PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECREATARIAT
FORUM ECONOMIC MINISTERS MEETING DIALOGUE WITH CSOs
Theme: Clustering for Regional Post-COVID Economic Recovery and Stability
Warwick Le Lagoon Resort, Port Vila, Vanuatu
12 August 2022
What key lessons and challenges did you identify from the recent Regional Debt Conference and PFM Symposium, and what are the opportunities to strengthen CSO collaboration with Members to advocate for debt sustainability and strengthening of PFM systems, to ensure inclusive recovery and improved transparency and accountability to citizens?
- A very good morning and ni sa bula Vinaka, Honourable Ministers, Excellencies and distinguished colleagues and friends.
- My name is Laisa Vereti and I work for the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF), and we are based in Suva. We have the same footprint as PIFS, with membership in 201 Pacific Island countries and territories and we directly support 26 Organisation of Persons with disabilities in 142 countries.
- It is probably uncommon for disability organisation to be doing budget work and budget monitoring. As an organisation, we have been doing budget monitoring of government spending on disability for almost 10 years now, starting with Fiji and expanding it to other countries in the region. To date, we have been following closely disability spending in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Island, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu and expanding it to the other countries.
- In terms of the budget work that we do as part of the PFM system, we would like to commend and thank our countries that have taken the right direction in engaging the citizen in its budget process. Thank you, Cook Islands, for the citizen budget and the great infographic that comes with it. We also thank our countries with great disaggregation of data in the budget document, thank you Fiji for that. We also want to thank our countries who have their budget in vernacular making it easier for our citizen to understand. Thank you, Samoa, and Tonga. thank you, Samoa, for the great monitoring data in the budget document. We want to thank our countries with great indicators in the budget document, thank you Vanuatu for that. And to each one of our countries, we thank you for the current commitment to disability in your budget. There can be MORE and BETTER.
- You may not know the language of disability, but you ALL know the language of numbers.
 Membership – Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, FSM, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna.
 PDF direct support – Cook Islands, Fiji, FSM, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.
- We know that disability is still stigmatized in our countries, and it is present at all levels, institution, community, family, and personal level. We also know that unless we have a personal experience on disability, inclusion does not come naturally.
- I would like to have conversation with you, with us specifically on the PFM Symposium and the Regional Debt Conference and its outcome and what WE can do better together now in the short term to transition us as a region into the long term, so we can achieve our goals in the 2050 Strategy.
- We can sit here today and talk about the challenges, but there will be no progress until there is collective action. We need to talk about co-creating ideas, and WE move forward together towards a solution!
- I would like to share a few opportunities for collaboration, for your consideration, please.
Lessons from Regional Debt Conference and PFM Symposium and speaking to the outcome of the two regional meeting.
- Part of the outcome of the PFM Symposium and the Regional Debt Conference is to improve accountability and budget reporting. I am urging commitment from our Leaders this morning to standardize budget reporting. In addition to that urging all our countries to simplify the budget document for our people and for reporting as well. How can we lift our people out of poverty if our budget is complicated and not simplified?
- Improving our budget reporting and mainstreaming disability into programs can actually get US more money. All we are asking for, is to make our budget process and budget document inclusive of everyone. Budget document is not disability friendly, if those of us without disability cannot make head and tail of the various budget documents, imagine what it is like for those who are disabilities, blind, deaf, intellectual disabilities, psychosocial disabilities. Inclusive budgeting and reporting are part of good PFM and is good for citizens.
- Regional standard on how we report social policy spending in budget. We hope it’s not too difficult an ASK for the Ministers this morning to have better thematic reporting on social expenditures. OUR Government policy can be more targeted if we have better social expenditure reporting. It is better standardized reporting to support social policy intervention given the impact of COVID will persist into the medium and long term. We need to work together to improve social policy design so we can make more targeted social safety protection and social safety nets, so our people will not fall into the poverty trap and many more left behind.
- I would like to seek your indulgence this morning and ask, what can we change now within our current resources? What can WE do better together, within our own limitation and constraints, our geographical spread, our smallness, what can we do together as a FAMILY to make quality decisions to improve the lives of OUR people.
- We are here to Strengthen OUR collaboration between us, government, and civil society. So, how can CSO’s help OUR Pacific Government amplify global lobbying for greater access to finance. In the same vein if we all lobby for this together, how can government assure better transparency and accountability and good governance.
- From the Civil Society perspective, we all have in our agenda the 2050 strategy, the VISION is good. However, WE need clarity from OUR Leaders this morning on what we are going to do now to recover from the rampage of COVID, then we will have greater success in achieving the 2050 Strategy aspirations. We are optimistic about 2050 – but what do we have to confront now, in order to achieve our goals in 30 years.
- Thank you for the outcome of the PFM Symposium and Regional Debt Conference. We saw in PRDC that debt reporting needs to improve, and PFM reforms needs to be stronger. We are urging and calling on OUR Leaders this morning to come up with concrete set of actions from the PFM Symposium and Regional Debt Conference. There was a lot of dialogue from the one week of meeting for both events. We would like to know Our Leaders thoughts on what is beyond the outcome, and we would like to ask Our Leaders to consider a set of concrete actions that we all contribute to and what we can do together to socialize it with all stakeholders who participated in those one-week meeting so we can understand your thoughts on what we can do together. Are there action plans from the 2 very important events on Debt and PFM a few months ago, was it just another talkfest?
- How can we collaborate? We are here at the table, and we want to be these also for you and with OUR government to implement key actions out of the PFM symposiums and the Regional Debt Conference. We are here with solidarity.
- We have our Regional Blue Economic Strategy. How can we drive regionalism amongst us when we don’t have regional standard for budget reporting. There are things within our control, and I am sure it does not cost money. Standard budget reporting can be an action out of the outcome of the PFM symposium.
- I know disability receives very little money, and this is from the budget work that we do. Believe me, I am/ we are not here to ask for more money. We understand the competing priorities our countries have, and we are still recovering from COVID. But it hurts us to see government not accountable to wastage of expenditure when so many of OUR people are suffering.
- To our Leaders, this morning I have a specific ask for your consideration. In each one of our government’s budgets, please consider, disability inclusion and accessibility as a criterion in the budget for all expenditures that are financed domestically and the same criterion for all the budget support we receive from donors, donor investment in infrastructure program, COVID budget support, policy reforms, services, for technologies etc. Making it inclusive and accessible will be useful for all of us including, yourselves included, because we all await disability in our old age, and this will support us to age with dignity. We are not asking for money for free. Our Inclusion as persons with disabilities is inclusion for ALL, we don’t take from anyone when we ask for inclusion and accessibility. We thank the Government of Vanuatu for your accessible waterfront, from the market to the end of town. My colleague here, Joscho on the wheelchair, we enjoyed the walk and the view because it is accessible and the accessible toilets along the waterfront as well. That’s INCLUSION.
- Our Blue Pacific vision cannot be truly inclusive, if the least amongst, the invisible are left behind. Education example: In all fairness, we know that it’s for a good cause, we are fighting for a segment of society that is marginalized and lives on the margins of poverty or well below poverty.
- Regional standard on how we repot COVID-19 spending and its impact which contribute to our SDG reporting. In light of COVID and its impact, and its impact will persist in the short, medium, and long term. COVID and its impact will be around for a long time. And the current oil price will make recovery harder. How do we adjust we transportation, when fuel price have gone, cost of production will go up as well.
- We know that our economy normally goes through a period of expansion/ economic growth, then we regress because of depression/ recession and inflation, then comes a period of recovery. We are trying to recover from COVID.
- There are shocks we know and ne shock we haven’t anticipated and aren’t prepared for. Just like our household budget, example of new wheelchair user in house. Do we save for those rainy days, anticipating the risks. Do we have our economic coping skills, to anticipate risks and plan accordingly, so our people do not suffer because we didn’t plan properly.
- If we don’t move together, CSO, government, partners, private sector – we take 1 step forward and 3 steps back and our people become invisible in the numbers.
- We the people look to our Leaders right now to lead us through this with clarity, courage to make the hard decision and integrity to follow through. Lead us out of this valley into the Promised Land of 2050.
I thank you.