Jun 01, 2020 Last Updated 1:05 AM, Jun 1, 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.

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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