Do many hands make light work?

The reality is that, with the greatest goodwill in the world, many of these countries are too small to be viable in the normal understanding of that expression and we really have to develop an approach that I could loosely call… pooled regional governance… it applies with airlines, it applies with policing, it applies with a whole lot of other things. But it’s just not possible if you’ve got an island state of fewer than 100,000 people to expect to have all of the sophisticated arms of government So spoke John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia, in July 2003 whilst announcing the deployment of Operesen Helpem Fren (also known as the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands or RAMSI).

He encapsulated a number of things that inform thinking about development challenges in small Pacific island states, including how those challenges might be met. John Howard did not invent the concept of ‘regional governance’ or the idea of pooling resources as a way of remedying service delivery deficits at national level. The countries of the Pacific island region have been coming together in numerous forums, whether political or technocratic, since the formation of the South Pacific Commission in 1947 (now known as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community or SPC). However, since the Auckland Declaration of 2004 which set in train the development of the Pacific Plan, we have seen an increase in the number of pooling initiatives.

Indeed, pooling is often viewed as one of the criteria against which the success or otherwise of the Pacific Plan can be judged. But, until very recently, there was no published study of how these initiatives had fared. To remedy this knowledge gap we undertook a study of 20 pooling initiatives during 2013, initially to inform a submission to the review of the Pacific Plan ongoing at that time. We examined available literature and interviewed people who had been at the heart of designing and implementing initiatives across a range of areas including education, trade policy, management of fisheries and bulk procurement.

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