The Pacific Plan Review consulted Kiribati stakeholders in in early May, 2013, meeting politicians, senior government officials, the Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Kiribati Association of NGOs, as well as the country’s bilateral and multilateral development partners. The team was also privileged to meet Kiribati’s first president and former PIFS Secretary General, the Hon Sir Ieremia Tabai.
Once again the often parlous situation in which the smaller island states find themselves was emphasised, as was the disproportionate difficulty that the small central Pacific islands – in particular – have in connecting with the region and economic opportunity. “Can we not aspire at least to be equal members of the Pacific community?”, a senior diplomat questioned.
Kiribati has always played an active role in promoting regionalism, as it did in shaping the original vision of what turned into the Pacific Plan –including the concept of perhaps eventually sharing sovereignty on some key areas.
While in Kiribati, the Review was reminded of the significance of the Biketawa Declaration signed by Forum leaders under Kiribati’s chairmanship in 2000. This Declaration committed members to a set of regional values on rights and good governance and institutionalised, for the first time, the principles of collective action across the Forum to address regional crises and other critical issues.
However Kiribati stakeholders questioned how well served they and other smaller island states are, now, by the Pacific Plan and the institutions that surround it.