Pacific peoples not properly informed about governance reforms
A lecturer in politics at Otago University says people in the Pacific are not well enough informed about what the push for governance reform will mean.
A lecturer in politics at the University of Otago, Dr Iati Iati, says there is a lack of awareness among some people in the Pacific about the impact of development policies imposed by foreign donors and international agencies, such as the World Bank.
He says the policies are being implemented too quickly in the Pacific and often the people are not properly informed.
Dr Iati, who is Samoan born, has spent time studying development approaches in his home country and particularly the push for governance reform.
He told Don Wiseman often people don't understand the changes and the impact can be profound, undermining traditional institutions.
DR IATI IATI: Well the good governance agenda obviously has many different dimensions to it. Over the last few years, I have been primarily looking at how it has kind of influenced land policies in the Pacific and that is where I have primarily been concerned about its impact. Good governance of course is sort of a holistic approach to development that came out with the World Bank at the end of the 1980s and instead of the usual push for just solely economic reforms, good governance tries to push social and political reforms as well.
DON WISEMAN: They are looking there, aren't they, for land to be available to be used as collateral so they have got to have a clear idea of who owns it?
I I: Right, so, there is that idea of private property which is part and parcel of this but behind it is this push to free up more land for development of Pacific Island countries and that is where I have done a lot of my research and where I have become quite concerned that because the majority of lands in Pacific Island countries are under customary land ownership, I would say many of the customary land owners are unfamiliar with some of the policies that are being pushed under the good governance agenda to help free up their customary lands.
DW: They don't understand it?
II: I did some research in Samoa in 2009 and that was the general idea I got - that was that many of the customary owners did not understand the details of the new reforms particularly as it was being implemented under a new Land Act that come out in 2008. Now, just to give you some perspective on how difficult it is to actually understand this, I worked on this Land Act with a constitutional lawyer and we were both having some difficulties getting some clarity on what this land act was intended to do in relation to customary lands.
DW: You have talked about the problems that some land owners have with the expectations that they will get it with effectively all the chattels on it, at no cost to them, but clearly that is not going to happen.
II: Unless you have got some really generous property developers, you know, that is probably not going to happen and unfortunately there are customary land owners out there who do have that understanding. I got an email just about a month ago from someone in Samoa asking about their customary land rights. Apparently they have leased it out for some property development and were wondering at the end of the lease whether they were going to get it back with no ties attached. So it is really an ongoing problem of sort of lack of understanding by customary land owners over what these new reforms are going to do in relation to their rights.
DW: What would you like to see? Do you think the World Bank and others should continue more slowly or just drop these ideas?
II: Well, I think it's important for development that we have some of these policies in place. The big problem I see is that there is a lack of awareness by the major stakeholders, and by that I am talking about the landowners, there is a lack of awareness on their part about what these reforms entail and what their implications are.
DW: Doesn't that fall back mainly on the international organisations to educate people more?
II: Yep. And international organisations have an answer in the form of civil society organisations. That is who they are pinning their hopes on to get a closer relationship between them and ordinary people, customary landowners etc. They are pinning a lot on civil society organisations. The problem in the Pacific is that there have been no studies that actually examine whether civil society organisations are actually fulfilling this function - whether they are actually acting as conduits between ordinary people and the governments to make governance policies transparent to ordinary people and then acting as advocates for ordinary people in policy-making forums.
DW: I guess we are talking complex issues here aren't we and the worry is whether you have got enough competent people or well enough versed people within those civil society groups to pass that information on?
II: Well the real question is who is setting the agenda for civil society organisations and, like I did mention, that is who the multilateral organisations and aid donors are pinning their hopes on but if we don't actually understand who is setting the agenda for them then whether they are actually helping the ordinary people or not is just left up in the air - no one knows.
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