public servant to your midst, I am reminded of a famous reference that we can all relate to, and that is – “In the Pacific it’s not what you know, but it’s who you know”.

This common reference speaks to the value of our relationships and connections across our Ocean continent. It reflects the fact that we are all connected through our ocean, our history, through our genealogical ties and lineage, and therefore the depth of those relationships and connections, grounded in our relational identity, provides us with the validation that indeed the spaces between us as people, the spaces between our islands separated by the ocean, are indeed spaces which relate, and not spaces that separate; and this is the context within which we operate and deliver.

Our goal as IUCN Oceania over the next 12 months, is to explore the strategic repositioning of our services to Oceania through transforming institutional effectiveness, and maximising value and impact through our relationships and partnerships with all of you;  acknowledging the fact that, at least in my own humble view, that even with all of our efforts put together today, tomorrow, and beyond, we will not be able to solve all of the conservation and sustainable development challenges faced by Oceania! This means, the issues of perceived duplication and perceived competition are simply just – that - perceptions. As regional public servants, I would like to think that these are things of the past, because our experiences and years of learning, have provided us with the lessons and tools to overcome these issues, and as we say in Samoa – e fofo alamea –according to Samoan fishermen, if you get stung by the spines of the alamea or the crown of thorns starfish, you have to turn the starfish over and have the spongy-like feet touch the area where you’ve been stung, and there it will suck the poison and provide healing immediately. The application in this context of which is solutions indeed come from within, and as a collective, we capitalise on our experiences and learnings, on our relationships and connections to guard our va’a and inform how we deliver services for our people in Oceania.  

To this end, we look to the leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the work on the Review of the Regional Architecture and the implementation of the 2050 Strategy, as platforms upon which we can strengthen our re-positioning and seek wisdom and guidance on how we can continue to add value to our collective work in Oceania.  

We acknowledge the ongoing partnership of the Government of the Republic of Fiji in hosting our office, and enabling the support required to deliver our mandate as an international organisation, with a membership comprising of both government and non-government entities. We salute the leadership and foresight of yourselves our members, our partners and our stakeholders, noting the progress made to date on the conservation of nature, and we look forward to celebrating every success with all of you, as our journey continues.

In closing, I acknowledge the presence of our esteemed guest, the Assistant Minister, Honorable Sakiusa Tubuna, we thank you for gracing us with your presence. I also convey my sincerest appreciation to your excellencies, partners, colleagues and friends for joining us this afternoon. I thank my team and staff for their efforts in pulling this event together, I also acknowledge the former Regional Directors of IUCN Oceania Mr Taholo Kami and Mr Mason Smith for leading the way and for creating a path that as a team, we shall continue to navigate from today and into the future. And lastly, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the tapua’iga and/or prayerful support of my family, my village and my nation, praying for every success from a far; and with those words, I return all glory to God for all that I am and for all that we are today!  

Thank you all for your kind attention. Vinaka Vaka Levu, Soifua ma ia Manuia!