“Building a solid foundation for the Organisation for the next 20+ years”

Brussels, 28 April 2021 / OACPS Press: Interview with H.E. Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Dr Pa’olelei Luteru, the Ambassador of Samoa to the European Union and the Chair of the OACPS Committee of Ambassadors for the period 1 February 2021 to 31 July 2021.

Few people can equal the depth of experience, and knowledge of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) as H.E. Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Dr Pa’olelei Luteru. A former Assistant Secretary-General of the Political Affairs and Human Development Department (2000-2005) of the then, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, H.E. Luteru returned to the OACPS in April 2012 as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Independent State of Samoa in Brussels. Since 2013, he has chaired at least a dozen projects on committees varying from serving as the inaugural chair of the ACP Forum for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the Working Group for the appointment of the Secretary-General, to the Review of the ACP Staff and Employment Regulations, the ACP Building Renovations and as the lead negotiator for the Pacific-EU Regional Protocol.

On 1 February 2021, Ambassador Luteru assumed, for the second time, the leadership of the OACPS Committee of Ambassadors (CoA) during the Pacific presidency. His tenure takes place at a critical moment in the history of the OACPS, during which the Organisation would finalise the negotiations of the Post-Cotonou Negotiations which began in 2018 and would also begin the implementation of the organisational restructuring and the completion of the revision of the Staff regulations – all projects on which he has been involved as either Chair or as a core member.

The OACPS Press Office spoke with the current Chair of the CoA on his priorities during his term-in-office, his experiences, and his views on the ongoing changes to the Organisation.

Priorities of the Pacific Presidency led by Samoa

During the meeting of the 935th Committee of Ambassadors, his first as current Chair of the CoA, Ambassador Luteru outlined the priorities during his six-month tenure. These included: ensuring that the preparatory arrangements are in place for the timely signing and ratification of the new Agreement, and the transition from the European Development Fund (EDF) to the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI); Private Sector investment; international cooperation and multilateralism; and the review and rationalisation of the working methods and organs of the OACPS. Speaking of the pathways to recovery, the Chair noted the need for action with respect to COVID-19 and for continued momentum in the areas of climate change and ocean governance.

Referring to the process guiding the selection of priorities, Ambassador Luteru stressed the need for balance – to ensure the inclusion of not only regional priorities but also those of the OACPS and the other regions of the Organisation. According to the Ambassador, the challenge basically surrounds what can be controlled and what the OACPS, as an international organisation, can actually effect. Using the example of climate change, he pointed out, “These are global public issues, not just OACPS concerns, and what is important to understand is that all of us have a role to play and we need to do our part. Therefore, we need to come together to be able to achieve the objectives and outcomes that we all require. It is critical to focus on what we can do.” To collaborate with global partners on such issues more effectively, he advocates a slightly different perspective: “The approach, in my view, needs to shift a little bit, to say, “This is what I’m doing, what can you do?”

To identify the priorities, the Ambassador emphasised the importance of consultation, not only within regions, but also with stakeholders both within and outside of the OACPS, “The process of consultation and seeking other views and advice is extremely important” as, “At the end of the day, you need to take people with you, you need to be inclusive… the more people can identify with the issues and priorities that you are promoting and advocating for, I think you have a better chance of success.”

Key to achieving the priorities, is a change in mentality, “If we want credible partners, we need to ask the question, why would they want to partner with us?” Concisely, he pointed out the need for a change of mindset, from the previous donor-recipient mentality to one, which constitutes essentially, more of a strategic exchange, based on knowing, “what we can bring to the table and how we can better leverage this.”

With respect to the ongoing changes within the OACPS, Ambassador Luteru strongly advocates the need for everyone to do their part, “We’ve started the process, this is an opportunity to set our goals, we need to look at how we organise the Secretariat to ensure that it is capable of responding to the challenges we’ll face over the coming years.” Referring to the restructuring, he added, “Equally important, is for the ambassadors to ask themselves whether the existing organs would continue to be viable and relevant. These need to be assessed in light of the revised Georgetown Agreement, the 9th Summit of OACPS Heads and State of Government and the content of the new Post-Cotonou Agreement, and we need to bring all of these elements together to frame our organization, so it is fit-for-purpose moving forward in the next twenty or so years.”

“He was an Ambassador who always tried to do his best”

Between working at the Secretariat and being a member of the Committee of Ambassadors, H.E. Luteru has been a part of the OACPS for over 15 years. Asked what he would like his legacy to be, he stated that that judgement call is not for him to make.  However, the main driver for him is, “…to ensure that I do the best that I can within the context of my country, the region and our organization. The judgement that would be important for me is to be satisfied that I have contributed to the best of my ability, small as it may be, to the development of my country, region and the Organisation.”

Challenges for the future

As the OACPS prepares for the next two decades, at the same time as countries around the world seek to build back after the pandemic, H.E. Luteru sees the response to COVID as being one of the greatest challenges issues facing the Organization. He insists that the issue of the vaccine cannot be one of affordability, “In an interdependent world, our strength as a global community is only as strong as the weakest among us, and therefore we need to look after everyone, because at some point, you need to exchange with the other and you will not be able to remain in your own little corner of the world.” On the positive side however, he is grateful for the timing of the pandemic, coming as it did before the completion of the post-Cotonou negotiations, which allowed the parties to factor in strategies for recovery and the flexibility to deal with emerging issues such as pandemics.   

Additionally, he believes that the OACPS needs to take the lead with respect to ensuring access to vaccines as well as learn from the experiences of other countries as they prepare to get vaccines into arms. While efforts were made to boost global cooperation last year with the holding of the Extraordinary Inter-Sessional Summit of OACPS Heads of State and Government, those efforts need to be sustained and strengthened.  

The next challenge, according to the Ambassador is that of climate change, which continues to be an issue, especially for many of the Members of the OACPS.

Despite the challenges, however, Ambassador Luteru is confident, that though many of the tasks will take time, it does not mean that one should not start the process.  With proper preparation, solidarity and leadership, the OACPS can not only regain the ground lost to COVID-19, but can even reach further. In this light, H.E. Luteru hopes that as part of the process, at the end of his tenure, he can say that he was able to leave something behind and to have contributed to improving the organisation’s ability to address the challenges faced by OACPS communities especially the vulnerable and most in need of society.

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