First I would like to give thanks and praise to our Father in heaven for this opportunity for us to meet.
Chairman and distinguished members of the General Fono of Tokelau
Ulu o Tokelau
Faipule and Pulenuku
Distinguished members of the Taupulega of Atafu
Other Grey Hairs
Officials of the Tokelau National Public Service
Members of the Atoll Public Service
I bring greetings from Hon Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs and John Allen, in his role as acting Administrator of Tokelau who could not unfortunately be with you here today at the opening of this October General Fono here on the beautiful atoll of Atafu. Both still hope to visit within the next year.
I also pass on their heartfelt condolences for the recent losses families here on Atafu have suffered. Such losses, especially of those so young and on the back of the losses earlier this year, are national tragedies that will remain in our collective memories for a long time to come.
I am pleased and honoured to be able to attend this General Fono, on the Minister’s and acting Administrator’s behalf, and on my first visit to Tokelau, as the Acting Director of the Office of the Administrator. I acknowledge that I am very new to the role and, following after David Payton, have a lot to learn about the realities of Tokelau. I am hoping you as Tokelau’s leaders will help me understand those realities.
As we meet here at this General Fono, there are a number of important issues that we will need to discuss in detail over the next few days but I thought it would be useful start my statement with a summary of the current New Zealand context.
While there are some signs of recovery, New Zealand is still in the midst of significant recession and the outlook for the global economy remains mixed. Our government deficit is $13.3 billion and set to increase. The public sector is under ongoing scrutiny and questions of efficiency, effectiveness and value for money remain high in the minds of our political leaders. Delivering better, smarter public services is one of the government key policy drivers to faster economic growth. Substantial changes to programmes and services have been necessary. Hard decisions have needed to be taken with more to come and priorities closely followed and I am sure that your families in New Zealand have kept you abreast of situation New Zealand is facing.
The past year has been a busy and a challenging one for Tokelau as well as for those in New Zealand responsible for the relationship. As you are only too aware, the New Zealand government’s scrutiny of the public sector has also been extended to Tokelau and led to this year’s interim one year funding package, the quantum of which has now been confirmed by Hon McCully and the results included the papers provided to you.
Usually New Zealand’s funding is provided over a multiyear timeframe. The changed approach this year reflects that major decisions are yet to be made on transport and renewable energy as well as on the ESA and water, sanitation and waste management reviews. As such, we have allowed ourselves time, during this interim year, to develop a further multiyear funding arrangement which best meets Tokelau’s prioritised needs over the medium term and which seeks to refresh the principles of partnership in light of the current context.
The task of providing quality services and living conditions for Tokelau’s people remains however the primary focus in the relationship based on the commitment of Tokelau and New Zealand leaders in February 2008, in the aftermath of the second self-determination referendum, that there should be “an appreciable period of time” before any further act of self-determination was undertaken by Tokelau, and that both parties in the relationship would devote their time, efforts and resources to addressing the core requirements of the atoll populations.
This commitment stands as the cornerstone of the relationship and represents the clear position of the New Zealand government. Several of the most complex issues facing us are close to being resolved but we all know that service delivery on the atolls needs even greater effort if Tokelau is to have viable communities with a good quality of life.
On the crucial issue of transport, a replacement service for the MV Tokelau has now been identified. In the lead up to this General Fono, you will have been provided with information on where that process has got to as well as the recent Request for Information results on air services. My hope is that the discussions at this General Fono will provide a clear decision on how you wish to proceed. I will be keen to carry the results back to New Zealand.
The Lady Naomi has been confirmed as fit for purpose. I am confident that the substantial upgrades proposed will address remaining concerns about safety and comfort as well as cargo requirements over the next few years. But the Lady Naomi is only a short-term solution. A priority is to work together to find an affordable long-term solution.
The improved safety and comfort provided by the Lady Naomi’s upgrade will be enhanced by improvements to the transfer of people and cargo from ship to shore. The scope of these improvements is still being developed but proposed directions have also been provided to you.
A request for information on air services has resulted in a range of options for Tokelau to consider and information on these options is also in the information provided. Our Minister is personally excited by an air service for Tokelau, which he sees as being a sensible, workable and sustainable part of Tokelau’s transport solution including to address the more effective management of medical evacuations.
Provision of better quality education and health infrastructure is also now underway. I understand that construction supplies for the Infrastructure Development Programme have just started to arrive and that construction will be completed over the next year. In the short to medium term, the quality of services will also need to be enhanced to ensure Tokelau is meeting its human development needs as outlined in its National Strategic Plan 2010-15. VSA’s education report and Tokelau’s recent population health screening have also highlighted clearly the challenges to be addressed.
Further information has also been provided to you on the outcomes of the recent Expressions of Interest process assessing the proposed shift by Tokelau from diesel-based generation of electricity to a solar powered system. Clearly the shift makes sense on many levels but the cost is a major factor that both partners need to confront realistically given EOI respondents are suggesting this could be twice that originally estimated. Hard choices will therefore need to be made if Tokelau wants to proceed including on how the TREP will be funded. Providing energy to your communities with always be costly, whether by diesel or solar.
This General Fono will confirm Tokelau’s budget for 2010/11. This is a key responsibility that lies at the heart of your role as representatives of your atolls and of Tokelau. New Zealand continues to be as generous as possible in its funding of Tokelau, and has no intention of changing this approach. However the needs of the atolls remain higher than the funding available and Tokelau’s leaders will need to make hard decisions and set priorities that may require some preferred activities to be set aside.
It is my hope that these remarks will serve to guide the work of this important meeting. I look forward to hearing and participating in your deliberations and the future directions that these hold for Tokelau. I believe this is an exciting time for Tokelau.I wish you wisdom and courage as you take your decisions in the best interest of Tokelau and all its people.