Fiji’s candidate for the position is seasoned diplomat and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, nominated in recognition of his ability to bring strong and decisive leadership to the Forum at this time. Announcing the nomination in August, Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama highlighted the careful consideration of the complex regional environment and the need for Ratu Inoke’s strong and visionary leadership to be able to guide, advise and broker political relationships and agreements in the best interest of the Pacific people.
Establishing Regional Networks
A look into Ratu Inoke’s leadership journey reveals a great deal about the man and his commitment to the people of the region. He speaks fondly of his early years as Distribution Manager for the Bible Society in the South Pacific, where he was required to travel the length and breadth of the Pacific from Tahiti in the East to Solomon Islands in the West distributing bibles to both Catholic and Protestants churches in the 12 countries the Suva regional office was responsible for.
“I was quite young at the time and I was required to travel the length and breadth of the Pacific, visiting churches to distribute Bibles. “There was not much of a budget for accommodation when I travelled so I was often accommodated in the homes of the church leaders in the countries that I visited.
“During a visit to Port Vila in 1979, I was invited by friends, Senior Pastors of the Presbyterian Church to participate in the big march for independence through town. “Some of those Ministers like Reverend Fred Timakata and Seci Reganvanu became cabinet Ministers in the Walter Lini government at independence in 1980.”
In Nauru, Ratu Inoke was often hosted at the home of the Senior Pastor of the Nauruan Protestant Church, father of the current President of Nauru Lionel Aingimea and the friendship with the family has remained to this day.
In American Samoa, Reverend Enoka Alesana would look after his visits with this network proving valuable when Ratu Inoke had to visit his brother, Prime Minister Tofilau Eli Alesana during his term as Fiji’s Minister for Communications in 1998. “When I mentioned the relationship with Reverend Alesana he welcomed me warmly and considered my proposal.”
Ratu Inoke’s visit to Samoa as Minister for Communications followed the successful securing of the landing of the Southern Cross fibre optic cable in Fiji, following intense lobbying with the sponsors of the cable in Sydney earlier that year (1998). He had sought the support from Samoa and Tonga to share the cost of the landing of the cable and to also share the services by hooking up to Fiji.
While this did not eventuate, FINTEL, partly owned by Cable &Wireless UK with 51% owned by Fiji Government, paid for the landing of the cable that has served Fiji well over the years and facilitated excellent internet connectivity and fast data transmission.
During the 5 years as Distribution Manager with the Bible Society from 1975 -1980 and subsequently as General Secretary from 1980 – 1987, Ratu Inoke had the opportunity to attend management and leadership training provided by the United Bible Societies for all their leadership staff. The South Pacific office sat under the Asia Pacific Bible Society and training was offered every year in either Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong.
The countries covered by the Bible Society of the Pacific at the time included Tahiti, Cook islands, Niue, Tonga, Samoa, New Caledonia, `Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Nauru, Vanuatu, Solomon islands.
Ratu Inoke firmly believes that the 12 years at Bible Society and his foundational training in leadership and management has served him well over the years. “Leadership from the Bible is based on service and I have never turned down an opportunity to serve the people.”
For Ratu Inoke, leadership is also defined by building relationships that are trusted, transparent and honest.
“A lot of the relationships that I have established even during my term as Minister for Foreign Affairs negotiating Fiji’s relationship with Australia and New Zealand, after the events of 2006 has been based on honesty and my choosing to be open and upfront with my counterparts,” Ratu Inoke said
“Over time, they have appreciated the openness and it helped build confidence in us as people and a nation. “The continual contact with the Foreign Ministers of Australia and New Zealand paid off with Fiji’s quick readmission to the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth days after the 2014 elections.”
Endorsing his nomination, former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop who worked closely with Ratu Inoke during this time said in a statement:
“I have known Ratu Inoke Kubuabola since 2012 and I hold him in high regard. “He was an effective and principled Fijian Minister for Foreign Affairs. “Inoke defended and promoted the interests of Fiji and the Pacific Islands bilaterally and multilaterally, including at the United Nations and other Forums.”
A more recent example of trusted regional relationships is the role Ratu Inoke played in securing the support of the PIFs Chair, Nauruan President Baron Waqa to facilitate the historic first time visit of a UN Secretary General to the Pacific region in 2019. The visit of the UN SG Antonio Guterres was dependent upon a meeting of PIF Leaders in Suva, which needed to be facilitated by the PIFs Chair.
Accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy travelled to Nauru to seek the support of President Waqa and approached him with a traditional Fijian presentation to seek his support. President Waqa, who has paternal links to Fiji, was moved to accept the request and the presentation and subsequently called for the leaders to meet with the UN SG in Suva, Fiji
The visit became a milestone achievement towards cementing stronger diplomatic relations between the United Nations and the Pacific Region.
Endorsing Ratu Inoke’s nomination, Baron Waqa said in a statement -
“I have known and worked with Ratu Inoke for a good number of years, particularly during part of my 2 year term as President of the Republic of Nauru. “With his vast experience gained through many years as a diplomat in Fiji’s Foreign Service and a politician served as Fiji Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke is is well positioned to take the helm of the PIF Secretariat. I am confident that his wisdom and great leadership will help steer PIF well into the future with positive and balanced outcomes for all member countries.”
Ratu Inoke recognizes the complexities of regional politics and the navigation around different county and sub-regional priorities and remains committed to serving the best interests of the region and to champion the collective action needed to take the region forward beginning with the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific.
Specific areas of personal interest that he brings to the role are his commitment to place Pacific people at the heart of regional policy making, advancing regionalism that embodies the Pacific way, improving the socio-economic wellbeing and social protection of the people of the Pacific and navigating the geopolitical landscape to assert the Blue Pacific vision.
Photo file Caption: Seasoned diplomat Ratu Inoke Kubuabola is Fiji's nominee for the position of Secertary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
By Ana Laqeretabua
(Ana Laqeretabua is a Certified Trainer, Coach & Facilitator with the John Maxwell Team. She is the Principal Consultant at SALT Incorporated Limited, a Development Consultancy based in Suva)