Lessons to learn

This item was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on May 12th, 2017.

In the days leading up to the arrival of Cyclone Donna in Vanuatu, I tweeted that anyone who was expecting to assist the government of Vanuatu with a response effort should do some pre-reading.

The recommended reading was a report that was released in February 2017 by the Office of Development Effectiveness (ODE). It is called ‘Humanitarian Assistance in the Pacific: An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Australia’s Response to Cyclone Pam’.

By its nature, this report is quite limited because it looks only at the humanitarian response by Australia. However, it covers all the aspects of this response: the work done by and through the Australian High Commission, military contributions and responses by NGOs.

I was one of the people consulted by the authors of this report when they visited Vanuatu during 2016. Overall, I feel the report does a good job of identifying how disaster response can and should be improved in the future. Although the focus of the report is response by Australia, many of the points that are identified can and should inform future responses by other partners.

The ODE is an independent unit within of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the agency who is responsible for delivery of Australian’s aid programme. The ODE has a reputation for providing robust assessments, including identification of areas where things have gone wrong or not gone as well as they could have done.

The report is available online and the executive summary contains five recommendations for future activities in this area. Notably, in its ‘management response’ DFAT expresses agreement with all of the recommendations.

Some of the suggested improvements intended to progress the recommendations are ones that I have advocated previously. I have certainly observed steps that have been taken to put some of them into practice. But there is more to be done on all sides of the equation.

Recommendation 1 reads:

DFAT SHOULD CONTINUE TO PROGRESS WORK TO SUPPORT NATIONALLY-LED RESPONSES AND LOCALISATION BY

• defining what is meant by localisation and unifying implementing partners around a common understanding of localisation

• identifying in advance of a crisis local, national and regional partners, including private sector and civil society actors, that could contribute effectively to a humanitarian response, as well as mechanisms that could be used to support them in the event of a crisis

• exploring possible options for Pacific crisis response teams.

The first aspect of this recommendation neatly summarises an ongoing issue in this area. It is how to achieve effective coordination within and between sectors. Whether DFAT is able to do the required ‘unifying’ or is the best agency to even attempt such a thing is open to question.

Moving on to the second aspect of this recommendation, this is something that needs to be at the heart of improved disaster responses in Vanuatu and elsewhere in our region. The support mechanisms should include facilitating the participation of appropriate actors, including those from within the private sector, in response activities. This will provide access to a wider range of local knowledge than might otherwise be the case.

Since the passage of Cyclone Pam, DFAT has established a pilot project with the Australian Red Cross. This initiative is working to develop systems and to facilitate more and better contribution by the local private sector to humanitarian responses. I look forward to learning more about how this pilot develops and how the knowledge learned can be shared with other Pacific island countries.

The third aspect of this recommendation echoes some of what was contained in a submission I co-authored with Anna Powles and Jose Sousa-Santos.

The submission was made last year through the public policy process under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

Our submission recommended the establishment of a Pacific Disaster Response and Coordination Unit (PDRCU). One of the anticipated functions of this unit was to maintain a database of professionals and organisations that are located within the region whose skills and expertise can be mobilised on an intra-regional basis. This would include contributors from numerous sectors including public servants, the private sector and civil society (including traditional leaders and the churches).

A mechanism of this type would form the basis of Pacific response teams as referenced in the ODE report. This, in turn, allows for the ‘lessons learned’ about preparing for and responding to disasters to remain in our region and contribute to increased local skills and expertise.

As acknowledged in the ODE report, responding to natural disasters is the responsibility of national governments. National leadership needs to be recognised and accepted by all partners. It must be exercised appropriately and responsibly. There are many lessons to learn.

 

Let’s get realistic about regionalism

This item was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on April 7th 2017

Last week I was in Fiji, working on a research project as part of a joint ANU/USP team. For a number of reasons I spent a bit of time thinking and talking about regionalism in the Pacific.

It’s a tricky topic. Some people find it very boring. And if you are allergic to acronyms, regionalism is best avoided that’s for sure. The term ‘regionalism’ can mean different things to different people. For some people it is all about trade issues, others are focused on security and others talk only about pooled services.

But the most common reaction to Pacific regionalism is probably frustration. At the national level, policy makers and politicians say they are frustrated because regional organisations do not offer anything that helps with their domestic agendas. Within the regionalism machinery, officials bemoan the fact that delegations have agendas that are only focused on nationalistic concerns.

 So, should we call the whole thing off? One of the particular characteristics of regionalism in our part of the world is that it is voluntary. There is no grand political bargain such as exists (for now) among the countries that came together to form the European Union. We don’t have a Pacific parliament that can pass laws, which bind member countries. Pacific regionalism is more like a club, whose membership is voluntary.

So if Vanuatu (or any other Pacific island country) doesn’t want to take part in the regionalism project they don’t have to. The officials don’t need to go to meetings, same for the ministers and we don’t need to worry about paying (or not) our subscriptions to various regional agencies and organisations.

But we remain members, we send our officials and ministers to meetings (the Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting took place in Suva this week) and we contribute to the costs of regionalism and the machinery it has spawned. So if we are going to remain members, how can we change the landscape so that the levels of frustration are reduced and the available opportunities can be better identified and acted upon?

The starting point is information. At the national level, we need to be better informed about what regional organisations and activities mean for us. This needs to go beyond ‘it’s all a waste of time’ to actually learn more about what regional priorities have been decided and how they are being progressed. What is the Framework for Pacific Regionalism? What does Pacific Islands Trade and Invest do? What are the implications of signing up to PACER Plus (or not?)

These are important questions that are significant at the national level as well as regionally. They reflect decisions made by our political leaders and they occupy the time and energy of our officials. If we are going to make sensible decisions about whether to take part in regional activities, we need to have access to information that informs how we answer them. We should expect representatives of regional organisations to be engaging with national media organisations when they visit member countries. We would hope that our national media outlets ask questions of these organisations about what they are doing and why it is important or relevant for Vanuatu to be involved.

In addition, those who represent their countries in regional forums need to have a better understanding of what regional cooperation is. It is not appropriate in all circumstances. But in some situations working together may have something to offer whether in terms of accessing climate finance or sharing the costs of promoting our region as a tourism destination to new markets. Those who take part in regional decision-making need to have a very clear as to what their national position is, there is no doubt about that. In addition they need to develop a sense of where there are more opportunities for everyone by coming together as a region. They need to feed back to organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat what advice is needed to inform this.

There are serious and ongoing concerns about the state of regionalism in the Pacific it is true. And there are plenty of pressing concerns for politicians and policy makers in their own backyards without looking for things to do regionally. But the fact is that we joined the club voluntarily and if we are in it, then we should be looking for opportunities to make the best of it.

 

A reframed Pacific regionalism: rise of the foreign ministers

This item was first published on the Devpolicy blog and is co-authored with Matthew Dornan.

In a post last September, we examined the first year of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism in the aftermath of the Port Moresby Pacific Island Forum leaders’ meeting. This year the action was in the Federated States of Micronesia, where for the first time, non-independent territories (New Caledonia and French Polynesia) were granted full Forum membership status.

Another first which went largely unnoticed was the inaugural standing meeting of the Forum Foreign Ministers in August (the meeting last year was a one-off affair; as of this year it becomes an annual occurrence). The foreign ministers’ meeting now serves as an additional filter on proposals submitted as part of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. Whereas previously proposals were assessed by the Specialist Subcommittee on Regionalism (SSCR) tasked with reviewing regional public policy submissions and vetted by the Forum Officials Committee, they are now also considered (and vetted) by foreign ministers.

The prior meeting of foreign ministers appears to have influenced what was discussed (and not discussed) in the Forum leaders’ meeting. It may also have bolstered the influence of Australia and New Zealand given their foreign ministers’ interest in regional affairs.

Australia and New Zealand were vocal supporters of admitting New Caledonia and French Polynesia into the Forum, a move agreed by leaders despite the subject not having been raised through the SSCR process, opposition from pro-independence groups within those territories, and reports of unease among some Forum member states. Of course, the inclusion of the French territories also sits at odds with the original impetus for establishing the South Pacific Forum (as it was then known) in 1971. France at the time had prevented discussion of decolonisation and French nuclear testing in meetings of the South Pacific Commission. The Forum Communiqué announced this important development in one factual line — “Leaders accepted French Polynesia and New Caledonia as full Members of the Pacific Islands Forum” – in a possible indication of disagreement among some Forum members.

The decision to include the territories, although considered inevitable by some, in the immediate term looks a lot like a response to Bainimarama’s continued criticism of Australian and New Zealand membership of the Forum. The move provides an entry for another OECD country (beyond Australia and New Zealand) to influence Forum activities. It may not have been complete coincidence that events in Fiji overshadowed those of Forum over the weekend, with the removal of Fiji’s Foreign Minister from his position by Bainimarama mid-meeting (via email) followed by the concerning arrest of opposition and trade union leaders. Bainimarama will now take up the position of Foreign Minister himself.

Australian and New Zealand influence was also evident in other areas. The leaders’ communiqué’s positive spin on PACER Plus was especially striking. It made no reference to Vanuatu’s concerns about the agreement, nor to Fiji’s decision four days ago not to join the agreement (the communiqué did describe Fiji as having reservations regarding the text). However, it did confirm previous comments by PNG’s Minister for Trade that PNG would not sign up – a stance confirmed by O’Neill at the Forum.

The relegation of West Papua as an issue was also notable. We might have expected to see West Papua given more prominence in the communiqué, given the fact that of the 48 regional policy public submissions that were received, 13 concerned West Papua. Instead, last year’s measured statement announcing the establishment of an independent fact-finding mission looks positively assertive when compared to this year’s communiqué, which simply states that leaders “recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua (Papua) and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua (Papua) should remain on their agenda” (while also agreeing “on the importance of an open and constructive dialogue with Indonesia”). The influence of the larger Forum members was likely at play here, including that of Australia, New Zealand, PNG and Fiji.

What of other issues discussed by leaders?

A positive development was the increased assertiveness of the Small Island States (SIS) group, which now also includes FSM. The leaders of the Small Island States (SIS) met earlier in the year in Palau and agreed upon a five-point Regional Strategy [pdf]– a significant component of which involves preparation of joint applications for funding from the Global Climate Fund (GCF). Not only will this be the first such joint application that the GCF will have received, but it has the potential to inform future activities by the Forum.

Fisheries management was again on the agenda, having been discussed at last year’s leaders’ meeting. Leaders endorsed the work of the Fisheries Taskforce in implementing the Fisheries Roadmap agreed in 2015. Importantly, leaders supported the view of the taskforce that there need be no change to the Vessel Day Scheme. This had previously been the source of some concern within the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Secretariat. The call by leaders for an expanded focus on coastal fisheries is a positive development.

As occurred last year, the communiqué discussed the importance of climate change for Forum island members. Although bold, there was not a great deal that was new here. An exception was leaders’ agreement on a Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific [pdf], which aims to integrate the region’s climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction frameworks into one. This followed bungled efforts last year to do the same, which saw leaders reject a draft given opposition by some member states to the detail of that text. The voluntary nature of the framework agreed this year was no doubt helpful in securing leaders’ agreement. The framework has nevertheless been criticised for not doing enough to integrate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

Widely reported in Australia was the PM’s announcement of $80m over three years for disaster response, which adds to the $300m over 4 years already announced for climate adaptation in the region. Although that figure sounds impressive, $75m per year ($300m over 4 years) is below that provided in 2013, 2012 or 2011 (in that last year, Australia provided just under $170m). It does nevertheless mark an improvement on the dismal $40m provided in 2014 (as discussed previously on this blog).

The communiqué’s reference to cervical cancer and ICT – two initiatives canvassed by leaders last year as part of the SSCR process – is especially notable. We criticised the proposals at the time for being vague; it was unclear what their regional dimension was. Read between the lines of this year’s communiqué and it would appear that leaders agree – they pointed out that, “while important, these issues do not require their continued discussion to be progressed”.

How does the 2016 Forum leaders’ meeting measure up? There was less potential for controversy than in 2015, when tensions over climate change between Australia (in particular) and New Zealand and Forum island members were prominent. Fewer leaders attended this year’s meeting (five Forum island leaders instead sent delegates). Leaders did discuss issues of importance for the Pacific, but the outcomes of those discussion were limited, with much of the communiqué repeating previous statements (with some notable exceptions, including on fisheries management).

In many ways this year’s outcome reflects the Framework for Pacific Regionalism’s success in attracting high level political engagement. Having very clearly set a political agenda for last year’s leaders’ meeting, the interjection of the foreign ministers this year would appear to have had a diluting effect in some areas, with the influence of Julie Bishop and Murray McCully evident on issues such as West Papua. Australian and New Zealand influence appears to have driven other decisions as well, including the status of the French territories. Whether such political engagement has the unintended effect of undermining future engagement with civil society through the SSCR process remains to be seen.

 

The Post Moresby Forum: a reframed Pacific regionalism

 

This item was first published by Matthew Dornan & Tess Newton Cain on Devpolicy on September 30th, 2015

The political machinations of the recent meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders dominated the media headlines over the last two weeks, with tensions around climate change and West Papua, as well as the future of Australia and New Zealand in the Forum, receiving considerable coverage.

A number of other important developments were sidelined in the media commentary as a result, including leaders’ decisions on three other agenda items: cervical cancer treatment, fisheries management, and ICT development. Importantly, the impact of the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism [pdf] on proceedings prior to and at the meeting has received scant attention, as has the Hiri Declaration. These are the focus of this post.
It surprised many the extent to which the Framework for Pacific Regionalism (the framework) flew under the radar at the leaders’ meeting in Port Moresby: the first time the framework has been in place. Although the framework itself did not receive much attention, it was its operation that created the agenda for what was discussed in Port Moresby.

The framework was developed as a result of the Review of the Pacific Plan in 2013, and aims to better focus PIF Leaders’ meetings by reducing the number of issues placed on the agenda for discussion. Its establishment, socialisation and implementation has been the paradigm for the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat under the new leadership of its Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, and it is an agenda that she and her team have pursued with vigour. It is worth discussing the framework in some detail, given its implications for the outcomes of both the recent and future leaders’ meetings.

Three key objectives provide the underpinning of the framework:

  • to broaden the conversation on regionalism beyond that of CROP agencies, which were (often correctly) perceived to dominate priorities under the Pacific Plan.
  • to ensure regional initiatives had a sound rationale, something sometimes lacking in the past.
  • to ‘bring back’ the political dimension of regionalism, which many argued had been lost under the technocratic Pacific Plan.

This last point was emphasised in the opening remarks of Dame Meg Taylor to the Forum Officials Committee meeting, which preceded the leaders’ meeting. In her statement, Dame Meg Taylor stated:

“I reiterate the responsibility of this Committee, as articulated in the Framework and approved by Leaders, to ensure that ‘politically sensitive and major regional issues and initiatives are the focus of the Leaders’ meeting’.”

The operation of the framework has been both devised and rolled out since Dame Meg Taylor took over as Secretary-General. One of the most significant planks of its implementation is to provide an opportunity for a wider range of voices (whether individual or institutional) to contribute to determining how the regionalism project should be taken forward. Under the framework, the Forum Secretariat issued a call for public submissions of proposed regional initiatives in the lead up to the leaders’ meeting.
These were assessed by a newly appointed Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism (SSCR), and five were selected for the consideration of leaders, on the basis of a series of tests. These tests ensure that proposals considered by leaders are requiring of a regional approach, generate net benefits, and do not impinge on sovereignty, the market, or duplicate existing activities. The SSCR process is key to the new framework, and is important to meeting all three underpinning objectives identified above.

What was its impact in preparation for the leaders’ meeting and in Port Moresby?

The SSCR process has been successful in broadening the conversation on regionalism this year. The process has generated considerable public interest, more than was expected, with a total of 68 submissions received from NGOs, regional bodies, universities, CROP agencies, and Forum member country governments. The SSCR referred a number of these to appropriate ministerial meetings for decisions as envisaged by the framework, again as a way of ensuring that the leaders’ discussions were focused on only those issues that would be in line with the underpinning objectives. (These were a joint position on climate change, West Papua, a regional response to cervical cancer, better fisheries management, and ICT development).

Assessment of these proposals against the various tests was designed to ensure that proposals had a clear rationale. It is hard to judge the impact of these tests as the basis for the SSCR’s decision on the five proposals presented to leaders were not made public (although the Secretariat has published the template [pdf] that was used to review submissions prior to their consideration by the SSCR). Indeed, very little detail was provided about what was actually placed on the agenda of leaders. This has detracted from achievement of the first aim, and is discussed more below.

The third objective, to ‘bring back’ the political dimension of regionalism, was certainly achieved at the recent Forum Leaders’ meeting. This was in part due to the SSCR process, which both selected topical issues and limited leaders’ discussion to five agenda items, thereby facilitating discussion (To put this in perspective, the communiqué [pdf] from last year’s meeting reflects a much more unwieldy agenda). However, the context within which the meeting took place, in the lead up to the UNFCCC negotiations, was no doubt also a factor.

So, what should we make of the meeting? And what was the impact of the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism?

There can be no doubt that the leaders’ meeting focused on matters of political importance. (In turn, the Hiri Declaration replaces the 2004 Auckland Declaration as the basis for political support for the regional project, and includes specific mention of the Pacific Islands Forum and the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.)

Somewhat ironically, it was the very success of the framework in ‘bringing back’ politics that highlighted differences between Forum member states on key issues. This was most evident in the rift between Australia/New Zealand and Forum island countries on climate change. But it was also evident on West Papua, with countries like PNG opposed to the more assertive recommendations of countries like Solomon Islands. (It is worth noting that some other potential subjects for discussion that are equally controversial were not included in the agenda, such as the worrying political developments in Nauru).

The other agenda items discussed by leaders were less controversial. One suspects that some, such as the cervical cancer initiative, were selected at least in part due to their potential for implementation. But agreement on specific actions in these areas was required for these initiatives to be considered a positive outcome at Port Moresby. The only area where this occurred was fisheries management.

On the issues of both ICT and cervical cancer the Forum Leaders’ communiqué was vague. The reasons for this are difficult to establish, given that the background material provided to leaders is not publicly available. It is possible that not enough effort was made in preparing detailed proposals for leaders. The fisheries proposal was different in this respect, as a plan had already been developed by fisheries agencies and required only approval by leaders. An alternative explanation is that a conscious decision was made to keep the subject matter general, in order to first gain leadership approval to develop proposals. In either case, it was a mistake not to develop detailed proposals for the initiatives, given longstanding criticisms of regionalism as not sufficiently action-oriented.

The framework worked well in other areas. Observers at the meeting have told us that the discussion was more substantive than in previous years, in which the agenda had been too crowded. The framework also attracted the interest of the public, reflecting a continuation of the high level of public engagement observed during the review of the Pacific Plan in 2013. This will help to addresses past concerns about ‘capture’ of regionalism by CROP agencies. The first ever meeting of civil society organisations with the Troika (the current PIF chair, outgoing PIF chair and incoming PIF chair) also addressed such concerns. Previous claims that the Forum excludes civil society (unlike the Fiji-sponsored Pacific Islands Development Forum) are now hard to justify as a result.

There is room for improvement in this area, however. Despite the public submission process, there was a lack of transparency with respect to what was discussed. Civil society organisations that attended the meeting were provided with a list of broad themes for discussion, but not the actual proposals considered by leaders. It remains unclear on what basis the SSCR made its decision to select the five agenda items for leaders (no documentation has been released). The process could therefore be improved, and hopefully will be in the future.

In our view, therefore, the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism went some way in achieving its objectives, notwithstanding the weak communiqué and political tensions surrounding the Forum Leaders’ meeting. The framework has made conversations about regionalism more inclusive, although there is room for improvement. It may have improved the process for consideration of regional proposals, although the lack of transparency highlighted above makes this difficult to judge. Again, there is considerable room for improvement in this space.

Most significantly, the framework recognises the reality that regionalism is inherently political. This is a positive, given the problems associated with the technocratic Pacific Plan. A more political approach will help to ensure that future strengthening of the regional architecture has a more solid foundation. However, this does not mean that strengthening regionalism will be any easier. The tensions observed at Port Moresby were a stark reminder of this.

Photo credit: Flickr/Raymond June

 

A tale of two forums

This item was first published by Tess Newton Cain & Matthew Dornan on Devpolicy on September 11th, 2015

‘Forum fortnight’ has ended with the release of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ communiqué this afternoon. It has been an important fortnight for Pacific regionalism. The Forum Leaders’ meeting was preceded by the Fiji-sponsored Pacific Islands Development Forum last week, and by the first ever pre-Forum meeting of leaders from the seven Smaller Island States on Tuesday.

The 46th meeting of Pacific Island Forum Leaders was special for a number of reasons. It was the first to be held where priority issues for consideration by Leaders were identified using the new processes available under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, which replaces the old Pacific Plan (and will be discussed in a separate blog post). This year also sees the first time in three years that an Australian prime minister has attended the PIF meeting.

Significantly, this year’s meeting was held in the lead up to the UNFCCC climate change negotiations in Paris, and in an environment of considerable frustration among island states at Australia and New Zealand’s limited action on climate change. This frustration has served to bolster Fijian calls for the two ‘big brothers’ to be excluded from future meetings (see discussion of this herehere and here). Fiji’s Prime Minister refused to attend as a result, instead sending his Foreign Minister.

But criticism of Australia and New Zealand went beyond that of Fiji. The President of Kiribati, in the lead-up to the meeting, stated bluntly:

“Those of us who feel that our interests have been compromised — should we stay in or should we walk out? … Or should we ask those that have a problem with (what is) our bottom line to dissociate themselves?”

Strong statements on climate change emanating from regional fora that exclude Australia, such as the Polynesian Leaders Group Taputapuatea Declaration on Climate Change [pdf], and the Pacific Islands Development Forum’s Suva Declaration on Climate Change, have helped solidify such positions. Indeed, Greg Fry argued last week that a weak Forum statement on climate change risked creating the perception:

“that a Pacific Islands Forum with Australia and New Zealand as members is hampering the ability of the Pacific island states to defend their interests, and in the case of climate policy, their very survival.”

But this was not just an important fortnight for the Pacific Islands Forum.

The 3rd meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), which took as its theme ‘Building Climate Resilient Green-Blue Pacific Economies’, was described by one insider as evidence that PIDF is here to stay. Indeed, specific mention of the PIDF’s Suva Declaration on Climate Change in the Forum Leaders’ communiqué suggests that the PIDF has graduated from a potential organisation to an organisation with potential.

There are also other changes that point to PIDF’s consolidation as an organisation. A new Secretary-General was appointed. Francois Martel is a Samoan-Canadian who comes with an established background in conservation, bio-diversity and natural resource management; a profile that fits well with the avowed focus of PIDF on ‘green growth’ and the ‘blue-green economy’. The PIDF charter [pdf] was also approved.

All of these developments were eclipsed (in terms of media coverage and commentary) by the promulgation of the PIDF Suva Declaration on Climate Change [pdf]. The Declaration calls for a joint Pacific position prior to the Paris talks at the end of the year; a position that demands a global commitment to keeping warming ‘well below’ 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

These developments have helped to bolster PIDF as a regional forum, in the face of a widespread view that it is an organisation dominated by Fiji. They have also enabled Fiji’s Prime Minister to highlight again (and again) that the region’s most significant development partners – Australia and New Zealand – are not only not on the same page when it comes to climate change, they are in fact singing from a different songbook altogether. This was expressed in characteristically blunt language back in May:

“Rather than side with us, Australia in particular is siding with what I call the coalition of the selfish, those industrialised nations which are putting the welfare of their carbon-polluting industries and their workers before our welfare and survival as Pacific islanders.”

The PIDF meeting last week therefore set the scene for a tense 46th meeting of Pacific Island Forum Leaders on Thursday.

Of the five priorities discussed by Leaders (and identified through the new processes established by the Framework for Pacific Regionalism [pdf]), two came to dominate the media coverage and commentary. Both of these issues were ones where the leaders of small island states were not necessarily looking for technical assistance or even financing from the larger metropolitan members; rather they were looking for political solidarity. They were 1) a unified position on a call for a global warming target of no more than 1.5 degrees be adopted at the Paris talks, and 2) a regional response to ongoing allegations of human rights abuses in West Papua.

The momentum generated at PIDF on climate change by virtue of the Suva Declaration was maintained at the closed session of the Smaller Island States and subsequently via some trenchant comments from President Anote Tong of Kiribati. Once again, the question of whether Australia and New Zealand’s membership of the PIF could be maintained in the absence of their commitment to ‘stand with the Pacific’ was raised.

The issue of a regional response to the West Papua issue figured highly in the pre-Forum civil society dialogue, which included a breakfast with the troika (past, current and incoming Forum chairs) and was taken up forcefully by the delegation of Solomon Islands, including that government’s Special Envoy, Matthew Wale.

The PIF communiqué reflects what was evidently a long and possibly challenging day at the Leaders’ retreat, and will be a source of disappointment to many. The commitments to better regional management of fisheries resources are the strongest, reflecting what we learned about the factors that promote success to pooled service delivery (see our full paper on this here). Elsewhere, there are painful reminders of longstanding criticisms that the Forum is insufficiently action-focused and does not engender sufficient accountability on the part of Leaders or CROP agencies. One such example is the Leaders’ communiqué on ICT:

“Leaders tasked the Forum Secretariat and USP to consider the merit of a regional ICT Advisory Council. The Council should not overlap with existing mechanisms and must deliver real deliverables.”

The two most contentious issues are where the bulk of the disappointment will arise. And certainly, if we focus on the product rather than the process, there is plenty for Pacific islanders to feel underwhelmed by. The Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ Declaration on Climate Change Action was clearly a compromise, and was not as forceful as the PIDF’s Suva Declaration or the Port Moresby Declaration of Smaller Island States. It did highlight the harm to small Pacific island states associated with warming of over 1.5 degrees, but its call for action referenced the UN target of 2 degrees.

The level of commitment to progressing the cause of the people of West Papua is less inspiring, with Leaders tasking the Forum Chair (PNG) to convey their concerns about alleged human rights abuses to the government of Indonesia and to consult with them on a fact finding mission. This is far from what was hoped for by the many civil society groups throughout the region who had lobbied their leaders on this issue. Papua New Guinea’s ban on West Papuan attendance at the Forum Leader’s meeting was further evidence of its unwillingness to challenge Indonesia on the issue (the West Papuan leader, Octovanius Mote, was also ‘quietly’ asked to leave the PIDF meeting the previous week).

There are reasons to be positive. One is that the Forum Leaders’ meeting actually addressed issues such as climate change and the West Papua, issues that have long been neglected. Furthermore, the compromise arrived at in relation to climate change allows for those leaders (such as President Tong of Kiribati) who want to be more vocal and activist in the lead up to the Paris talks to be so without appearing to contradict themselves.

Importantly, the Declaration references other key agreements such as the Suva Declaration discussed above. This indicates a growing recognition and acceptance of the ‘patchwork’ of regional and sub-regional groupings that exists in the Pacific; a positive step, that reflects the reality of this diverse region. (This will be discussed in another blog post focused on the Hiri Declaration and how the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism fared at the Leaders’ meeting.)

The 46th meeting of Pacific Island Forum Leaders in Port Moresby is unlikely to be remembered as the turning point for a resurgent Pacific Islands Forum. The outcome will underwhelm many observers in the region. But there are some positives to be taken from the meeting. Forum advocates, while not celebrating, are likely to be breathing a sigh of relief. The outcome could have been worse given the division among PIF members on climate change.

 

Regionalism, sub-regionalism and women’s empowerment: an interview with Dame Meg Taylor

This item was first published by Tess Newton Cain & Dame Meg Taylor on Devpolicy on March 8th, 2015

During her first visit to Vanuatu as Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), Dame Meg Taylor took some time to chat with Tess Newton Cain for Pacific Conversations. You can listen to a podcast of their conversation here and read the transcript here. For the highlights of what they discussed, read on…

I started by asking Dame Meg what she thought were the key objectives for Pacific regionalism in the next few years. She stated that, from the perspective of the PIFS, she saw the future of regionalism as based on the Framework for Pacific Regionalism [pdf], which was adopted by leaders at the 2014 Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Majuro:

…the key emphasis is about changing the paradigm of the way development is done in the region, where the leaders of the Pacific are the ones that make the decision as to what are the regional priorities.

The Secretary General made it clear that she wants to ensure that the Framework for Pacific Regionalism is an impetus for action:

The task that the Pacific Islands Forum has and the CROP agencies will have is to make sure we are implementing that. But right now, it’s rolling out that process, and actually implementing a report that was done in the Pacific rather than shelving it and hoping that somebody will write another one.

In a definitive display of positive thinking, Dame Meg advised me that she did not want to predict obstacles to achieving these objectives. That is not to say that she is unaware of the challenging nature of the endeavour:

I think that grappling with these issues, that’s going to be tougher than we all think. You don’t just pluck a topic out of thin air. We’ve got to make sure that it’s a regional issue, and not a regional issue for some and not for others.

I moved on by asking Dame Meg what she would like the PIFS to look like at the completion of her three-year term. Whilst there is a need for organisational reform, her focus is on the present and the future rather than the past:

I’m looking at an institution that I’ve inherited, end of 2014, now 2015. It’s amazing how dynamics change in this region very quickly, and what we’ve been asked to do in terms of implementation is going to require skill sets that can deliver, be responsive to what the leaders want.

Again, Dame Meg made it clear that she intended to devote the bulk of her time and energy into putting the decisions of Pacific leaders into action:

…my main focus in terms of institutional outcome is to ensure that the Pacific Framework is truly implemented and accepted, not just by the leadership and the CROP agencies, but by the donor agencies. That when the leaders of the Pacific say “these are the four priorities for the issues in the region”, that donor agencies get behind it.

Dame Meg was very candid in her acknowledgement of concerns within the region about the relevance of the PIF and its secretariat, but she is very clear that the PIF has an important role to play within the wider context of regionalism:

There’s a debate that the Pacific Islands Forum is becoming irrelevant, that it’s not needed. I want to be able to assure the people of the Pacific, because when they were asked by Sir Mekere about regionalism they responded that they needed a regional organisation that represented their countries. And the Pacific Islands Forum is one that represents the independent states of the Pacific. And that’s a very precious mandate for me. And we’ve got to make sure that it is protected but also effective.

When Dame Meg was appointed to the position of Secretary General, much was made of the fact that she is the first woman to have held that position. I asked her what she thought was needed in order to support professional women to take on positions of regional leadership in the Pacific. Her response was incisive:

I think we’ve got to be supported by our own gender and supported by men in our communities for the intelligence and the contribution that we can make as individuals… I’ve heard this from young women in PNG, that some of the areas that they feel they can’t make progress is because many of us who are the older women are making sure that they don’t have those opportunities.

Dame Meg advised me that she hopes to draw on her experience of mentoring young professional women within the World Bank Group to do the same whilst she is Secretary General of the PIFS.

Returning to regionalism, I asked Dame Meg for her assessment of the regional and sub-regional landscape as it currently stands, and how she thought it might evolve in the future. She was particularly keen to discuss the opportunities offered by sub-regionalism further to her meeting with the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat:

I think that what we’ve got to be open to as a regional organisation is that there are some things that a sub-regional can do and do them well. There are other things and issues that a regional organisation has to have responsibility for and take leadership on. And to be able to exchange ideas and not to be afraid of it.

Dame Meg Taylor has taken on an important and challenging role. The next three years will be very busy for her and the organisation she leads.

Dame Meg Taylor is Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

 

Another review of the Pacific regional architecture is neither warranted nor appropriate

This item was first published by Matthew Dornan & Tess Newton Cainon on Devpolicy on November 11th, 2014

The joint announcement by Fiji and Australia that the Pacific regional architecture should be reviewed has taken both the Pacific islands region and Australian foreign affairs establishment by surprise.

We can only speculate about the origins and underlying purpose of the announced review. Very little detail has yet to be made available, save that Australia will host a meeting of regional leaders (the exact composition of that group yet to be determined) in Sydney in February 2015. But whatever the trigger for this announcement, it raises some important questions about the future of regionalism and, more particularly, the respective roles of Australia and Fiji within it.

Is there either the need or appetite for such a review, given the recent completion of a series of reviews with focus on and implications for the regional architecture?

There is much that remains unclear but what is evident is that the ‘review’ (as described in the Fiji media) or ‘discussion’ (as described on the Australian Foreign Minister’s website) has arisen amidst efforts by Australia to normalise relations with Fiji. The exchange of high commissioners has been announced, and Fiji will be offered 100 places within Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program. Fiji will also be incorporated into the New Colombo Plan, meaning that Australian students will soon study at the University of the South Pacific. Defence ties are also being re-established.

Fiji’s involvement in the regional architecture meanwhile remains unclear. Its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum (the region’s premier political body) in 2009 was lifted recently following elections in which the former head of the Fiji military (and 2006 coup leader) won office. But Fiji has refused to rejoin the Forum, stating that it will only consider doing so if Australia and New Zealand leave the body that they helped to establish. The announced review of the regional architecture is most likely a bid by Australia to appease the Fiji Government – although it is not at all clear that Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola will back down from their opposition to rejoining a Forum that includes Australia and New Zealand as members.

Any review of the regional architecture, of course, brings with it opportunities. The Pacific Institute of Public Policy has welcomed the initiative as a means to “effect the necessary reforms” that will “reforge the regional vision and establish the relevant architecture to secure it”. Such a position reflects a widespread view that regionalism has done little to improve the lot of Pacific island populations (a view that to a great extent is true, although not universally so). The Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Brett Mason, recently reiterated that point when he said about Pacific regionalism that “things can’t remain as they are.” If the review does generate a broad-based political mandate for enhancing regionalism, it would certainly be a win for all.

But we are sceptical that the review that has been announced will fulfil this purpose, for a number of reasons.

First, there is the issue of timing. In the last 10 years, there have been myriad reviews of regional organisations and plans/processes. These include the 2013 Independent Review of the Pacific Plan for Regional Integration and Cooperation (the ‘Pacific Plan); the 2012 reviews of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (discussed here); the 2007 Regional Integration Framework [pdf] (RIF) review, which led to the merger of a number of major regional agencies; and the 2005 review of the regional architecture commissioned by Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). Surely this is overkill? The purpose of regionalism cannot primarily be to review regionalism.

Of these review activities, the most recent and most significant was the 2013 Review of the Pacific Plan, undertaken by Sir Mekere Morauta and his team and captured in a report [pdf] released less than 12 months ago. That review included detailed analysis of what the regionalism project has been and could be in the future (including work we did assessing pooled service delivery in the region). Its key product, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism[pdf], was endorsed by leaders at the Palau meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The PIFS is currently implementing key activities arising from the 2013 Review of the Pacific Plan, including the rationalisation of regional meetings (a specific request from Pacific island leaders). Regional organisations such as the University of the South Pacific, SPC and the PIFS have only recently implemented recommendations from their comprehensive reviews, and in some cases, this process is ongoing. It comes as a surprise then that another review of the regional architecture should be announced.
It is unclear whether there is much appetite for another review in the region, with the implications of past reviews still being worked through and implemented by regional bodies and the Forum. Alf Simpson, former Director of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC – now subsumed within the SPC), has said in response to the announcement that:

Time after time they keep asking the same questions hoping for a different response. Even worse the focus on the organisations only results in minor efficiency gains and the question of effectiveness is never addressed.

Transform Aqorau, the CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement office, has labelled another review of the regional architecture as “ill advised, untimely and an overreaction.”
It is certainly significant that the announcement has been met with silence by most regional organisations (regional organisations, after all, would be unlikely to directly criticise the foreign ministers of Australia and Fiji). The one exception is the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which has welcomed the initiative, although on the proviso that “the discussion comes up with some useful way forward”. Importantly, there has been no request for a review by the countries that have the greatest stake in regionalism: the smaller island states of the Pacific (a group that does not include the larger countries of Fiji and PNG, nor the developed economies of Australia and New Zealand).

This is cause for further concern. It is absurd that Australia and Fiji should bilaterally announce a review of the regional architecture with no consideration for the views of other Pacific island countries. After all, Fiji refuses to be a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, while Australia is not a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group or the Pacific Islands Development Forum. How can either country seek to review regional arrangements to which they are not party? The meeting in February will presumably include other Pacific island heads of government, but the fact remains that the need to hold a discussion was announced by Fiji and Australia without the involvement of other leaders.

The announcement may help to re-establish the bilateral relationship between Australia and Fiji, although there is no guarantee that it will succeed in bringing Fiji back into the Forum’s fold. But it is disappointing in terms of Australia’s engagement with the broader region. Whilst in opposition, Julie Bishop promised a better engagement with the region should her party come into government. What we have seen since last October is a selective approach to developing some bilateral relationships (most notably with PNG and Fiji) and a disregard for progressing regional relationships. Australia has been noticeable by its perceived absence in key forums where issues that matter to Pacific island countries (especially the smaller states) have been discussed. The continued inertia of the PACER Plus negotiations has arisen, at least in part, from the apparent inability of Australian (and New Zealand) officials to take the concerns of Pacific negotiators on board. And the Seasonal Workers’ Program remains a source of disappointment to many.

There are plenty of challenges ahead for the future of Pacific regionalism and visionary leadership is required if they are to be successfully navigated. A review of the regional architecture, announced by two countries less than 12 months after the completion of another review, is far from visionary.

Photo credit: Fiji Ministry of Information

 

Another review of the Pacific regional architecture is neither warranted nor appropriate

This item was first published Matthew Dornan & Tess Newton Cain on Devpolicy on November 11th, 2014

The joint announcement by Fiji and Australia that the Pacific regional architecture should be reviewed has taken both the Pacific islands region and Australian foreign affairs establishment by surprise.

We can only speculate about the origins and underlying purpose of the announced review. Very little detail has yet to be made available, save that Australia will host a meeting of regional leaders (the exact composition of that group yet to be determined) in Sydney in February 2015. But whatever the trigger for this announcement, it raises some important questions about the future of regionalism and, more particularly, the respective roles of Australia and Fiji within it.

Is there either the need or appetite for such a review, given the recent completion of a series of reviews with focus on and implications for the regional architecture?

There is much that remains unclear but what is evident is that the ‘review’ (as described in the Fiji media) or ‘discussion’ (as described on the Australian Foreign Minister’s website) has arisen amidst efforts by Australia to normalise relations with Fiji. The exchange of high commissioners has been announced, and Fiji will be offered 100 places within Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program. Fiji will also be incorporated into the New Colombo Plan, meaning that Australian students will soon study at the University of the South Pacific. Defence ties are also being re-established.

Fiji’s involvement in the regional architecture meanwhile remains unclear. Its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum (the region’s premier political body) in 2009 was lifted recentlyfollowing elections in which the former head of the Fiji military (and 2006 coup leader) won office. But Fiji has refused to rejoin the Forum, stating that it will only consider doing so if Australia and New Zealand leave the body that they helped to establish. The announced review of the regional architecture is most likely a bid by Australia to appease the Fiji Government – although it is not at all clear that Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola will back down from their opposition to rejoining a Forum that includes Australia and New Zealand as members.

Any review of the regional architecture, of course, brings with it opportunities. The Pacific Institute of Public Policy has welcomed the initiative as a means to “effect the necessary reforms” that will “reforge the regional vision and establish the relevant architecture to secure it”. Such a position reflects a widespread view that regionalism has done little to improve the lot of Pacific island populations (a view that to a great extent is true, although not universally so). The Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Brett Mason, recently reiterated that point when he said about Pacific regionalism that “things can’t remain as they are.” If the review does generate a broad-based political mandate for enhancing regionalism, it would certainly be a win for all.

But we are sceptical that the review that has been announced will fulfil this purpose, for a number of reasons.

First, there is the issue of timing. In the last 10 years, there have been myriad reviews of regional organisations and plans/processes. These include the 2013 Independent Review of the Pacific Plan for Regional Integration and Cooperation (the ‘Pacific Plan); the 2012 reviews of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (discussedhere); the 2007 Regional Integration Framework [pdf] (RIF) review, which led to the merger of a number of major regional agencies; and the 2005 review of the regional architecture commissioned by Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). Surely this is overkill? The purpose of regionalism cannot primarily be to review regionalism.

Of these review activities, the most recent and most significant was the 2013 Review of the Pacific Plan, undertaken by Sir Mekere Morauta and his team and captured in a report [pdf] released less than 12 months ago. That review included detailed analysis of what the regionalism project has been and could be in the future (including work we did assessingpooled service delivery in the region). Its key product, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism[pdf], was endorsed by leaders at the Palau meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The PIFS is currently implementing key activities arising from the 2013 Review of the Pacific Plan, including the rationalisation of regional meetings (a specific request from Pacific island leaders). Regional organisations such as the University of the South Pacific, SPC and the PIFS have only recently implemented recommendations from their comprehensive reviews, and in some cases, this process is ongoing. It comes as a surprise then that another review of the regional architecture should be announced.
It is unclear whether there is much appetite for another review in the region, with the implications of past reviews still being worked through and implemented by regional bodies and the Forum. Alf Simpson, former Director of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC – now subsumed within the SPC), has said in response to the announcement that:

Time after time they keep asking the same questions hoping for a different response. Even worse the focus on the organisations only results in minor efficiency gains and the question of effectiveness is never addressed.

Transform Aqorau, the CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement office, has labelled another review of the regional architecture as “ill advised, untimely and an overreaction.”
It is certainly significant that the announcement has been met with silence by most regional organisations (regional organisations, after all, would be unlikely to directly criticise the foreign ministers of Australia and Fiji). The one exception is the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which has welcomed the initiative, although on the proviso that “the discussion comes up with some useful way forward”. Importantly, there has been no request for a review by the countries that have the greatest stake in regionalism: the smaller island states of the Pacific (a group that does not include the larger countries of Fiji and PNG, nor the developed economies of Australia and New Zealand).

This is cause for further concern. It is absurd that Australia and Fiji should bilaterally announce a review of the regional architecture with no consideration for the views of other Pacific island countries. After all, Fiji refuses to be a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, while Australia is not a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group or the Pacific Islands Development Forum. How can either country seek to review regional arrangements to which they are not party? The meeting in February will presumably include other Pacific island heads of government, but the fact remains that the need to hold a discussion was announced by Fiji and Australia without the involvement of other leaders.

The announcement may help to re-establish the bilateral relationship between Australia and Fiji, although there is no guarantee that it will succeed in bringing Fiji back into the Forum’s fold. But it is disappointing in terms of Australia’s engagement with the broader region. Whilst in opposition, Julie Bishop promised a better engagement with the region should her party come into government. What we have seen since last October is a selective approach to developing some bilateral relationships (most notably with PNG and Fiji) and a disregard for progressing regional relationships. Australia has been noticeable by its perceived absence in key forums where issues that matter to Pacific island countries (especially the smaller states) have been discussed. The continued inertia of the PACER Plus negotiations has arisen, at least in part, from the apparent inability of Australian (and New Zealand) officials to take the concerns of Pacific negotiators on board. And the Seasonal Workers’ Program remains a source of disappointment to many.

There are plenty of challenges ahead for the future of Pacific regionalism and visionary leadership is required if they are to be successfully navigated. A review of the regional architecture, announced by two countries less than 12 months after the completion of another review, is far from visionary.

Photo credit: Fiji Ministry of Information