Hopes new Pacific Plan will change pooling focus
Academics call for a new approach to the pooling of resources through the Pacific Plan.
The Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University wants to see more rigorous scrutiny of attempts to pool resources in the Pacific.
Pooling is a key aspect of the Pacific Plan, the region's blue print for closer links, but to date there have been few successes.
The Plan is being reviewed and Pacific leaders gather in the Cook Islands in May to consider a revamped document.
A researcher at the Development Policy Centre, Matthew Dornan, says they have been looking at regional service delivery in the Pacific.
MATTHEW DORNAN: I guess one of the big initiatives under the Pacific Plan from 2005 was this idea of pooling resources to deliver services and in that way to achieve economies of scale. We looked at some of the initiatives that had been implemented since 2005 and we found very mixed results. A lot of the initiatives that had been proposed hadn't proceeded - there were political barriers to their implementation, and some that did proceed were really more development partner initiatives rather than regional initiatives, and so we were quite sceptical about this idea of pooling in the first place.
DON WISEMAN: What are some of the things that they did get up and running/
MD: Well, I guess the classic is the University of the South Pacific. which isn't without its problems but is seen as a very successful case of pooling in the Pacific.
DW: Can that be put down to the Pacific Plan, I mean the USP, as a regional body, has been around a long time.
MD: Yeah yeah, no that is not in relation to the Pacific Plan. I am talking more broadly. Since 2005 I guess the Pacific region audit initiative I think would be considered broadly a success. There would be debate about whether that was led in the region or whether it was more a New Zealand sponsored initiative, but nevertheless I think it has achieved some good results. Likewise the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor I think has been beneficial for the region and that was established in 2008, but then if you look more broadly at the initiatives that had been proposed by the original Pacific Plan - things like the bulk procurement of medicines, the bulk procurement of fuel - all of those I think have proven to be much more troublesome.
DW: For what reason, why did they fail?
MD: Primarily political barriers. The issue with regional service delivery is that yes it can generate economies of scale but the benefits must then be shared between Pacific Island countries so there is often conflict about, for example with the bulk fuel procurement initiative, which country would be the hub for fuel storage, because obviously there are economic benefits for the country where fuel is stored, so every country that was involved did want to become that hub. There are also challenges in terms of involvements, so again looking at bulk fuel procurement it was primarily designed to benefit very small Pacific Island countries, places like Nauru, but it was really only going to work if larger countries like Fiji also became involved. But Fiji had no incentive to become involved.
DW: In terms of improving this approach to pooling what do they have to do?
MD: We argued for a better policy process in the first place so a lot of these initiatives are promoted, either through the Pacific Plan or even outside of that by individual donors, using fairly simplistic assumptions that, well, we'll generate economies of scale and in that way these initiatives will be beneficial to the region. I think there needs to a much more structured public policy approach that examines political feasibility and undertakes rigorous cost benefit analysis. That is something that the Pacific Plan review also advocated in its report that it released recently and I think that is an excellent recommendation of theirs.
DW: If they were to take this more rigorous, more well thought out approach what area would you imagine should they concentrate on in terms of trying to get benefits out of pooling resources?
MD: A lot of my work is in the infrastructure sector. In the infrastructure sector, earlier work, from the establishment of the Pacific Islands Forum really, it was focussed on the delivery of transport services, so that led to the establishment of Air Pacific [Fiji Airways], it led to the establishment of Pacific Forum Line. I think the experience with those entities has been mixed, as regional organisations that is, and I think the approach now, and this is reflected in documents produced by SPC for example, is instead of focussing on delivering services themselves, regional organisations can provide advice in relation to national service delivery. So for example one could establish advisory services modelled along the PFTAC [ Pacific Financial Technical Assistance Centre] for example, modelled along providing advice for contract negotiations and that could then assist port authorities and airport authorities and so forth in undertaking their work at the national level.
DW: There are regional organisations in existence already that you would think would have the capability to do that sort of thing.
MD: Yeah so I am not necessarily recommending a new institution but I think that sort of advice isn't provided at short notice, particularly in relation to contract negotiation, so I think those are the sort of areas we should be looking at in relation to regional service delivery. We shouldn't be looking at service provision in itself.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: