Head of the SPC pleas for Australia to maintain aid levels
Head of the SPC pleas for Australia to continue the level of its aid support to regional agencies.
The director general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Dr Jimmie Rodgers, says the provision of regional aid is an imperative, not an option.
This comes as Australia's new government considers how to pare back billions of dollars in aid spending.
The Tony Abbott-led government intends cutting the aid budget by about $US4.5 billion.
Dr Rodgers says Australia has played an integral part in the work that the SPC does, helping Pacific nations tackle issues such as food security, climate variability, non-communicable diseases, and soaring populations. He spoke to Don Wiseman.
JIMMIE RODGERS: They come under the rubric of the regional public good. It is so crucial, looking at the vulnerability of the Pacific Island countries and territories, the fact that the countries are not in a homogenous state of development. Some are more able than others. And I guess Australia thinks about the future of its development assistance in the Pacific, that it also thinks about the fact that many of these countries will continue to rely on the provision of specialised regional services to help them achieve their development aspirations.
DON WISEMAN: Have you got any inkling of what Australia might do in terms of this cut-back?
JR: From what I understand there is nothing that I've read or been informed that puts the Pacific region at risk. In fact, quite the contrary, they are saying the Pacific and Asia region becomes the primary focus of their aid. The cut-back, as I see it, is more to do with the forward forecast, the forward estimates. Their documentation indicated that they are going to retain 2013 level, which is roughly their level now. And I guess the point that I'd like to make is if the kind of aid support that Australia provides to the region within its current level of aid, the modalities might change somewhat, but if the current level remains then to some extent that safeguards the Pacific aid picture. So I guess what I'm hoping is as this gets transformed into policies down the track, that is probably a rearticulation of its current support to the Pacific that the cut-back is not going to affect the Pacific as much as it would other areas, and, therefore, if they were true to their policy, Asia-Pacific will remain quite critical in their aid agenda.
DW: You say that this aid is an imperative, not an option. When one looks at all of the things, all of the activities that the SPC is involved in, if there was to be a significant cut, how would that impact on those services?
JR: Basically, if there was a cut-back in support to SPC's work programme that impacts on important services, then obviously we would have to cut back on those services. The key thing, though, is that SPC, unlike other regional organisations like SPREP, like foreign fisheries agencies, we have the pool of expertise that actually provides a much cheaper service for each of the 22 island countries, that of establishing similar pools in each country. So to that extent we are probably an example of a regional public good. We have been established for the purpose. We continually make sure that the services we provide are those that are best delivered regionally, either because countries don't have the capacity or the economies of scale actually dictate that's the best wa to provide the service so that we do not duplicate what should be covered under bilateral aid. Bilateral aid will remain the predominant modality for many countries, and the regional support is really a very small part of that, but a very important part, because many of the countries will not be able to achieve development outcomes without that specialised support coming through the regional institutions.
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