Opening Remarks by Ambassador Anil Sooklal, Deputy Director-General: Asia and the Middle East at DIRCO, and Chair of the IORA Committee of Senior Officials (CSO), Durban, 19 June 2019

Salutations,

Colleagues, a warm welcome to the Ninth Bi-annual CSO Meeting. We are honoured by your presence and we hope that you have had an opportunity to rest, especially in view of the two full days of our agenda.

I am aware that some of you arrived in Durban a few days ago and have had the opportunity to attend the Conference on Modernising Trade in the Indian Ocean Rim, as well as the Meetings of the WGTI, the IORBF and the Working Group on Women’s Economic Empowerment that were held on 17 and 18 June.

Colleagues, before I proceed with today’s business, I would like to take this opportunity to convey South Africa’s words of support to all the IORA Member States who have recently experienced atrocious incidents that have led to the loss of life. We trust that you will find strength in knowing that the IORA Region shares your pain.

As you will be aware, this bi-annual CSO meeting will constitute the last institutional meeting that South Africa will be hosting as part of our IORA Chairship that commenced in 2017 and will end later this year in our next meeting to be hosted by the Government of the United Arab Emirates. As a country, we would like to express our gratitude for the confidence that you placed in us and we also wish to express our sincere appreciation for the unstinting cooperation that we have received during our Chairship from all IORA Member States, Dialogue Partners, the Specialised Agencies and our Secretariat.

When South Africa assumed the Chairship of IORA in 2017, we adopted an all-encompassing theme, namely:

“IORA – uniting the peoples of Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the Middle East through enhanced co-operation for peace, stability and sustainable development”.

The theme captures South Africa’s view that the Indian Ocean Region should be characterised as a zone of peace, stability and development within which to pursue the objective of promoting economic co-operation for the wellbeing and development of the countries and peoples of the Indian Ocean Rim region and the world at large, as supported by the Jakarta Concord agreed to by our leaders at the Summit held in March 2017.

I must add though that our Chairship tenure, in particular, was made easy by the successes that were achieved by the previous Chairs. As such, we have always said our Chairship has been to build on those successes, in partnership with all IORA Member States. I am happy to report that working together we have achieved significant milestones that we believe will put the Association in a position to become one of the major regional bodies that can contribute, as a grouping to the greater global good, in addition to re-enforcing its position as the Apex Organisation for the Indian Ocean.

We are experiencing a growing interest in this Association, being enhanced by the tremendous growth in both our membership (Maldives joined in 2018), as well as in the category of the Dialogue Partner countries (with Turkey and South Korea joining in 2018 and Italy applying in 2019).

PROGRESS IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ACTION PLAN

While South Africa shall provide a comprehensive report on our IORA Chairship at the next Council of Minsters’ Meeting in the UAE later this year, please allow me to cite some of the highlights that mark our Chairship of this prestigious regional organisation.

  • We have focused on the capacity strengthening of the Secretariat because we are of the view that without a strong and capacitated Secretariat our targets and aspirations will remain a wish-list. As such, we have convened two workshops held in Mauritius last year and in March this year. While the Secretariat will elaborate further on the outcomes of the 2019 meeting, I am satisfied that our Secretariat is capable of supporting us as we pursue our strategic programmes, as outlined in our Action Plan (2017-2021), although there are clearly more opportunities for growth and improvement to be achieved, for example the consideration of the possible increase in membership contributions and an increase in the number of seconded staff by Member States.
  • In this regard, I wish to welcome both Mr Gareth Rees, seconded from South Africa and Mr Navin Rughoonundun from Mauritius who recently joined the Secretariat and we hope that they will find their tenure at the Secretariat one of the most fulfilling opportunities in the advancement of their careers and of the aspirations of the Member States. We also wish to express our appreciation to Mauritius for its continued hosting of the Secretariat, including the expansion of the Secretariat’s office space to accommodate the envisaged staff increase associated with the strengthening process.
  • We have also witnessed the establishment of new Working Groups on the Blue Economy, Maritime Safety and Security, and Women’s Economic Empowerment, as well as the Core Groups on Tourism and Disaster Risk Management. All of these institutional bodies have already established their Terms of Reference (ToR) and most have completed Work Plans (WP) and are now in the initial stages of implementing their respective programmes. Unfortunately, some Working Groups had been delayed in the process where our guidance would be required on further actions prior to the COMM in the UAE.
  • We were very pleased that India, in March 2019, convened in New Delhi the First Meeting of an IORA Cluster Group on Disaster Risk Management, as this is an area that was neglected by the Association in the past. This is tangible progress, especially as we are a region that continues to be plagued by natural disasters.
  • Based on the above, we therefore look forward to receiving progress reports on how these new institutional bodies are planning to take forward their programmes and at what level they would like the CSO to intervene, if any. In this regard, I also wish to thank the Coordinating and Cluster countries who have taken collective ownership of the priority areas that they are managing, which has, without any doubt, recorded  significant progress in the implementation of our identified strategic targets.
  • During our Chairship, the Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD) was institutionalised as a track 1.5 mechanism of IORA, and the ongoing work to reform the Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group (IORAG) has been accepted as being key in strengthening the role of academia within the Association. We look forward to the reports to be provided by India and the IORAG Chair on how they intend to enhance the programmes of both the IOD and IORAG because both have an important role to play in the advancement of our Action Plan and achievements of identified targets.
  • Last year, during their meeting in Durban, our Ministers adopted two important declarations, being the Declaration on Guidelines for Enhancing Interaction with Dialogue Partners and the Special Declaration to commemorate President Mandela’s Centenary by establishing the IORA Nelson Mandela “Be the Legacy” internship programme at the Secretariat. The Internship Programme is aimed at empowering and capacitating the youth of the Indian Ocean Region. The implementation of both declarations is proceeding well and in accordance with our expectations.
  • During our last CSO Meeting, we agreed that the Association needed to appraise itself regarding global trends and to also develop a common position on these matters where possible. In taking forward this undertaking, in March 2019 we hosted the First IORA Strategic Planning Workshop in Mauritius where, among others, we interrogated the emerging Indo-Pacific concept and how IORA, as a collective could respond to this important trend, which by its very nature requires all IORA countries to be actively involved in the shaping of its ultimate goals, agenda and objectives. In this regard, I would like to thank all Member States who participated in and supported the Workshop, including the think-tanks that enriched our discussion. Many practical proposals that could enhance our geo-strategic discourse within the Association were made during this Workshop and it is incumbent upon us to take these recommendations forward, mindful of the need to positively improve our Association’s global standing. South Africa will provide a report on the outcomes of this Workshop.

AREAS FOR FURTHER ATTENTION

While we acknowledge significant achievements over the last two years, it has also become clear that we need to pay closer attention to our trade and investment facilitation priority. Among our commitments when we assumed Chairship was the undertaking to revitalize the Working Group on Trade and Investment (WGTI) and the Indian Ocean Business Forum (IORBF).  Regrettably it has taken us longer than expected to convene these pivotal meetings and to achieve this objective.

However, I am pleased that South Africa and Australia successfully co-hosted the WGTI and IORBF meetings from 17-18 June 2019, where the focus was on how to re-ignite the interest of our business community in this important sector. The Indian Ocean remains one of the most important regions for an enhanced global trade and investment landscape. South Africa and Australia will provide reports on the outcomes of the respective meetings. We also look forward to the forthcoming trade experts meeting to be hosted by Mauritius in the next few months, which will also refocus our attention to the trade and investment profile of the region. We are further encouraged by the fact that the UAE will be making this a priority of its Chairship.

The Leaders’ Summit held in Jakarta in March 2017 provided IORA with an opportunity to introduce a results oriented Action Plan covering the 2017-2021 period. However, in order to ensure that our programme implementation momentum is sustained, we need to convene a dedicated session where we can assess the mid-term progress in the implementation of our Work Plan, because without such an exercise we would be unable to gauge the impact and the extent of our programmes. Therefore, I propose that the next CSO in the UAE be utilised as an important platform to conduct this mid-term assessment work. It will also provide us with an opportunity to submit tangible recommendations to our Ministers during the 19th Council of Ministers’ Meeting. In addition, the proposed mid-term review will also serve as a build up to the preparation process in anticipation of the new Action Plan (2022-2026).

Last but not least, our specialised agencies, the RCSTT and the FSU, are commended for the work that they have done to enhance our programmes. In order to ensure their sustained relevance, it is also important to pay closer attention to the support that we provide to them. Perhaps the incoming Chair may also focus on this opportunity, as it will ensure that our specialised agencies do deliver on our stated strategic objectives and their outlined targets. In this regard and further to the above, the Chair in Indian Ocean Studies (CIOS) requires our special attention. We are satisfied that there is work being done to ensure that this valuable resource becomes fully integrated in the structures of IORA and therefore ensure that the CIOS supports our programmes with empirical data that we can effectively utilise in our decision making processes.  

In conclusion, I wish to alert all of us to the fact that we have a packed agenda to deal with in a very short space of time, and I am optimistic that we shall dispense with it in a cooperative manner.

Thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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