Apr 05, 2020 Last Updated 11:49 AM, Apr 4, 2020

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.

The New Zealand government is seeking submission on the effectiveness of aid program to the Pacific, and people from the region are welcome to have their say.

The New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (DEFAT) Committee-led inquiry is focused on understanding, comparing, evaluating, investigating, building and considering its aid programs in the Pacific.

It comes as New Zealand rolls out its “Pacific Reset” policy which names as it’s principles; collective ambition, mutual benefit, friendship, understanding and sustainability. The Lowy Institute states that New Zealand invests one-third of its aid allocation to the Pacific in the area of governance.

The inquiry will focus on:

  • understanding the different aid models used in the Pacific, and their purpose and effectiveness
  • comparing the effectiveness of New Zealand’s past and present aid models in the Pacific to those used in other parts of the world
  • evaluating the effectiveness of existing programmes such as the Pacific Reset, Aid for Trade, and PACER Plus
  • evaluating how other countries manage their Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) programmes in the Pacific
  • evaluating the effectiveness of New Zealand’s domestic and international partnerships that support ODA in the Pacific
  • considering value for money and accountability in respect of New Zealand’s ODA commitments in the Pacific
  • investigating how New Zealand’s ODA programmes in the Pacific contribute to human rights and environmental sustainability
  • evaluating the risks and opportunities arising from ODA spending in the Pacific and how they affect and contribute to short and long-term outcomes (including unintended outcomes)
  • building a social licence for ODA in the Pacific.

New Zealand’s total aid allocation increased in the 2019-2020 budget. It’s forecast allocation for the 2018/19 financial year for the Pacific region was NZ$256.69 million.

Parties interested in making a submission to the inquiry can do so on the Parliament website no later than 30 August 2019.

 

Raising voices

OXFAM in the Pacific, working in partnership with the Pacific Disability Forum, has been awarded a grant by the European Union to implement “Raising Pacific Voices”- a three-year, £2.55million (FJ$5.46m) programme which aims to develop the capacity of civil society organisations across the Pacific.

This programme will work closely with the Pacific Regional NGOs (PRNGO) network and its partners across 10 Pacific Island countries. Oxfam is a global movement of people working together for a future without poverty. It works to find practical, innovative ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive, to save lives and help rebuild livelihoods when crisis strikes.

The programme, launched in Suva last month by the European Union Ambassador to Fiji and the Pacific Andrew Jacobs, will strengthen communities and the voice of civil society in regional and international policy-making, so that the voices of the poor influence the local and global decisions that affect them. Raising Pacific Voices (RPV) is a pilot program supported by the European Union.

Pacific Regional NGO Alliance (PRNGO Alliance) and its members’ networks located in 10 Pacific countries are the primary beneficiaries of this program, with plans to spread benefits widely and sustainably across the region.

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