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6 October 2009 - General Assembly : 4th Commission - Speech by Philippe Gomes - President of the Government of New Caledonia

(translation of statement made in French)

Mr. President,
Members of the General Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me first of all to tell you what an honor it is for the Caledonian delegation that I am leading, and which represents all the country’s institutions, to be with you today on the occasion of the UN General Assembly.

I am accompanied by members of the Government of New Caledonia: Bernard Deladrière, in charge of the budget, tax policy and the digital economy; Yann Devillers, in charge of public infrastructures and transportation; by Léonard Sam, first vice president of the Congress of New Caledonia, Jean-Pierre Djaiwe, first vice president of the North Province; Sonia Lagarde, third vice president of the South Province, and Damien Yeiwene, counselor of the Loyalty Islands Province. The various figures in this delegation reflect the pro-independence and anti-independence persuasions represented in the Congress of New Caledonia.

The first time the President of the Government of New Caledonia addressed your assembly was nearly 10 years ago. Thus it seemed appropriate, following the provincial elections of May 10, for the fifth government of New Caledonia to come before you once again, in keeping with the Nouméa Accord which provides for "the UN [to] be advised that the emancipation of New Caledonia is under way."

As you know, after years of misunderstanding and violence, two men embodying two legitimacies, Jacques Lafleur and Jean-Marie Tjibaou, agreed, under the auspices of the French Government—then headed by Prime Minister Michel Rocard—to renew the threads of dialogue. The handshake between these two men symbolized the reconciliation of the two communities. It marked the beginning of a period of lasting peace and economic and social development, formalized by the signature of two political founding agreements: the Matignon Accord on June 26, 1988, followed by the Oudinot Accord on August 20, 1988, and the Nouméa Accord on May 5, 1998.

The Matignon-Oudinot Accords made it possible for New Caledonia to enjoy 10 years of peace and development, with responsibilities shared by pro-independence and non-independentist groups.

These agreements provided first of all for the administration and development of New Caledonia through the creation of three provinces (South, North and Loyalty Islands). These provinces are freely administered by elected assemblies, allowing pro-independence factions—which held a majority in the North Province and Loyalty Islands—to assume important responsibilities in addition to the ones they already exercised in the Caledonian municipalities, three-fourths of which they govern.

The distribution of powers organized by the law gave the lion’s share to the provinces, which have legal jurisdiction for such matters as economic development, while other entities—the State, New Caledonia, municipalities—exercise specified powers.

The financial resources of the State and New Caledonia have been divided unequally among the three provinces in order to facilitate the re-balancing of the country, notably on the economic level and with respect to public infrastructures. Thus, development contracts have been concluded between the State and the provinces in which 75 % of the credits have been allocated to the North Province and the islands. The same is true for the country’s tax revenues, which have been divided in such a way that they favored the interior and the islands: 50% for the Islands and the North Province, which represent 30% of the population, and the other 50% to the South Province, where 70% of the inhabitants reside.

To guarantee a better distribution of responsibilities, the agreements also instituted an important management training program, particularly for Kanaks. The objective was to train 400 managers during the period of 1988-1998. To date, 1,000 managers have been trained under this program.

Finally, the agreements provided for a vote on self-determination in 1998.

However, instead of a "clear-cut referendum for or against independence," which would have humiliated a portion of the country’s population, a mutually agreed-upon solution known as the Nouméa Accord was negotiated between pro- and anti-independence parties, with support from the State, and submitted to a vote by the Caledonians, who approved it by 72%.

This new agreement, the Nouméa Accord, is above all a decolonization agreement that is unique because it is being carried out within France.

It is an agreement to which President Nicolas Sarkozy "attaches the greatest importance" and that he has pledged to "faithfully respect" to use his words during the reception at the Elysée for members of the Accord’s signing committee last December 9.

The preamble, which introduces this agreement, notes the "shadows" and "light" of the colonial period since France took possession of the territory in 1853.

This preamble is based on a dual recognition.

First, the recognition of the Kanaks as a colonized people who were "relegated to the geographical, economic and political fringes of their own country," according to the preamble. A colonization that "harmed the dignity of the Kanak people and deprived it of its identity. […] These difficult times need to be remembered," says the agreement, "the mistakes recognized and the Kanak people’s confiscated identity restored, which equates in its mind with a recognition of its sovereignty, prior to the forging of a new sovereignty, shared in a common destiny."

Next, the recognition of men and women of all ethnicities from Asia, the Pacific and Metropolitan France who populated New Caledonia throughout the colonial period.

"The Territory’s new communities" according to the Nouméa Accord, "participated in mining and agricultural activity, often under difficult circumstances […] "Through their participation in the construction of New Caledonia, they have acquired a legitimacy to live there and to continue contributing to its development."

It is on the basis of this mutual recognition that decolonization was undertaken—a decolonization aimed at bringing together, not excluding; a decolonization designed to "rebuild a lasting social bond between the communities living in New Caledonia today, by enabling the Kanak people to establish new relations with France, reflecting the realities of our time."

It is on the basis of this mutual recognition that the foundations of Caledonian citizenship were established, "enabling the original people to form a human community, asserting its common destiny with the other men and women living there."

It is on the basis of this mutual recognition that a future has been laid out: "The past was the time of colonization. The present is the time of sharing, through the achievement of a new balance. The future must be the time of an identity, in a common destiny. […] France stands ready to accompany New Caledonia on that path."

This is the strength of the Nouméa Accord. And its necessity. It calls on us to transcend the colonial era. It forces us to write a new page in the history of the world, in which indigenous peoples and people from elsewhere pool their desires to build a common future together. Where Caledonians of all ethnicities can transcend their parallel histories to write a common story.

And to bring about this common story, the Nouméa Accord establishes a deadline: "One or several polls will be held during the fourth (five-year) Congressional term of office [i.e., between 2014 and 2019]. […] The poll will address devolution to New Caledonia of the sovereign powers, access to an international status of full responsibility, and the conversion of citizenship into nationality. […] As long as the polls do not lead to the proposed new political organization, the political organization set up by the 1998 Agreement will remain in force, at its latest stage of evolution."

The new institutional framework established by the Nouméa Accord, formalized by a constitutional law and a framework law, amended several times, allows New Caledonia to use new legal tools. Among these legal innovations we must emphasize that certain congressional deliberations have the status of a law and thus can be only challenged before the Constitutional Council, the highest body in the French legal system.

We must also cite the establishment of a Customary Senate, to which bills and decisions relating to Kanak identity must be referred; the possibility of adopting identifying national symbols, at least two of which—the emblem and national anthem—will be submitted to Congress before the end of 2010; and New Caledonia’s right to institute measures to promote and protect local employment, a measure that will be in force by the end of the year.

Most important, New Caledonia’s Executive is no longer embodied by the State. It is now a Cabinet Government, elected by Congress and responsible to it, composed proportionally of representatives of political groups sitting within the assembly. It is, in a way, a "territorial unity" government, which continuously promotes dialogue between different political persuasions in order to build the consensus needed for good governance.

Finally, the Nouméa Accord governs the emancipation of New Caledonia through the sharing of sovereignty with France. It is in this framework that major powers are progressively but irreversibly being transferred to the State of New Caledonia, so that in the final stage of the agreement, only such sovereign functions as minting money, justice, public order, defense and foreign relations are not exercised by New Caledonia.

Some of the transfers of State powers became effective on January 1, 2000. They dealt with important matters: labor law, including aliens’ right to work; the right to professional training; external trade; external communications through postal and telecommunication services; navigation and international shipping services; external communications through air services; the exploration, exploitation, management and conservation of natural resources in the Economic Zone; curriculum content for elementary schools education programs; teacher training; inspection of teachers; and finally, the public maritime zone. Others were deferred to subsequent terms. The government therefore began the necessary procedures required to transfer new powers which should be deliberated on by the Congress of New Caledonia before November 30:

- Policing and security regulations for domestic air and sea traffic

- The transfer of secondary public and private education, primary private education and school health.

Before December 31, 2011, the government will also present to congress: the transfer of civil laws, rules relating to civil status, commercial law and civil security.

The transfer of State public institutions will also occur by 2014, in particular the Kanak Culture Development Agency, Center for Educational Documentation and the Rural Development and Land Management Agency.

Lastly, other transfers are planned, including community administrative and financial systems, higher education and audio-visual communication.

These transfers of sovereignty, major components of Caledonian emancipation, benefit from State technical and financial support. The transfers were the subject of two committees made up of the signatories of the Nouméa Accord, chaired by François Fillon, Prime Minister of the Government of the French Republic.

Sovereignty shared with the State also applies to the areas of international and regional relations.

Along France, which most recently expressed its views at the France-Oceania Summit on July 31, 2009 in Nouméa, New Caledonia’s opinion should also be heard in the region.

This is why the government has embarked on the necessary steps to allow New Caledonia to become a full member of certain regional organizations, in particular the Pacific Islands Forum, of which it is currently an associate member, and the "Spearhead Group" of which the FLNKS is a member.

The government also decided to encourage bilateral cooperation with the countries of Melanesia in order to significantly strengthen actions led by New Caledonia in the region.

Lastly, as authorized by the Nouméa Accord, the government decided to establish New Caledonian representations in the countries of the Pacific region. These field offices representing New Caledonia could be established in French embassies, in particular in Vanuatu, in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. To prepare for this, the government, in cooperation with the State, will arrange specific training to prepare Caledonians to assume functions in the area of international relations.

The desire to make the voice of the country heard within the framework of greater regional integration is also reflected by New Caledonia’s hosting of the 4th Festival of Melanesian Arts next year and the 11th Pacific Games in 2011.

With this in mind, the government decided to make the voice of New Caledonia heard every year at the UN General Assembly.

In the same way, the government will take part in the annual seminars of the Committee of 24 in which New Caledonia has not been represented since 2003. As I pledged to the New Caledonian Congress, in August 31’s general policy statement, on behalf of the collegial government, I request permission for one of the annual seminars of the committee to take place in New Caledonia before 2014, which is the end of the current mandate of the Congress. This will be an opportunity, as was the case in 1999, to review, during the visit by the President of the Decolonization Committee, the progress made by our country on the path towards decolonization and emancipation

Thanks to the Matignon and Nouméa Accords, the newly reestablished peace provides conditions for more equitable economic and social development as well, as the restoration of balance between the different provinces.

The construction of the metallurgical plant in the Northern Province funded by a company that is 51% owned by the Northern province, in partnership with Xstrata, is playing a major role in the restoration of balance in New Caledonia, in line with the Nouméa Accord. This is an investment of € 3 billion and will create almost 3,000 jobs and production will begin in 2012.

The Northern Province has also built a 30,000 ton factory in Korea, in association with POSCO, which went into production this year. The Northern Province has a majority share in the factory.

The environmentally friendly metallurgical factory in the South, VALE INCO, will soon go into production thanks to Caledonian share ownership that could be as much as 20% of the project and which will benefit the North Provinces and Islands by as much as 50%; it will also contribute to restoring balance in the country.

Since 2000, the provinces have also had a 34% share, through a dedicated company and thanks to State funding, in "Le Nickel" a subsidiary of the French group, Eramet, which produces 50 to 60,000 tons of nickel per year. This was also thanks to the implementation of the Nouméa Accord which provided for the transfer of development tools, under the direct or indirect control of the State, to New Caledonia. The same commitment was fulfilled with regard to the Caledonian electric energy production company ENERCAL, in which the country now has a majority share.

These three metallurgical plants will make New Caledonia the 2nd leading producer of nickel in the world by 2012.

The recent adoption of a program to develop mining resources, which forms part of an approach based on sustainable development, will also help support economic development in the interior of the country.

Major reforms to restore balance with regard to land ownership were introduced 20 years ago. As a result, 50% of the land, the traditional lands, in Grande Terre - not publicly owned - now belongs to the Kanak people. 100,000 hectares were redistributed in this way.

The State continues to support the restoration of balance in New Caledonia through current development contracts with the various local authorities in the country amounting to almost €800 million for the period 2006-2010.

Lastly, in terms of environmental protection, the outstanding areas of the country’s coral reef were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in July 2008; this demonstrated the ability of the different partners to work together, with New Caledonia’s and the provinces’ contribution, in collaboration with the State playing a critical role.

In the cultural sector, a number of measures have been introduced in order to take into account the indigenous identity in a more effective way: by the State, through the construction of the Tjibaou Cultural Center, a focal point for Kanak culture; by the Provinces by reviving the Kanak names of places and the Kanak language in schools; by New Caledonia through a survey of dispersed Kanak heritage, the protection of traditional knowledge and the creation of the Academy of Kanak languages.

I think we can say that the New Caledonia of 2009 has been completely transformed in political, economic, social and cultural terms compared to how it was in 1988.

However, in New Caledonia as elsewhere, nothing is perfect and there is still considerable progress to be made:

- In terms of education, in order for there to be greater balance between the different ethnic groups of the country, and for social, cultural and geographic disadvantages to be more effectively taken into account by our educational system; this could be the case once the education mandate has been fully implemented in New Caledonia in 2012.

- There is also significant work to be done in terms of combating social inequalities, since a quarter of New Caledonia’s population still live under the poverty line, i.e. they live on less than € 900 per month per household, even though our per capita GDP is equivalent to that of France, Australia and New Zealand.

Significant measures have been introduced. However, the current government has decided to intensify these efforts through new social justice policies to improve cohesion in Caledonian society in order to support the political process that has been set in motion.

There is still progress to be made with regard to restoring balance in our country, in particular on the east coast and in the Loyalty Islands where there are large areas of under-development and poverty.

There is still progress to be made to help young people, some of whom are struggling to integrate into the modern world, and who sometimes fall victim to the two major scourges of alcohol and cannabis - the Caledonian news recently gave us another frightening example of this.

Dear Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is an objective assessment of the situation in New Caledonia, without polemic, at the mid-term stage of the Nouméa Accord.

I think that we have been able to meet your expectations over the last ten years in line with UN General Assembly resolution 63/106 of December 5, 2008, point 11, where you invite the Caledonians "to continue to promote an environment that is conducive to the peaceful development of the territory towards an Act of Self-determination in which all options are open and which would safeguard the rights of all sectors of the population" since "according to the letter and the spirit of the Nouméa Accord (…) it is up to the population of New Caledonia to choose how to control their destiny."

Yes, we have acted, and we must continue to do so in order "to promote an environment that is conducive" to "peaceful development."

Yes, as Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed in his letter to his compatriots in New Caledonia, "it is up to the Caledonians themselves," as set forth in the Nouméa Accord, without any ambiguity.

This is why I made the proposal, on behalf of the Government of New Caledonia to establish a forum for discussion between the independentists and the non-independentists where we can exchange ideas on how to reach this point in the Accord. The time has come to give life to the original promise of the Nouméa Accord: that of a future shared with all Caledonians.

We have made unmistakable - significant - progress. It required the commitment of all stakeholders: the State, of course, the local authorities, in particular the Provinces, but also the independentist political movements and the non-independentists who, for the most part, have been able to shrug off the past in order to look resolutely towards the future.

A future which we must prepare for together in order that our two dreams for one land can - tomorrow - become reality.

Thank you.



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