American Samoa joins Poly Leaders Group, MOU signed

APIA —It took only 90 minutes for eight Polynesian leaders and their representatives Thursday to unanimously agree to establish the Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG).

The meeting - which convened at the Samoa Conference Center - was all but wrapped by noon.

After lunch, the leaders returned to endorse the outcome statement and to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) - to officially establish the new body.

Addressing the media, PLG chairman Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said;

"There was a historical meeting [Thursday] where leaders of the Polynesian countries came together and agreed to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which formally establishes the Polynesian Leaders sub-regional group.

"And in doing so, the meeting confirmed... the critical importance of Polynesian countries working together through this group to seek a future for our Polynesian people and countries where cultures, traditions and values are honored and protected.

"Where sustainable economic prosperity is achieved, where democratic values are observed, human rights promoted and protected as well as upholding the rule of law."

The chairman said the leaders have agreed to work together - though not limited to - in the areas of education, culture and language, transport, environmental conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation, health, agriculture and fisheries, tourism, trade and investment.

The MOU was signed by the leaders and representatives of French Polynesia, Niue, Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Tokelau, American Samoa and Samoa.

But the chairman added,

"The meeting also decided that a state, territory or an indigenous Polynesian population can be invited to become a member or as an observer by a consensus decision of the founding members."

The PLG, says American Samoa governor Togiola Talalelei Tulafono, gives the U.S Territory leverage to discuss regional issues.

Tulafono flew to Samoa on Friday afternoon accompanied by his legal counsel, Tasi Tuiteleleapaga and the First Lady to attend the meeting.

"It's not a new thinking but no one quite took the step forward to set up this group. I'm therefore very thankful to Prime Minister Tuilaepa for taking the initiative in getting the ball rolling to set up this group," Togiola said.

The chairman said that Samoa, Tonga and Fiji - some 35 years ago - tried to set up a similar group.

"It was during the time of Ratu Sir Kamasese Mara. They met about twice but somehow did not follow it through," said Tuilaepa. "During the recent Pacific Islands Forum, the Polynesian leaders were meeting informally on these issues. Today, that dream has come true."

The PLG, Tuilaepa said, does not have immediate plans to set up a headquarters, but its secretariat work will be done by the country holding the chairmanship. The next meeting will be held in the Cook Islands August next year.

[Editor's Note: Tupuola Terry Tavita - who is editor of the Le Savali newspaper - gave permission to Samoa News to reprint this story.]


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