Jul 11, 2020 Last Updated 9:26 PM, Jul 10, 2020

A new report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Pacific’s tourism industry and recovery strategies has recommended immediate wage support, microgrants to industry operators and changes in the tax regimes as key to helping the industry to rebuild.

The Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) commissioned the report, which looks at the impact of the virus on  tourism in Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji.

SPTO Chief Executive Office, Chris Cocker says while one size doesn’t fit all, the report aims to give the industries a framework so they can develop individualised recovery plans.

“I am telling you now that I think most of them either wouldn't have a clue how to develop the recovery plans because this is the first time. We've never experienced anything like this in the world, and in the Pacific, to the magnitude of a crisis like this.”

Cocker says while economic stimulus packages in some nations have responded to the needs of the industry, there are also some actions that can be taken regionally, such as digital marketing.

“Scenario planning could be done sub-regionally,  because for example Micronesia has the same source markets which is Asia and also North America. Then you have the Polynesian ones where New Zealand is very strongly focused. Melanesia has Australia as their source market.”

The cruise ship sector has also been decimated by the pandemic, as a number of ships acted as incubators for the virus. The Ruby Princess for example has been linked to almost 700 cases of COVID-19 across Australia, and 21 deaths, after it docked in Sydney in early March after a cruise to New Zealand.

Cocker says the cruise industry has “thrown the ball back in our court.”

“It all depends on the member countries in the Pacific opening their borders and how well they will be able to handle things like hygiene, and also preventive measures and protocols in this case. I think that is another shady area that a lot of our members will still be cautious in approaching.”

As for lobbying to include Pacific Island nations in the so-called Australia-New Zealand Pacific travel bubble, a stepped approach is best.

“I'll be frank… as  a regional organisation, in terms of economic recovery [we] definitely would welcome the Australia-New Zealand-Pacific bubble to bring in tourism revenues etc.

“But from our perspective I see it as a complicated situation because we've got 20 Pacific Island countries who are very diverse…It will probably be on a sub-regional basis in this case but I also think from my position our goal is to provide advice and guide them. So our position is we welcome it, but in a cautious and incremental way in this case. The health and safety of our people is top priority and paramount.”

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.

Times of Israel/Pacnews:  Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin has told Pacific Island leaders in Fiji that he hopes they will stand with Israel against what he claims is a strong anti-Israel bias on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Rivlin met leaders from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga and Palau at the first summit of its kind this week.

“Today Iran and its proxies are threatening Israel while spreading terror throughout the region, and around the world,” Rivlin said in a media conference after the meeting. “Israel will do all that is necessary to defend its citizens from the Iranian threat, and we will continue to work with international peacekeeping forces to ensure that our borders remain quiet.

“We were also happy to support Fiji’s election to the UN Human Rights Council, and your presidency of the UN’s Climate Change conference,” Rivlin said. “We hope that Fiji will stand with Israel against the gross anti-Israel discrimination at the UN, especially at the Human Rights Council.“

Last week the council published a blacklist of 112 companies it says are active in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. 

Israel had reacted angrily to the publication of the blacklist, with politicians from across the political spectrum denouncing the  UN Human Rights Council for compiling it and vowing to protect Israeli financial interests.

President Rivlin announced the establishment of 100 new scholarships for Pacific Island students of agriculture to train at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training in Israel, and the opening of a centre for excellence and innovation at the University of the South Pacific.

Thanking Rivlin for what he termed a “historic” visit, Bainimarama said “This summit is very important to us as another stepping stone in strengthening the relations between us. Fiji will continue to pray for the peace of the Middle East region.”

Pacific leaders will meet Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, in Fiji on 20 February, 2020.

Israel's Ambassador to the Pacific, Tibor Schlosser has told Pacnews that the visit builds on the deep relations Israel has with the Pacific for many decades based on the mutual democratic values and the Holy Bible.

“The state of Israel, under the kind hospitality of Fiji’s Prime Minister, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama will be able to meet with the leaders of the Pacific, which will give a boost of friendship and solidarity to the strong and continuous collaboration for our friends in the Pacific Island nations in their sustainable development challenges, based on the unique experience of innovation skills of Israel,” he said.

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, James Marape and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, The deputy Prime Ministers of Tonga, the deputy Prime Minister of Tuvalu and the Foreign Minister of Solomon Islands have already confirmed their participation in the summit meeting. High-level representatives from other Pacific Island States, including from Vanuatu, are expected to participate as well.

 

ICE AGE

METHAMPHETAMINE has raised the red flag higher as more raids and discoveries take place in the hub of the Pacific.

Border control agencies and police fear the islands are not only a transit point but also a manufacturing one for the drug’s growing domestic market.

The United Nations regional representative for the Office of Drug and Crime for South East Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, said they had been following the latest arrests in Fiji and Tonga with a lot of interest and warned that the Pacific islands were not ready to face an explosion of such a drug pandemic.

Methamphetamine, more commonly known as ice, is manufactured in the laboratory using an elaborate process that involves cooking, causes sleeplessness for days on end and gives a false sense of reality.

Its health, mental and associated social problems across the globe have come with a big bill for governments and it was spreading to our shores.

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