Oct 24, 2020 Last Updated 9:52 PM, Oct 21, 2020

The Australian Federal Budget delivered last night has increased aid to the Pacific.

An extra A$211 million has been allocated to COVID-19 response in the form of grants, agreed in negotiations with recipient countries, in addition to the $4 billion previously earmarked for international assistance. Further, a small increase in aid due to cuts in assistance in other regions has also been made.

Devex reports that PNG will remain the largest recipient, receiving A$491.1 million, although this is less than the previous budget allocation. Climate partnership programs have also see their funding reduced by A$5.7 million.

As Stephen Howes at the Australian National University writes, the COVID-19 response is being communicated separately to the main aid allocation, perhaps because “the government does not want to be seen to be providing a permanent boost to aid.”

Australia has made big cuts to its aid to South and West Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa. These cuts continue a trend that has been evident for some time.

Tim Costello, who heads Christian international NGO Micah Australia, says “This increased one-off support of AU$305 million for the COVID-19 response and recovery in the Pacific and Timor-Leste is good news for our closest neighbours whose economies and livelihoods are reeling from the pandemic.”

Oxfam Australia CEO Lyn Morgain has also welcomed the increased allocation, while saying it should be a permanent commitment: “It is heartening to see the Government’s recognition that this is not over for Australians until it is over for everyone. But this change of heart must be permanent.

The Australian government is forecasting a budget deficit of  $213.7bn, or 11% of GDP, for 2020/21.

“From capital to develop and export goods like coffee, to training and support with digital platforms, Pacific businesses – especially female-led business – are in urgent need of tangible support,” says the Pacific Trade Investment (PTI) Australia Trade & Investment Commissioner, Caleb Jarvis.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 on female-led businesses in the Pacific continues to rise, according to the latest Pacific Business Monitor survey conducted by PTI.

The fifth survey in PTI’s ongoing series has found that 92% of female-led businesses have reported a fall in revenue.  In comparison to the previous survey, the number of fully operational female-led businesses has declined from 29% to 23%, while partially operational businesses have increased from 19% to 41%.

Jarvis states that despite the COVID-19 free status of most Pacific Island Countries (PICs) “the economic impact of closed borders has been debilitating, especially for nations that are reliant on tourism – a sector with a high proportion of female employees.”

“Many women are performing a juggling act – balancing work with being the primary care givers,’ explains Jarvis- a trend correlating to findings published in a recent report by the United Nations titled, ‘Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women’.

The UN report notes that girls and women are ‘suffering more’ due to many factors: home schooling, disproportionate lack of access to digital tools, work capital, skills and higher care responsibilities. 

The latest PTI survey finds that COVID-19 has had a ‘negative impact’ on the mental health of 31% of female-led business in contrast to 14% of male-led businesses.  Levels of happiness and optimism continue to decline as 45% report felling worried ‘most of the time’ or ‘all of the time’. 

Despite the negative impacts, more female-led businesses are implementing adaptive measures such as pivoting to online business, and seeking rent reductions or relief. 

Jarvis states that “it’s a long road ahead, and its vital that we continue to champion the voice of businesses in the Pacific by continuing to provide quantitative results to governments, donors and regional organisations so they can see the realities facing Pacific businesses.”

A new rugby franchise to the US national competition may provide a life-line for some Pacific islands rugby players.

The  website of Hawaii-based Kanaloa Rugby bears the quote, “From the depths of breadths of the sea; strength and courage shall rise”. It’s a fitting sentiment as the world, and world sport, is ravaged by COVID-19.

“Kanaloa is a culmination of 16 years of community rugby services offered to the wider Maori and Pasifika community,” says CEO, Tracy Atiga. “ The founding roopu behind Kanaloa Hawaii believes in the potential for the community to thrive through the values and efforts of giving back.   In January 2021, The Colorado Raptors unfortunately withdrew from the MLR competition, [Major League Rugby- th U.S. league] leaving an opportunity for a willing franchise to bid for an entry into the league.  This is when Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby took flight”.   

Players of Pacific Island heritage play in competition, and represent nations all over the world. So we asked the CEO if this could be another stepping stone for our rugby players to rise, showcase their talents and secure good contracts?

“The beauty of having a club that is driven by Maori and Pasifika values and village ethos is our commitment to encouraging and supporting our athletes to play for their home nation,” Atiga responded.  “Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby offers a unique stance that all players that are selected for national honours are to be encouraged to participate and financially supported throughout the said national campaign.  We are challenging other clubs to follow suit. We believe that if a club does not release a player for national representation then they have limited trust and faith in the depth of their players and their coaching staff.  Here at Kanaloa, we back our coaching roopu and our emerging players to step up when the opportunity presents itself.  In other words, if we lose 23 starting line-up players to the RWC or the Olympic Games then we will celebrate and support those players and we will still progress to a championship through faith and encouragement of our emerging players”.

To help establish the club’s  foundations and cultivate it to blossom, Kanaloa has acquired the services of a few big names and rugby legends in its management ranks. Former All Blacks stars such as Joe Rokocoko, Anthony Tuitavake, Ben Atiga and two-time Webb Ellis Cup winner Jerome Kaino have taken interests in developing Kanaloa into a club best suited for our Pacific rugby talents.

“Our former All Blacks have devoted the past 16 years of their lives to giving back to the game.  The chance to now give back as club owners provides direct advocacy and decision making opportunities to make things right.  Operationally, our former All Blacks are rallying together to attract other like-minded sports professionals, celebrities and members of the global rugby community to embrace this new way of doing business and changing the world one day at a time,” Atiga says.

The main feature of the club is the use of traditional and communal practices of working together as a community—as a group of Pacific Islands people—to carry each other forward and achieve more in life through rugby.

“One of our policies that support our village ethos and portray the way we are living our values is the fact that our entire team of staff are being paid the same base hourly wage.  From the CEO to our players to our rugby development officers”.

We know that rugby continues to grow around the world as a global sport. And for the Pacific Islands, rugby over the many years has evolved from just being a past time game that everyone loves to play and having the pride of representing our nations in the world stages – to now totally becoming a guaranteed career path to earn a living. Nowadays, rugby is essentially a job, and for a player to do it professionally and play in lucrative overseas franchises – that is the ultimate goal. Kanaloa just might be that much needed life-line for local talents to thrive in overseas rugby competitions and in this case it’s in the United States of America.

*[Roopu: is a Maori word that means group, party of people, company or committee]

The University of the South Pacific (USP) recently invited 30 employers to engage in a two-day exposition at its annual Career and Internship Fair.

The event was organized by USP’s Career and Entrepreneurship Center, Campus Life and allows USP students to learn about graduate training programs, attend career planning workshop sessions and interact with potential employers from the public and private sectors.  The theme for this year’s fair was “Your Future Direction”.

Amongst the speakers at the event were three female engineers from the Fiji Roads Authority (FRA). Amor Acapulco and her colleagues spoke extensively about women’s empowerment in the male dominated career field.  

“Civil engineering is not only for men… there are a lot successful women in engineering, like all the women sitting in front of me, and I believe even more can succeed.  I have done it, so could you,” she emphasised.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on the recruitment patterns were also major part of discussions at the event. Martha Wedlock, an employee of Mind Pearl underlined this issue.

“I want to educate students that even though the aviation companies and other businesses are slowing down, that’s not the end of it.”

Wedlock said that Mind Pearl and other organisations will continue to adapt their business practices and showcase resilience in the face of current economic climate, by sharing knowledge and through in-house training opportunities to enhance employee skills.

Meandering through the exposition booths, fourth year law student Pelenaisi Tu’i encouraged fellow USP students to fully utilise this opportunity. 

“It’s a great opportunity for students because it will give them more knowledge, and when they go out to work they will know what to do,” she said. 

The European Union (EU) and the South Pacific Community (SPC) have launched three separate projects for the Pacific region focussed on cutting dependence on imported fuel and improving access to clean water and sanitation.

Approximately EUR 19 million (US$22.68 million) has been committed by the EU to help SPC facilitate projects ranging from enhancing food security, improving access to clean and safe drinking water, and improving access to the renewable and effective energy. 

Speaking at the signing ceremony in Suva recently, the Charge d’affaires of the FSM Embassy, Wilson Waquk welcomed the EU’s support of EUR 11.6 million ($13.85 million) towards the Sustainable Energy and Accompanying Measures (SEAM) initiative, underlining that this would help the territory cut spending on fossil fuel imports and create a more ‘viable investment environment’ for private sector companies. 

“In the FSM, its highly dependent on imported petroleum fuels,” Waquk explained. “It annually spends US$50 million on fuel imports, with most (fuel) used for electricity generation.”

Approximately 42% of the FSM’s emissions derive from the electricity generation sector.  Authorities are confident that the implementation of SEAM would not only improve access to renewable and effective energy but would reduce the country’s greenhouse emissions by 21,000 tonnes per annum. 

The High Commissioner of Kiribati, David Teaabo commended the EU and SPC’s continual efforts to improving access to clean water and sanitation on the Kirimati atoll under the Pacific Regional Integrated Food and Nutrition Security Initiative COVID-19 (PRISCO19) project.  Roughly EUR 6.2 million (US$7.4 million) has been allocated to the Kirimati atoll project. 

“While we are still COVID free, implementation of the PRISCO-19 now contributes to building our preparedness response to COVID, should it ever reach our shores,” said Teaabo.

“These projects will put food on people’s plates, it will turn on electricity and support aspirations around renewable energy, and of course enable access to clean drinking water to wider communities of Kirimati,” said Deputy-Director General of SPC, Audrey Aumua.

“Whatever we do in this region, we do in the spirit of partnership,” said the European Ambassador to Fiji, Sujiro Seam. “We are here today in these challenging circumstances and we’ll still be here in the years to come.

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