Call to rationalise Pacific aid spending to promote delivery
The head of the SPC advocates a rationalisation of how international agencies provide aid assistance in the Pacific.
The director general of the Pacific Community says the Pacific must be able to do a better job with the aid it gets.
Dr Colin Tukuitonga is advocating a new approach to how aid is managed to bring efficiencies and improve the delivery of services.
He says per capita the Pacific has for many years received the most development dollars, yet many Pacific people continue to live in unacceptable conditions.
Dr Tukuitonga told Don Wiseman a rationalisation could have the SPC take on a facilitator's role.
COLIN TUKUITONGA: It's obviously a big issue and it's been addressed before but I was referring specifically to the number of agencies that are involved in the development in the region; international, regional and even agencies out of Australia and New Zealand working directly with countries, that, surely we must be able to organise ourselves a bit better so that we can have a greater impact in health and economic development and so on. My sense of it is there's a number of agencies that are all chasing money pretty much from the same sources and in our part of the world, mainly Australia and New Zealand. Often, I'm not sure if that's the best way to spend the aid money because each aid agency will have a governance arrangement, and a management, a bureaucracy associated with it all the contracting that goes with that. And I wondered about a new way of thinking about using the development dollar in the region. For example, given SPC's history, and track record and capability, could we play a different role as the facilitator and those other agencies providing the technical support to SPC and SPC working more directly with the country, as opposed to everybody trying to influence and contribute from their own perspective. Because, I can imagine for small islands it's very difficult to be able to coordinate all of this input from various places. There's lots of players but there's no conductor.
DON WISEMAN: So you're talking about a rationalisation, you would see all of these organisations perhaps contributing to your funding, and your organisation be the one that actually goes out and does the work.
CT: Not necessarily saying of course that the funding comes to us. What I am saying is if you think of it as, say, an orchestra, there's probably good reason why some of the agencies are there and everybody has to play a part. But, at the moment it all seems hap-hazard and disorganised and I do think there's value in a co-ordinated approach. SPC is for a number of reasons well placed to do this. There's a lot of money being spent, a lot of it perhaps we could get better value by looking again at how we organise ourselves.
DW: As you mentioned earlier, there has been talk in the past about rationalising and I guess this led to the Pacific Plan of the Pacific Islands Forum. That's under review and they're looking at a completely different approach. So would an organisation like the SPC that has a link with the forum, would you put a submission in?
CT: Oh we've had several submissions to the review groups and we are in the process of communicating still with PIFs [Pacific Island Forum] and others on the outcomes of that review process. And, sure, I think it's clearly an area or an avenue that would be helpful. I am aware of course that the issue of rationalising agencies has taken place, which has led to the merging of SOPAC and SPBEA with SPC and we're working through that at the moment. But, as I say, still in respect of what's happening now there just seems to be... if you look at the multitude of UN organisations many of them work within a very specific area. I'm just not sure whether in fact we're getting the best value out of the money that's currently invested in the region.
DW: What this could end up being is what was talked about 10 years or so ago, when there was a suggestion of a merger between the PIF and the SPC. It could come to that couldn't it?
CT: I wasn't thinking so much the Forum, because clearly they have an important political policy mandate. I was referring more to the technical agencies, the regional agencies, and international agencies. I mean, what's the justification for a whole organisation dedicated to one very narrow area? That's the principle I'm asking us to reflect on and to think about whether we can spend a dollar better.
DW: What are the bodies you're thinking of there specifically?
CT: Well, I mean if you look at some of the UN agencies and I know that they have a mandate. UNFPA, the population fund, solely on that issue. I mean, the reality in the region is that family planning and population and women's health is so integrated into everything else that goes on, what's the rationale for having a single agency dedicated to one area, when reality and life is about a whole lot of things all at once. I would suggest for example that given what SPC does that, that type of vertical programme is better integrated into a more, a broader approach rather than simply pushing the issue of women's' health as an isolated entity.
DW: You've just had discussions with New Zealand and they've renewed their commitment to the SPC over the next several years, and you're about to talk to Australia. So are you raising this issue with those countries?
CT: Oh yes indeed, and all the funders we engage with because it's our responsibility to spend the money as best we can rather than simply just repeating what has taken place in the past, often with mediocre results. We're really grateful for the funding agreement with New Zealand. It now rolls over a longer period for some of our programmes, which is really good for planning and for certainty and we're looking to do the same with Australia. Overall, that's the sort of thing we would want to pursue with all our supporters. And in that context, asking the question whether in fact we've got the right model in terms of spending that money in our region, which is quite unique in the sense that it's small islands with very limited capacity.
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