Feb 20, 2020 Last Updated 2:32 AM, Feb 14, 2020

 

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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It’s more than just building roads, says Thomson

DEVELOPMENT should be about more than building roads or buying air conditioners, the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, told IPS in a recent interview. Thomson, who started his career working as “a rural development man in Fiji”, says he had become disillusioned with development before the Sustainable Development Goals came along. After studying development studies at Cambridge, Thomson returned to Fiji where he spent much of the 1970s working in villages for the Fiji government: “digging pit latrines and building sea walls.” However, he began to feel disillusioned by development when he saw that it ultimately led to communities breaking up. Young people would leave to sell produce at the markets on newly constructed roads, and then eventually would stop coming back.

“I got quite disillusioned with this whole idea of this is what humanity is set on: growth (where) every government had to produce growth and every government had to put in roads.” “It just seemed we were covering all our best agricultural land with urban sprawl.” However, Thomson believes that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - which UN member states have agreed to implement between 2016 and 2030 - represent a different paradigm, as, for example, shown in goal 12 - which promotes responsible consumption and production.

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In October a major academic paper was published in Nature, which solved many questions of the origins of Pacific peoples. Nature published “Genomic insights into the peopling of the Southwest Pacific”, based on a revolutionary study of ancient DNA from the Lapita skeletons from the Port Vila / Teouma burial site found during the 2004 to 2010 archaeological dig there. There are 31 authors to the paper, led by Pontus Skoglund of Harvard University, and directed by Ron Pinhasi and David Reich.

The foundation population of Vanuatu was probably directly from Taiwan or the northern Philippines and had bypassed New Guinea and the Solomons without initially any mixture with the ‘AustraloPapuans’ already there. All Ni-Vanuatu descend from these first migrants and from their later intermarriage with mixed Asian-Papuan groups who came down from the New Guinea and Solomons area. There are Asian Lapita genes in every Ni-Vanuatu, the mark of their earliest ancestors.

The original archaeological research carried out at Teouma was in response to damage to the site from soil quarrying for the Vanuatu prawn farm. The bulldozers had revealed skeletons and broken Lapita pots dating to almost 3000 years ago. This find was brought to the attention of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS) early in 2004. A joint project was begun at Teouma with the Australian National University, directed by Professor Matthew Spriggs and Dr Stuart Bedford, honorary curators of archaeology at the VKS. They are two of the 31 authors of the Nature paper and are the lead archaeologists on it.

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