Pacific Finance Ministers plea for aid

Pacific Finance Ministers have emerged from their first-ever virtual meeting pleading for help from development partners to get themselves through the COVID-19 global pandemic and its battering of the region's economies.

The Forum Economic Ministers Meeting, at which Samoa was represented by its Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs and Trade, took place over 11 and 12 of August. 

In a statement, the Ministers made a “strong, concerted plea” for help from partners and development agencies on debt relief, flexible financing, and help with social protection systems.

“Far from being the cause of current social, economic and political challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities, in some cases deepening and broadening them, and in other cases accelerating their arrival,” Pacific Island Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor said, in her opening remarks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic compels us to carefully think about what investments, policies and partnerships we require to secure our economic resilience and the wellbeing of our people now and into the future. 

“It provides the opportunity to envisage what we want the “new normal” to be, for our region – do we simply wait until the global economy recovers, or do we use the opportunity to assert a regional economy that supports Pacific priorities?”

With the triple burden of the global pandemic, climate change and the economic impacts of COVID-19, the Ministers say they need international financial institutions to reassess their grant and loan eligibility to help the forum members maximise funding opportunities.

They also want help to grow the Pacific Resilience Facility – an invention of the Pacific Island Forum in 2018 for the purposes of funding climate change and natural disaster focused development. It is intended to “provide low quantum grants upfront for community-level preparedness projects to build disaster resilience.”

“Forum Island Countries require immediate, and consistent financial support in the short to medium-term to overcome fiscal challenges arising from COVID-19.

“We are concerned that the inherent vulnerability of our countries to economic shocks is exacerbated with increased exposure to climate change and natural disasters, which further strains the region’s limited fiscal capacities, including revenues and national budget.”

In their statement on COVID-19, the Ministers, including Minister of Finance Sili Epa Tuioti, commit to maintaining their health, education and social service expenditure “so far as possible” and to focus on their most vulnerable populations who are rapidly losing income.

“Public health systems will need considerable additional investment and resourcing, with the support of development partners, to develop robust standards and infrastructure that will effectively strengthen Members’ preparedness for re-opening and addressing the onset of any future pandemics or similar external shocks.”

They also commit to reforming and diversifying their economies, and growing their digital economies, and say they believe in an “enabling business environment that supports private sector development.”

As well the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, the meeting focused on the region’s work on the global 2030 agenda using the Pacific Sustainable Development Roadmap, and spent time on planning with the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation on public and private partnerships to work on climate change and disaster risk financing. 

Samoa was represented in the F.E.M.M. by Minister of Finance (M.O.F.), Sili Epa Tuioti, and Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.), Leasiosiofa’asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, and Deputy C.E.O., Leiataua Henry Ah Ching.

Representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T.) was C.E.O., Peseta Noumea Simi, and A.C.E.O.s, Nella Tavita-Levy, Francella Strickland and Desna Solofa, and the High Commissioner-designate of Samoa to Fiji, Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia.

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