Nov 23, 2020 Last Updated 12:34 AM, Nov 23, 2020

The global impacts of COVID-19 are unprecedented and extend beyond the realm of health into the social, economic and psychological aspects of people’s lives. Although the number of infections in Pacific Island Countries (PICs) may be low because of their relative isolation, they still cannot escape the consequences of the economic free-fall emanating from the lockdowns. The sudden demise of tourism, a major money earner for many island states; loss of jobs and income; decline in remittances and the dramatic shrinking of investment and economic opportunities have left families devastated and governments’ resources stretched to the limit.

In many ways, the pandemic merely exacerbates the existing economic challenges and further deepens the poverty and vulnerability that many Pacific peoples have been experiencing anyway. It exposes in more blatant ways some pre-existing social, economic and gender inequities. Those in vulnerable employment such as the hospitality industry, infrastructure, construction and manufacturing and those in the informal sector are amongst the first victims of the economic squeeze. The aid, debt and remittance-based Pacific economies are struggling to respond effectively as many do not have the means to provide wage subsidy and stimulus packages similar to those implemented by industrialised neighbours like Australia and New Zealand. This should signal the need for new innovative strategies and models of development that have the capacity to respond effectively to disasters and crisis; a strategy that requires identifying and building on local strengths and innovations.

One of the unique characteristics of Pacific communities is the dynamic interrelationship between traditional subsistence production and the market system. The subsistence sector in the Pacific has a significant role in providing subsidies for cash income, as well as a socio-economic cushion in times of crisis, as we saw during the 2008 global meltdown. There is almost a collective intuition to revert to community-embedded survival values and strategies when crisis occurs. For instance, the resurrection of the age-old reciprocity system which is now being enthusiastically embraced in Fiji (Barter for Better Fiji) to counter the cash shortfall; the rush to promote backyard subsistence farming; and re-engineering of indigenous social protection systems of support, shows that the basis of resilience is locked within local cultural and innovation systems. The challenge is, how do we incorporate these values of resilience into the formal policy process?

Perhaps, it is time for a dialogue between the indigenous systems of production and the formal sector in framing an innovative, equitable, resilient and sustainable system, which is capable of withstanding the potentially devastating impact of economic and social risks along the lines of the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs provide some universal pathways for equity, resilience, empowerment, diversity, people-centered development and progressive transformation. Amongst some possible strategies for resilience, equity and sustainability would be how to utilise local resources and knowledge which requires community participation, empowerment and benefits. For instance, today, indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants and resources constitute a major portion of the multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry, but very little benefits trickle down to the knowledge and resource owners. The UN-affiliated World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has been at the forefront of protecting these indigenous resources and knowledge from biopiracy.

Hence, rethinking new development strategies should also consider local innovations, community resources and indigenous knowledge and marry these with macro forms of institutional governance and development, which can be resilient yet empowering. As the remittance tap slows to a trickle, tourism and the travel industry collapses, as hundreds and thousands lose their jobs (as we witnessed with Fiji Airways) and as poverty and inequality increases, it is time to rethink innovatively about our future development strategies, especially strengthening the social and solidarity economy.

The pandemic has also put the spotlight on the need for PICs to strengthen their social protection strategies, seriously address the issues of inequity and cut down on their national debts and expenditure to respond more effectively to major disasters such as the one we are facing now. What we need are not incremental and token adjustments that only serve the interest of a few, but major conceptual and structural transformations for the betterment of entire communities.

SDGs response

The SDGs’ strategies for equity, inclusivity and empowerment has become even more relevant and imperative in these times of the pandemic crisis. A UNDP report ‘Position Note on the Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Asia-Pacific’ calls on countries in the region to avoid returning to some pre-pandemic unsustainable development paths and to capitalise on the opportunity to pursue innovative alternatives.

From the point of view of PICs, the pandemic has strengthened the SDGs moral authority as a guiding light for sustainability and resilience - and the challenge is how countries can ensure that their responses are comprehensive as well as equitable and inclusive, so that no one is left behind.

The Pacific is part of the global system and thus all these require both local innovations and global support, because the impact of the virus is global. Meanwhile, defeating the pandemic is the immediate aim and the words of UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, may provide us the means to do it; “We must act in borderless solidarity to defeat it.”

Emily Moli is a Knowledge Communications Analyst, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNDP.

Building quality infrastructure in the Pacific means going beyond a narrow focus on hard assets, to thinking about the ways that new infrastructure, and accompanying services, will contribute to lasting development outcomes. This requires sustained engagement with island governments, and with Pacific civil society and the local private sector, in the design, construction and management of infrastructure. Ultimately, there is no shortcut for quality.

Our new report, Building Together: seven principles for engaging civil society to deliver resilient, inclusive and sustainable infrastructure in the Pacific islands, argues competition to finance infrastructure projects in the Pacific islands should lead to lasting development outcomes, driven by local priorities. It also suggests civil society should be considered a key partner in the design and delivery of Pacific infrastructure.

Released last week at the Australasian AID Conference in Canberra the report is based on extensive research and consultations in Australia and the Pacific. It sets out seven key principles for policymakers to follow when designing new infrastructure. It is hoped that by adopting these principles, new infrastructure investments in the Pacific will grow local employment, support skills development, promote gender equality, and create more accessible infrastructure for people with disabilities.

The key driver of renewed investment in Pacific infrastructure is growing geostrategic competition in the region. However, there is also no doubt that Pacific states do have significant infrastructure needs. The Asian Development Bank estimates, for example, the Pacific will require US$3.1 billion in infrastructure investment each year until 2030. Pacific island countries also have unique infrastructure needs. Being among the most isolated states in the world, and especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, investments in resilient infrastructure can help mitigate intractable constraints on growth in the Pacific.

In recent times, major infrastructure initiatives have been announced. The United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand have, for example, initiated a major investment in rural electrification in Papua New Guinea. The Australian government is financing new telecommunications infrastructure for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and has committed to a ten-year $250 million bilateral infrastructure program in the Solomon Islands. Australia, long the region’s largest provider of development finance, has also established a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure bank dedicated specifically to Pacific island countries. The Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which uses a mixture of commercial loans and grant financing, represents a significant change in Australia’s aid program to the region.

Taken together, these new initiatives represent an opportunity to consider, and promote, shared standards for quality infrastructure. Our report is intended to stimulate thinking about best standards for infrastructure investment in the Pacific.

The Australian government has focused on involving the private sector in delivering new infrastructure in the Pacific. The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, has, for example, suggested it is time for Australian businesses to step up in the Pacific. In addition to the private sector, our report suggests there should also be a focus on engaging and supporting civil society groups. Working with Pacific civil society in the design and implementation of new infrastructure is critically important for ensuring transparent decision-making; including in tendering and monitoring infrastructure. New infrastructure projects are also an opportunity to stimulate economic growth in the Pacific directly, through the creation of local employment opportunities, skills transfer and capacity development, and through partnerships with local businesses and civil society groups. Given their closeness to communities, civil society organisations can facilitate the engagement of people with disabilities, and women, in infrastructure planning and delivery, helping to ensure that priorities – and design features – are based on local need, minimise risks to marginalised groups, and benefit these groups in their delivery and beyond.

Typically, it is the actions taken by island governments themselves to manage projects, and to develop robust policy frameworks governing the use and maintenance of infrastructure, that are a key determinant of positive outcomes. This means development partners should be supporting the strengthening of infrastructure governance, the ‘soft infrastructure’ that accompanies construction of hard assets. Often this also requires support for collaborative decision-making that includes Pacific civil society groups at regional, national and project levels. The Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO) was one of the partners consulted for this report. PIANGO executive director, Emeline Siale Ilolahia, told us it was critically important that new projects be driven by local priorities. “If we’re not careful these projects will be driven by the needs of the people proposing them, and the only beneficiaries will be the companies building them”, said Ilolahia.

“Building Together: seven principles for engaging civil society to deliver resilient, inclusive and sustainable infrastructure in the Pacific islands” was initiated by the Research for Development Impact Network (RDI Network) and co-produced by RDI Network and Pacific Connections (Australia). The report was co-authored by Wesley Morgan, Rebecca McNaught, Sally Baker, Fulori Manoa and Jope Tarai.

 

This article first appeared on the DevPolicy blog.

 

By Sadhana Sen

Is the Pacific an aid-dependent region making endless requests for development assistance but with little care for how effectively and successfully this aid is used?

What should be done by Pacific governments, donors and other stakeholders to improve the Pacific’s status in the aid effectiveness tables? We currently rank at the bottom?

Do donors really care about how successfully their development dollars are used across the Pacific region, or is aid just soft diplomacy; a means to influence geopolitical maneuverings in the region?

Delegates to the Australasian Aid Conference (AAC2020) will look at the state of development in Australasia and in the Pacific and aid effectiveness when they meet in Canberra at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University February 17-19. Researchers working on aid and international development policy will share their insights and promote partnerships to build the research community.

So what can the Pacific Islanders and those working in the region expect from the discussions?

The conference’s location and Australia’s position as the South Pacific’s biggest aid partner as well as the current Australian International Development Policy Review, means Australian aid will be front and centre of the discussions.

The aid effectiveness sessions are led by the Devpolicy Centre’s Dr Terence Wood who writes on Australian aid project effectiveness – what shapes it, and why is it worse in the Pacific?

There will be a launch of a mapping study looking at funding gaps, opportunities and trends for Pacific women and girls, led by Fiji’s Virisila Buadromo from Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights Asia and the Pacific and Michelle Reddy from the Fiji Women’s Fund.

A research project titled Pacific perspectives on the World will also be launched at the conference. Led by the  Whitlam Institute and an outfit named Peacifica, it “analyses views of a diverse group of Pacific islanders from Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands on their countries’ and region’s future place in the world.”  The researchers say they’ve sought Pacific peoples’ views on “the role that Australia can play as a partner in realising that future.”

Other sessions will look at: infrastructure investments and NGO-participation in this sector; gender and development case studies; child-focused aid; climate change; eliminating violence against women and girls; and women’s economic empowerment (which includes Solomon Islands’ Dr Alice Pollard, the founder of the West ‘Are’Are Rokotanikeni Association NGO.)

Several panels are centered around Australian aid to Indonesia. However any mention of West Papua or a look at the plight of the West Papua people under Indonesian rule is a glaring omission from the program.

With this year marking the twentieth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS,) a panel will discuss the updated WPS Index, revealing areas of progress, stagnation, and reversals, and current opportunities for advancing the WPS agenda in Asia and the Pacific. Case studies include getting women’s issues onto the table in Bougainville, timely given the recent referendum.

Labour Mobility is another focal area, with a keynote panel looking at lessons learned from the first year of Australia’s new Pacific Labour Scheme, and an overview of recent recruitment reforms in Papua New Guinea.  

Overall there are 58 panels and 220 presenters.  And no Canberra is not closed. It’s had a bad summer with fire, hail and smoke, but the smoke is reducing, the weather is improving, and the conference is in a modern, air-conditioned building, promises Convenor and Development Policy Centre Director, Stephen Howes.

The full program can be seen here

Sen is an independent Regional Development and Communications Consultant.

E-ticketing or e-misery

Outcry over electronic bus fare card in Fiji

THE issue of pilferage in the bus industry in Fiji was not a problem that should be passed down to commuters to deal with, says a former Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji now leader of the newly-formed Unity Fiji Party, Savenaca Narube.

The compulsory electronic-ticketing system came into effect in October 2017, with the intention of countering pilferage by bus drivers. Initially, Digicel Fiji was part of the process but later “opted out” according to reports making Vodafone Fiji the sole manager of the system.

Requiring passengers to top up their cards beforehand in order to travel, the system continues to be scrutinised by many, particularly for the burden it was transferring onto frequent commuters. Narube in an interview with Islands Business said the problematic operational aspect of the business was purely employee to employer based. 

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Chaotic Melanesia

Is Melanesia the new Asia with its chaotic traffic ills

AS an office worker in Suva, Fiji’s capital, Andy is used to spending a good part of her morning and afternoon stuck in bumperto-bumper traffic. “That’s my life story,” she commented on social media. Another working mum, Violet, joins her soldier husband and three children as early as six o’clock for school drop-off before heading to work to beat the morning traffic.

She is not due to start work until 8am. The story is no different to that of other working mothers and fathers and school children living in Melanesian cities of Port Vila, Honiara and Port Moresby. “Honiara is one of the worst unplanned cities in the Pacific,” reports Island Sun newspaper publisher, Priestly Habru.

“One does not need to look far from the traffic congestion in peak hours to see the poor planning of the Solomon Islands capital city.” The same is true for Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea. “In peak hours, at almost every intersection and roundabout, vehicles queue up bumper-to-bumper with traffic flow reducing to a crawl every day of the week.

Some areas of the city have become terribly congested that a trip that normally would have taken 10 minutes is taking half an hour. Others that would normally take 20 minutes are taking one and a half to two hours at the wrong time of the day,” writes Sam Vulum, editor of the The Sunday Chronicle newspaper in Moresby. 

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