SPC - Secretariat of the Pacific Community

To help Pacific Island people position themselves to respond effectively to the challenges they face and make informed decisions about their future and the future they wish to leave for the generations that follow.

Mission Statement

“The SPC’s mission is to help Pacific Island people position themselves to respond effectively to the challenges they face and make informed decisions about their future and the future they wish to leave for the generations that follow.

The SPC’s vision for the region is a secure and prosperous Pacific Community, whose people are educated and healthy and manage their resources in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable way.” (SPC Corporate Plan)

Some History

One of the oldest regional organisations in the world, SPC celebrated its 60th anniversary on 6 February 2007. It is a non-political, technical assistance and research body and performs a consultative and advisory role. SPC has constantly evolved, both reflecting and shaping the island regionalism that has built today's Pacific. Its capacity to adapt to the changing needs of both dependent territories and independent island countries has enabled SPC to survive for more than half a century and will ensure its continuing role in the social and economic development of the Pacific Island region.

The South Pacific Commission, as it was formerly known, was founded in 1947 under the Canberra Agreement by the six ‘Participating Governments’ that administered territories in the Pacific before World War II. It was established as part of the new thinking about the future of the region’s island communities that had emerged from the wartime experience. Now (since 1983), all 22 island countries and territories, with varying political status from colony to sovereign republic, are full members, along with the four remaining founder members: Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States of America. (The Netherlands and the United Kingdom are no longer members). Each member has equal status and one vote at the Conference of the Pacific Community, which meets every two years, although debates are usually resolved by the Pacific way of consensus rather than voting.

The Secretariat is headed by a Director-General assisted by two deputies. Its activities are conducted by a range of programmes grouped into 6 divisions (Health, Social Resources, Marine Resources, Land Resources, Science and Technology and Economic Development).

With its 1000 languages, a third of the world’s tongues, the Pacific region features rich cultural diversity. SPC meetings, however, bring together representatives from the whole region using just two: English and French. The bilingual status of SPC is therefore a great asset.

Structure of Translation and Interpretation Section

The Translation and Interpretation Section is part of the Directorate of Operations and Management, providing language services to SPC programmes and member countries as well as other partners on request.

The Section is run by a Manager who is answerable to the Deputy Director-General (Nouméa). The Manager is both an interpreter and an AIIC member.

There are 4 interpreter/translators, 3 with French as their first language and 1 with English as his ‘A’ language (now the Manager). A French reviser, two French translators and an English translator occupy the other 3 positions in Noumea. In early 2011, one of our interpreter/translators was assigned full-time to our office in Suva and a second interpreter/translator (French A), initially recruited for Suva in April 2012 was subsequently transferred to Noumea in March 2013. The promotion of an interpreter (English A) left a position vacant, and recruitment options are being considered.

The Section is currently upgrading its facilities and reviewing its operations with a view to implementing a more customer-focused approach based on transparent communication with its clients, both internal and external. A new web-based workflow management tool is being developed for this purpose.

Staffing and recruitment, pay and conditions

In 2010, all our section’s professional staff were classified as ‘Job Family’ T7, Band 12 in the new SPC salary scale. A review implemented from 01/01/2011 has changed the cost-of-living differential, due to an increase of the cost of living in Suva (the reference duty station), in a way unfavourable to Nouméa-based staff; together with the abolition of salary increments on renewal for good performers, this means that pay increases can only be obtained at the time of the annual appraisal on the basis of agreed performance results. (No allowance has been made in the new pay structure for task differences between translators, revisers and interpreter/translators).

We have free comprehensive medical cover, 5 weeks annual leave, 5 days carer’s leave per year and a maximum of 90 days annual sick leave.

The first contract offered is for 3 years, renewable once for the same duration by mutual agreement, and subsequent renewals are obtained if the incumbent successfully applies for his/her own position. In Noumea petrol is partially tax-free; the SPC runs an in-house shop where alcohol and perfume are about the only items cheaper than in the local shops.  In Noumea and in Suva staff can purchase a vehicle locally tax-free within six months of first arrival.

There is no SPC pension scheme, but staff can contribute 8% of base salary to the SPC Provident Fund with a matching contribution from the SPC. This money is invested in an interest-bearing bank account and recovered at the end of service. An opt-out is possible for staff wishing to contribute to their own pension scheme or purchase property for retirement purposes.

Working conditions and workload

Three of the current 4 staff interpreters, all AIIC members.

We work in a bilingual team configuration at all times, meaning that work into an active ‘B’ language is a regular requirement. There are no formal limits on the number of sessions worked weekly or the length of the working day, but in practice the demand on the interpreters is mostly acceptable with time off when we work on weekends, public holidays, evenings, etc. A recent trend is to try and fit big meetings into less working days than previously, with its attendant demands on the interpreters. There are regularly periods when the team covers a number of meetings over several consecutive weeks. Increasingly, we field a team of four (2x2) for ministerial level meetings.

Travel in the Pacific Islands region is a frequent feature of our work with sometimes quite gruelling travel schedules, but equally some unavoidable layovers in comfortable hotels in tropical locations.

The interpreters tend to use an individual a laptop in Noumea or on travelling assignments.

We cover many technical and administrative meetings, mostly in simultaneous mode, but also sometimes using consecutive or whispered techniques for visiting delegations, some of which may have a political or diplomatic flavour.

Regional ministerial and director-level meetings are common in the areas of the SPC’s work such as fisheries, agriculture, statistics, culture, health, science and technology, ICTs and economic development.

Our team is also often called upon for regional cultural and sporting events, arts festivals and the like when there are workshops for participants.

10 to 20 events are covered annually by this team. All the interpreters are also required by their job description to translate to the same output and quality standards as their full-time translation colleagues, while also having time for other tasks directly related to interpretation. It should be noted that there is a general upward trend in translation workload from year to year, absorbed mostly by the use of freelance translators. Total annual interpretation days are also showing an upward trend on the whole.

This is mostly due to an increase in the size of SPC which has absorbed a number of other regional organisations as part of the so called Regional Institutional Framework reform.

Headquarters Equipment and Conference Facilities

The organisation’s headquarters is in Nouméa, New Caledonia on a site fronting the attractive Anse Vata bay location, at the end of the peninsula on which the city has grown over the years. New buildings, with a striking architectural design, went up in 1995 to replace the old American Army wooden headquarters building known as the Pentagon, a few hundred yards down the seafront, where the SPC had been since 1949.

A large regional office operates from Suva, in the Fiji islands, and other sub-regional and national offices have been established or are planned.

In Noumea, the interpreters work in the Jacques Iékawé Conference Centre, featuring new (Bosch) digital interpretation equipment and booths built to ISO standards. This venue offers a large conference hall and a smaller adjoining meeting room, both fully equipped. A third room can be fitted out when required and there are now plans to equip it with fixed equipment.

In Suva, , a conference room with new built-in Bosch digital equipment is now also operational. We also use a tour guide system for bilateral and other meetings.

Missions and working conditions away from headquarters

In addition, modern portable equipments sets are based in both Noumea and Suva, Fiji Islands and can be used for events outside these two locations. These days we mostly use a lightweight aluminium and plexiglass portable booth, although we do have a full-size fabric structure with a metal frame which our technicians tend to curse!

Our team prides itself on its ability to set up and work just about anywhere in the islands (within reason).

We enjoy the services of a dedicated conference technician.

Use of new technologies (video and remote interpreting)

We are not involved in remote interpreting as such, but occasionally perform some multi-party telephone work and videoconferences.

A booth monitor makes it easier for us to view PowerPoint and other presentations from the booth, at both HQ and elsewhere.

Professional development/performance appraisal

A formal and detailed appraisal is performed annually, with a six-monthly session between the officer and his/her supervisor occurring every six months to make sure we are ‘on track.’ There is almost no provision for any kind of personal or professional development, but under newly introduced policies, all staff are encouraged to identify such opportunities.

General information on Nouméa, New Caledonia and the Pacific

Nouméa is a city built on a peninsula of rolling hills surrounded by the lagoon and featuring a series of bays. It enjoys a tropical to sub-tropical climate, with hot summers and temperate winters. Various climate anomalies make the seasons somewhat unpredictable however at the present time.

The SPC has its own housing, a mixture of older villas and newer houses and apartments and leases accommodation in the private sector for the staff it cannot accommodate in its own properties. Housing is generally of quite a high standard.

 A city bus service operates but most staff find it convenient to own a car, especially for running children to school. The normal French education system is available at primary and secondary levels and the local university offers a range of degree and master level courses. Some tertiary study areas are not available locally. A local bilingual school offers a special curriculum for primary school age children, for which the fees are refundable under the SPC child education allowances for the children of staff recruited internationally.

Child-minding is readily available. Water sports and activities abound on the lagoon and outlying islets and the interior offers hiking, while rural dwellers and Melanesian villages are increasingly welcoming tourists. Camping sites now abound. Nouméa boasts a wide range of restaurants and bars and kava bars.

Led by the iconic Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Nouméa offers a fairly varied programme of cultural events: exhibitions, theatre, concerts, cinemas, dance etc.

The high cost of living quickly absorbs a considerable proportion of the salary. Many well-stocked supermarkets (with a lot of imported items) cater for most expatriate and local tastes.

Quality of life is generally considered favourable with no more petty crime than in other similar cities.


Documentation for meetings continues to be a source of occasional difficulty. While most papers for the most important meetings are translated beforehand, increasing numbers of meetings and therefore the translation workload, with no corresponding increase in staff numbers or freelance budgets mean that we regularly interpret at meetings where a significant proportion of the documents are available in English only. This makes glossary preparation/updating quite important, when the time can be found.

We are well equipped with desktop computers and laptops. Dragon Naturally Speaking is used by some staff as a tool to speed up translation.

Relations with freelances

We sometimes call on locally-based freelance interpreters to make up team numbers and occasionally help them form teams. This kind of cooperation is restricted to events in areas linked in some way with the SPC’s development work.

While our relationship with the Nouméa-based (AIIC) freelances is generally cordial, with rates considered acceptable and reviewed from time to time, we have in the past often cancelled or postponed provisional contracts at quite short notice or asked for availability at equally short notice.

At times, the Noumea-based freelances have felt that the SPC was too involved in work that should have been going to them. While we sympathise, in fact we have little choice but to accept assignments on development-related matters which our Executive has accepted. The Pacific Islands region is a rather small ‘market’ and the criteria naturally applied in the US or Europe are not always directly relevant in our region. Also, their own availability is limited and an Australian-based AIIC freelancer is regularly brought in by the New Caledonian Government and private clients.

Training activities

We have at times offered training attachments to students and both freelance and government linguists. These are mostly self-supervised with some input from section staff (advice, revision, mute booth assistance, etc.). Another relevant activity is our regular participation in orientation sessions at the local university and elsewhere. We’ve also hosted a number of trainees throughout the year.

Recommended citation format:
Staff Interpreters. "SPC - Secretariat of the Pacific Community". aiic.net June 8, 2012. Accessed September 23, 2019. <http://aiic.net/p/6206>.

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Anne Halsey-Smith


Are you located in the former site of Admiral Halsey's headquarters during World War II?

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