Aqorau farwells PNA - Solomon Star News

Aqorau farwells PNA

27 July 2016

Solomon Islander DR TRANSFORM AQORAU officially leaves Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) this Sunday where he was chief executive officer (CEO) for the last five years. Below was his farewell statement made at the 11th Annual PNA Ministerial meeting on Kiritimati Island, Kiribati, Tuesday this week:

IT is indeed an honour to be making this farewell statement on the occasion of the conclusion of the 11th Annual Meeting of PNA Ministers to express my gratitude for the opportunity of having served you and your organisation for the past six and half years.

I have been greatly honoured to have served you and I am immensely proud of the achievements that you have attained during that short period of time since the establishment of the PNA Office.

The PNA is now a global brand, known internationally and respected throughout the global tuna industry, which is testament to your resolve and determination.

We have been able to project the PNA to the world and demonstrate internationally that a group of Small Island Developing States can do something for themselves,without relying on donors, building a cost effective organisation witha low administrative overhead that has been able to have an impact far beyond the small size of its office.

I have always believed, as I remarked on the occasion of the opening of our humbly sized office in the Marshall Islands, where we still at times have to pour water in the toilet, and I say that not in any way to disparage our humble facilities, but with a sense of pride for what we have been able to achieve with basic facilities that all of us are all so familiar with, that the inauguration of the PNAOffice was not about the size of the Office that was being consecrated but an assertion of self-determination and self-reliance.

DrNeemiaUeentabo, a prominent Kiribati academic and keen observer of Pacific Islands politics said that the Ministerial decision to establish the PNAO in October 2009 was as transformative as it was significant to the regional architecture of the Pacific Islands because of the shift of the geopolitics of Pacific fisheries from the South to the Northern Micronesian region and also the fact thatmajor donors would no longer have a direct role in the way the tropical tunas were going to be managed.

The significance of our meeting here in Kiribati is not lost on me.

It is symbolic that I was chosen to take on the task of establishing our organisation in Kiribati and end my term of Office,in my final meeting as I prepare to relinquish my responsibilities as CEO,also here in Kiribati.

It will be of some interest to you that I did not apply, nor had I aspired to be in charge of this august organisation that had no incomebut was charged by the Committee on the Establishment of the PNA Secretariat to raise its own revenue without any support from Parties!

Why on Earth would anyone in his or her right mind choose to leave the comfort of a secure job to join an organisation that had nothing, except the aspirations, dreams and visions of a group of technocrats who wanted to embark on a commercial direction; on a path least travelled; on a road that no one had trod.

It was against this backdrop that I was chosen by PNA Ministers in October 2009 to take on the role of interim Director of the PNA Office, no doubt orchestrated behind the scenes by my good friend Glen Joseph; but I humbly acceptedand took on the challenge because I knew that it was breaking new grounds; it was embarking on something that had never been done before, it was visionary, and above all it was doing something for ourselves; something meaningful for our peoples; something innovative.

I had no choice in the decision of the Ministers as they decreed that I be appointed as interim Director, together with my colleagues Anton Jimwereiy of Nauru who had been PNA Coordinator to continue in that role in the PNAO, and Maurice Brownjohn, as interim Commercial Manager.

We had no contracts, no financial regulations, no staff regulations, no strategic plan, no business plan and no source of revenue to do the things we said we wanted to do.

The Committee on the Establishment of the PNAO had a long wish list of things that it wanted this new body that had no source of funds to underwrite them.

A discussion paper by Kiribati helped inform the debate focussing the conversation on priority areas such as:Inter-Party trading of Vessel Day Scheme days, Pooling/selling of VDS days,the establishment of the a PNA Vessel Register, crewing, having an integrated Observer and Placement Agency, Fishing joint venture, processing Joint Venture (PMIZ), and with proposals for Fishmeal/catch retention.

There was no limit to our imagination for the things we wanted to do, but there was no revenue stream through which these things could be done.

Nonetheless, we were armed with a strong sense of purpose, a strong desire that the VDS in particular had to be run on a commercial basis, that the successful operation of the VDS must be a cornerstone of PNA collaboration and that this requirestrading of days between Parties in response to variations in demand for access to Party zones.

Up until that time, when the decision to have a separate Secretariat was being mooted, inter-Party trading had not worked, in part because of the lack of institutionalarrangements and support capacity.

The Parties recognized that additional benefits could likely be derived from the VDS ifthere were arrangements for pooling of days to be made available to potential buyers.

The Parties knew that such arrangements would allow for the provision of more flexible more valuable access and enablethem to create a more competitive market for selling access.

While various proposals had been developed before within the FFA Secretariat, there was a feeling that the best people to develop the proposals were the Parties themselves.

Exacerbating these internal challenges were the external relationship challenges that the idea of establishing a separate PNA Secretariat posed, not from within the PNA, but from outside.

Some of our own members were somewhat apprehensive about the moves, conscious of duplicating the functions of existing organizations, and fearful of the lack of financial support stream for the PNA Office.

We were labeled an illegal organization by some elements in the World Bank; and the initiative to embark on a more independent posture were said to be in violation of international law and violation of the Vava’u Declaration on regional fisheries and various Forum Communiqués that advocated regional solidarity.

No stones were left unturned to try and stop the Parties from establishing the PNA Office.

My own personal and professional involvement in the establishment of the PNA Office could not have been more controversial as I was at the time the Deputy Director-General of the FFA.

Not only was I responsible for the technical work programme of the FFA, I was responsible for writing the paper that PNA Ministers considered in Busan in December 2008 to set the plan in motion for the establishment of the PNA Office, and was heavily involved in the drafting of the subsequent reports of the Committee that was established to oversee the establishment of the Office under the capable leadership of Justin Ilakini of Papua New Guinea, including drafting the Bikenibeu Declaration.

I was viewed as somewhat of a traitor in some quarters, but as an International Lawyer and a scholar of international fisheries law, I hadstudied the legal and political instruments surrounding the fisheries co-operative arrangements in the region including actually having led the development of some of these arrangements.

I was therefore fully aware of the legal restraints and opportunities that were available to the Parties and therefore did not see anything illegal, threatening nor untoward about what the PNA wanted to do, because for all intent and purposes, the PNA was already an independent body and did not owe anyone except themselves the decision if they wanted to have their own secretariat.

Thus, I did not see any problem at all in the PNA establishing their own secretariat and pursuing their vision to securing greater controls and strengthening their rights in the fisheries as these are fundamentally core objectives that the founders of this august body have had since 1981.

The choice of words and the language that have been used to describe the PNA and other noble initiatives that have been taken in recent years and the way the PNA has been framed in the parlance used by other organizations is reflective of the position with which we are viewed in the regional architecture, as somehow being subservient, small and subjugate to larger organizations.

It is time that that the term “subregional” groups be done away with because there is no such thing as a subegional or regional group; a grouping of countries coming together to form their own region to serve their own purpose should not be characterized by the size of the group, but by the purpose of their co-operative arrangement and the objectives which they wish to pursue.

It is therefore somewhat paradoxical that the PNA plus Tokelau who are managers and rights holders in the management through the Vessel Day Scheme of the largest tuna fisheries and the most complex tuna fisheries management is described as a “subregional group”.

Our fisheries and the governing arrangements that manage them can never be subjugated to a subservient role as a “subregional group” but we are seeing that kind of language being used to frame discussions on the regional fisheries architecture as if there is somehow some hierarchical structure which places the PNA plus Tokelau at the lower pecking order of this structure.

I have belaboured on this point because I believe that it is only appropriate that due respect is given as is appropriate to the PNA plus Tokelau as right holders in the VDS which as we know is the largest and most complex fisheries management arrangement in the world.

I stand down as CEO of the PNA at the end of the Month proud but humbled by your achievements and what you have attained to bring about the huge revenue streams and economic benefits that your Governments now enjoy.

I am especially proud of your achievements which are well documented and which are now the subject of commentaries by various international financial institutions.

There is no secret formulato the success of the PNA plus Tokelau.

People have often wondered how we have been able to do what we have with limited resources, especially when what you have achieved actually defies some of the economic advice that we had seen from various experts and financial institutions.

The secret lies in the close friendships and relationships that exist amongst your officials.

These are not just friendships borne out of a common bond by the work we do, but transcend to our families and siblings in some cases.

These friendships have allowed us to work together even where we disagree with each other; we still value each other’s company and still share a meal and drink at the end of the day.

Rögnvaldur Hannesson, a Norwegian Fisheries wrote in his book on “The Privatization of the Oceans”:

that establishing property rights where there was none before involves legislation and case law. Ideology and the general outlook among judges and legislators and among the general public affect the evolution of legislation and court verdicts. This process is complex and can change direction more than once under contradictory influences. The development of economic institutions is, therefore, an evolutionary process. The final outcome, if there can be such a thing, seldom corresponds to an ideal blueprint for solving specific problems; there are too many competing interests affecting the process for that to happen, too many designers acting independently. But what survives is what works, what serves a purpose!

We have succeeded because we are happy to make what we have work, even if we are not always happy with where we are and what we have been allocated.

Fisheries management is an evolutionary process and despite our competing interests and sometimes conflicting interests, the framework that we have allows us to discuss those differences and find solutions to issues that we don’t necessarily agree with.

This is the strength of our experience and the answer to the question posed by the question of interest to development economists as to why it is it, that when a Small Group of Island countries decided to come together, they succeeded in far larger measure than when they were supported by donors and donor dependent organizations.

As I close the door on my service to you as CEO, let me seek your gracious forgiveness if during my term I have somehow offended you by my actions or by words that I may have uttered.

I know that you may not always have agreed with the way that I have approached our work, but I sincerely hope that you will look beyond all of those to see the heights of where your organization is now placed to forgive me for my shortcomings.

Let me thank our hosts, the Government and people of the Marshall Islands who in my humble estimation are amongst the most gentle and calm people in the Pacific.

They are gracious in spirit and kind in action. There is a special magic that draws me to the tranquility and peacefulness of the Marshall Islands and every morning when I am there, as I step out of my flat and feel the ocean breeze blowing against my face, I always say to myself, how lucky I have been to have been given the opportunity to live amongst such beauty and tranquility and welcoming people.

I sincerely believe that part of our success is attributed to the way in which we have been able to immerse ourselves to be an integral part of the community; to be a Rimajel, and for that I wish to say komoltatato the people and Government of the Marshall Islands.

I wish to thank everyone who have been involved with our work in the past six and half years.

I want to thank those who have passed – the late Bernard Thoulag of FSM, late SeveLausaveve of Tuvalu, and late Nannette Dilly Malsol of Palau.

I also want to thank those who served the PNA for many years and now work in different areas like Patrick Mackenzie former Executive Director of NORMA, Sylvester Pokajam of Papua New Guinea, Sylvester Diake of Solomon Islands,KintobaTearo and BeeroTioti of Kiribati and KakeeKaituu of Tuvalu.

There is a time and space for everything and it was the confluence of events and personalities that brought about the creation of the Office.

Individuals like Sylvester Pokajam of Papua New Guinea were extremely generous in ensuring that funds were made available to support the Committee on the Establishment of PNA Secretariat and support the furnishing of the Office.

My good friend Glen Joseph of the Marshall Islands was the visionary and driver behind establishing the VDS to be run commercially ensured that we had everything available to start working in the Marshall Islands including supporting the rental of our Office premises for a year, availing the services of the MIMRA accountant to support us for a year before we recruited a Corporate Services Manager.

There were other personalities too who had such a huge influence in shaping the evolution of the PNA and it would be remiss of me not to mention a few former Ministers whose contribution were critical to the establishment of the Office because without their political support and vision we would not be here today.

They were Timeon Taberranang of Kiribati who was the Chair of the PNA at that time and who obviously came under a bit of pressure from other quarters not to proceed with establishing a separate secretariat for the PNA; the others were Matt Zachras of the Marshall Islands; Roland Kun of Nauru; Ben Semri of Papua New Guinea; Harry Fritz of Palau; Nolen Leni of Solomon Islands and late TavauTeii of Tuvalu.

Nolen Leni of Solomon Islands had the unique honour of attending the opening of the PNA Office in April 2010 as a Minister and left as an ordinary Member of Parliament having been sacked as Minister while he was in the Marshall Islands!

Such are the vagaries and uncertainty of our politics!

It would also be remiss of me not to acknowledge the support we have had from our technical and policy Secretariats of organizations which you are also members of who have supported us along this road.

These are the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

We have worked very closely with the Pacific Community in the technical development of Limit and Target Reference Points and worked through the FFA to get these adopted by wider WCPFC membership.

We worked closely with the SPC on the technical components of the development of the MSC certification for FAD free skipjack and yellowfin and continue to collaborate closely with them on the ongoing work now on Harvest Control Rules (HCR), development of a PNA bioeconomic model and recertification of the MSC certification for our FAD free skipjack and yellowfin tuna.

We worked closely with the FFA on the review of the VDS for which they provided funding for the Consultants to review the VDS.

In bringing to close the door of my role as CEO of the PNA Office, I would like to make some comments on what I see as the strategic environment for these organizations and where they might end up in the future.

In that regard, I have often heard the suggestions about duplication and it is important that I comment on this so as to clear any obfuscation surround the different roles that our organizations play.

It is instructive to note that we don’t have one, but two former Deputy Director’s of the FFA working for the PNA Office.

Not only that but we were also previously Legal Counsel and Senior Economist at the FFA.

It is clear that the geopolitical and economic thrust of the tropical tuna fisheries is centered with the PNA and located more within the central and northern Pacific.

The VDS is driving the way the tropical tuna fisheries is being managed.

As Tom McClurg said in the Harvest Study on Catch versus Effort:

 the VDS “is not a single measure effort control fisheries management regime and theoretical or empirical arguments based on the expected or observed performance of such regimes elsewhere in the world are of no relevance to the VDS. Rather, the VDS is a sophisticated, two tier rights based fisheries management regime that replicates many of the incentives embodied in the New Zealand QMS that make the QMS one of the leading fisheries management regimes in the world.

The development of information management systems to support the fisheries must therefore be “fit for purpose” and must be owned by the right holders in the VDS.

There is of course some duplication and replication in the development of other systems which are unnecessary as they are not necessarily “fit for purpose” and not entrenched and owned by the rights holders in the fisheries.

This is why the proposal to explore the development of a PNAFishServeto corporatize the PNA fisheries information management systems under an entity owned by the Parties with the intellectual property rights owned by the Parties is the right way to go.

The recent World Bank study on Pacific Possible and the fisheries chapter in particular perhaps provides the best analytical snapshot of the likely shape of the future of the regional configuration of our fisheries organisations.

The PNA will be responsible for the management, as they already are now of the tropical tuna, while the southern albacore tuna will be managed by a management body coagulated around the countries with a stake in that fishery from within the Pacific Islands, with a possible shift of the FFA to monitoring, compliance and surveillance.

 Regional trade and marketing issues will come under the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat while the Secretariat to the Pacific Community will retain its core technical support function and scientific services.

There is no need to be threatened by these strategic changes and directions which just represent the evolutionary process in the mutation of institutions, and certainly there is no place to be envious of each other’s accomplishments.

After all, they are not ours but belong to you, the members.

Let me acknowledge and thank the horse power behind the ideas that we have been working on these past few years.

My colleagues and friends,who have given me nothing but their best to the cause of your work and have helped to set up institutions that are now a key feature of your organisation.

I would like to mention each one of them by name; Anton Jimwereiy, Maurice Brownjohn, Herman Kisokau, Patricia Jack, Loreen Bigler, Les Clark, Dr.Sanga’a Clark, Richard Banks and Anouk Ride.

Along the way various people have also helped us; Stan Crothers, Jonathan Peacey, Tom McClurg, Mark Oates, Darren Saunders, Steve Dunn, and David Bryrom, Wez Norris, HenkBrus, Giff Johnson, Robert Matau and Melino Bain Vete.

We have had our own people help us as well; JustinoHelgen, Lilly Muller, Marcela Tarkwon, Kathy Sisior, Murin Jeremiah, PenihuloKitiseni, FeletiTulafono, Stephen Biondi and Charles Tobasala and not forgetting our PNA Observer Coordinators and the myriad of Observers across the Pacific who have enriched my experience.

It was in their cause that I went out to sea for 17 days to and nights to see how they work and live and also to see what commercial fishing is really from the deck of a purse seine vessel.

I sincerely hope I have been a good mentor and friend to you my colleagues.

You have all inspired me to dig deep to provide the support that you all deserve.

We have been supported along the way by Amanda Nickson and Dave Gersham of Pew and Alfred “Bubba” Cook of WWF who have given us unstinting support over these years and I am deeply grateful and appreciative of their help.

If there is anyone that I have omitted, it is not because I have not valued your support but because there are many of you and I want to assure you that I also treasure in large measure your contribution to the establishment of the PNA Office.

I wish to congratulate my friend, former University mate and successor Ludwig for taking over the helm of our organisation.

I have no doubt that with your experience and the high regard with which you are held by your peers, you will build on the successes and foundations of the organisation over the past 34 years and take it to a new level.

I promise you that I will help you along the way as you take on the wheels of the Office and ask of all of you to also give him the best support that you can to lift our organisations to new heights.

All journeys must come to an end and I have decided to reach the shoreline.

An important part of leadership is to know when to step down. I believe that the average length of time someone should stay as CEO is about six years.

This is more than enough time to get your thoughts straight and to put them into action.

It might not be long enough to reap the full benefit of what you have done, but cruising through a further two to three years comes at a cost – to the business, but also personally, as one could have been off doing something more productive.

For me it is 5 years, after that I feel I have reached my Peters Plateau.

This is the first time I have stayed on for more than five years in the same position albeit only having technically served one term as CEO.

Our hosts, the people and Government of Kiribati have openly welcomed us with a warmth and graciousness that only they can do best, with their singing, dancing, smile and not mention the exotic spread of seafood that they have served us every day since we arrived on these beautiful shores.

I am proud of my association with the Kiribati Islands and its people and feel privileged and lucky to have spent some time during my childhood here.

I wish to conclude by extrapolating excerpts from a Press Release that came out of American Samoa early this year which I thought was very funny but perhaps highlights the best way others have viewed me.

This was after the US vessels were suspended from fishing in the Pacific Islands region.

I quote from the media release…

In the middle of the tuna mess is a man known as Transform Aqorau that is from Marshall Islands, a freely associated state of the United States. Indirectly, the waters of Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau are still waters of the United States. The Pentagon would have to defend those waters as such.

Transform Aqorau is not thinking right

The issue at hand is over tuna fishing in the Pacific. It is hot topic. However, at stake is the economy of three free associated states, at least one territory, and several other nations. I do not see how this “pay to play” system actually benefits anyone and I would love to see the audit of how the money is actually used and how much of it goes “missing” in bank accounts in Vietnam.

According to the San Diego Tribune, we are not interested in boats that cannot pay. (Transform Aqorau)

What is mind blogging is how a man, in Marshall Islands that lives on aid from Washington, can be so arrogant. I am not sure what he is thinking and trying to get a Freely Associated States battling the Union is not good for business in Marshall Islands; I can tell that much. If the United States voided the Compact of Free Association; it would not be felt on the mainland at all.


A positive solution is critical for all in the Pacific both politically and economically. The sooner that the State Department deals with this (if Obama won’t) the better it is for everyone involved.

Yes, Transform Aqorau is not exactly thinking about the welfare of his country to say the least. Xenophobia does more damage to the Pacific Islanders than any war ever could.

It is these kinds of misguided views that make me even more determined for us to do better for ourselves.

Korapa, Fa’afetailasilasi, Kalangang, Mesulang, tagiotru, tagiotumas and komoltata Ministers.