CAPTION: Right Honorable Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, delivers his remarks at the opening ceremony to mark MSG’s silver jubilee celebrations. Also in picture: (sitting): Vice-Chancellor and President of USP, Professor Rajesh Chandra and Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.
A three-day celebration to mark the 25th anniversary of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) kicked off at the University of the South Pacific’s Laucala campus in Suva on 18 March, 2013.
The Melanesian Week celebrates 25 years of Melanesian Solidarity and Growth and is a time for Melanesians to reflect on the many achievements of the MSG – an organisation born out of a desire to nurture the development of stronger cultural, political, social and economic exchange between the countries and people of Melanesia.
The MSG consists of five members Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS), a pro-independence movement from New Caledonia.
In welcoming the delegates to the opening of this momentous event, the Vice-Chancellor and President of USP, Professor Rajesh Chandra acknowledged the presence of the Chief Guest, Right Honorable Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, who is also the MSG Chairman.
The MSG, said Professor Chandra, plays a vital role in regional governance, as it represents most of the population of the region and its largest economies.
He mentioned that MSG had evolved over the years, from a small organisation based on ethnic solidarity and the rights of self-determination, to a major sub-regional agency that has a respected voice capable of engaging on a wider variety of topics in regional political and economic affairs.
“As an organisation, MSG embodies the spirit of Pacific pride and honour; it was formed as an agency specifically for Melanesians, where Melanesians take centre stage, unlike with other regional agencies in which it was felt Melanesia’s voice might be overcome by those other sub-regions,” he added.
Professor Chandra expressed his appreciation of the support extended by MSG countries to the University.
“MSG represents a large portion of USP’s constituency. Three out of five MSG members are USP member countries. Students from MSG countries accounted for 82 percent of USP’s enrolment in 2012,” he continued.
During the opening of the celebrations, the Chief Guest, Sir Michael Somare was accorded a full traditional iTaukei welcome ceremony at USP in the presence of the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, members of Fiji’s diplomatic corps, USP community and other guests. Sir Michael Somare is also the former Prime Minister of PNG.
Speaking at the opening of the silver jubilee celebrations, Sir Michael Somare said the occasion offers an opportune time to reflect on where MSG has come from as an organisation, and seek to chart the future of MSG given the experience, prevailing circumstances and Melanesian heritage.
Thanking the Government and people of Fiji, he said that, Fiji offers additional substance to MSG as a good conduit for greater cooperation and development amongst Melanesian peoples.
Sir Michael Somare considered it very relevant to speak at USP, describing the University as a bastion of intellectual exchange amongst Pacific peoples and arguably one of the best symbols of cooperation in the region.
The former PNG Prime Minister reiterated that a stronger MSG will serve as a solid building block for broader regional cooperation and integration pursued by Pacific Islands Forum under the Pacific Plan.
Commenting on the political challenges confronting Fiji, he said that political developments currently underway in Fiji require MSG’s close attention and understanding.
“But of more fundamental importance to me is the position that MSG members adopt on Fiji. The choices MSG members make on Fiji as it grapples with its complex maze of challenges strikes at the very heart of how we want to resolve problems in our region.”
With regards to membership, Sir Michael Somare, said MSG must remain open to other Melanesian peoples joining or participating provided agreed guidelines and criteria have been fulfilled. This, he stated, reflecting on the approach MSG must take in the case of West Papua intending to join MSG.
“We must allow our organisation to benefit from interactions with our other neighbouring countries that have expressed a desire for such cooperation. I understand that one or two of our brothers from the Micronesian grouping have informally expressed such an intention. Perhaps an MSG plus formula might be a way to accommodate this,” he added.
On trade and economic relations, Sir Michael Somare said, this area has blossomed within MSG members since the MSG Trade Agreement was signed. He acknowledged Fiji’s role in this area, saying, that since its admission in 1996, MSG trade and investment has exponentially grown.
“Trade and economic cooperation provides a vehicle for our countries prosperity. It provides jobs for our people, it puts food on the table for our people and it enables our governments to provide basic health services, education and infrastructure development.”
He urged that MSG now must take this cooperation to the next level and for countries like Fiji and PNG to provide the spring board for this leap forward.
While MSG has come a long way since its humble beginnings, Sir Michael Somare reminded that, “we must continuously seek to maintain MSG’s relevance as an organisation.”
He stated that MSG is bearing fruit and is confident that MSG will continue to grow from strength to strength.
“Let us turn MSG into the arch of prosperity,” he concluded.
As part of the celebrations, there are Melanesian art and cultural displays, screening of documentaries, panel discussions, debates and a Pacific International Relations Forum, as well as a Melanesian Markey Day. The celebrations will culminate in a Melanesian fashion show on the final day.
The celebrations conclude tomorrow.