New British High Commissioner ready for the role

In a bid to expand its bilateralism around the world, the United Kingdom’s first permanent High Commission in Samoa is now open with new resident High Commissioner, David Ward, presenting his credentials to the Head of State on Tuesday.

While the new offices at the base of Cross Island Road are being built and Mr. Ward’s home is being readied, work will not officially begin until 2020. 

But the Newcastle diplomat is ready to hit the ground running, he said.

He is wrapping up a three year term as the High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Nauru, where he said he learned just how diverse the Pacific region truly is.

“Although the Pacific Island states do have some certain interests in common like management of the ocean, climate change, and some approaches to development, actually the historical and geographical circumstances are different for each of them,” said Mr. Ward.

“It’s important to get to know each nation individually and understand in depth what the issues are in each place and respond appropriately.”

He said one of his biggest priorities will be working with Samoa in the lead up to the 26th Conference of the Parties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It will be hosted a year from now in Glasgow, Scotland after this month’s session in Chile. 

Mr. Ward said Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes climate change negotiations are one of the most important areas for cooperation between the United Kingdom and Pacific Island countries.

“All those countries that have a high ambition for action on climate change need to work together, none of us can do it alone. 

“We need partners to ensure the world takes a united approach to reducing carbon emissions or we are not going to succeed.”

The exact shape of the United Kingdom’s presence in Samoa, especially when it comes to development work is yet to fully form, Mr. Ward said.

Until at least 2023, the U.K is still committed to the development fund of the European Union, a budget that is separate to the overall E.U which the nation is attempting to leave.

When the current European Development Fund (E.D.F.) cycle is over, the U.K leadership will be looking closer at how to spend its development money.

“We also spend a lot in the Pacific through other multilateral organisations,” Mr. Ward said.

“One of the issues our ministers will be thinking about is, is that the most effective way of spending our money in the region, are we achieving the best developmental outcomes this way. 

“And once we are no longer committed to the EDF, will it be better to use the money freed up through more contributions to those multilaterals, joint funding with other partners or through regional programmes or bilaterally? There are a number of different models and options available.”

What Mr. Ward knows is he does not wish to “duplicate or undermine” work being done in Samoa already. He said he is ready to work with other countries and organisations on doing the best for the country.

“Tell us what the gaps are and we’ll see if we can fill them. What are the areas where we can make a difference?”

Samoa is one of 13 locations with a new or reopened British High Commission. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr. Ward said, has a “different vision of international relations from some of his predecessors.

While a decade ago, foreign policy leaders thought international work would have to be done in New York, Geneva or Brussels in the United Nations headquarters, Mr. Johnson wants more boots on the ground building stronger bilateral relationships. 

“So many of the problems we face are ones which can only be overcome through international cooperation; things like climate change, environmental issues, management of the oceans,” Dr. Ward said.

“He thinks if you are going to get the outcomes you want from those negotiations you have got to have strong bilateral relations.

“So what he wants first of all is he wants us to build strong bilateral relations. That starts with understanding better and more deeply the countries you are dealing with, making sure our government understands more deeply and building on that so you can understand areas of cooperation and common interests and demonstrate you can work together effectively.”

Mr. Ward said he has wanted to work in the foreign office since he was 14-years-old.

“You get to learn about the world, hopefully contribute towards making it a better place and serve the public good, and hopefully make a reliable living as well.

“It is a great privilege and honour to be here and experience this part of the world.”

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