Opinion: Pacific Community sharpens focus to meet islands’ development needs

Colin-TukuitongaAt the Conference of the Pacific Community earlier this month, our country and territory members set the direction for our development organisation for the next five years.
Opinion piece by the Pacific Community Director-General, Dr Colin Tukuitonga

The Pacific Community (SPC) has been providing scientific and technical support to our Pacific Island members since 1947. While SPC is recognised as the largest implementing agency in the region, changes in the development landscape, increased competition for resources and rising public and development partner expectations mean we must strive to remain effective and responsive to the needs of Pacific people.

The establishment of the Pacific Islands Development Forum is the best example of the changing regional order, where new relationships are being forged and traditional alliances are changing. Sub-regional groupings will also change the development dynamics of the Pacific region.

Our new strategic plan involves a greater emphasis on science, innovation and knowledge, including traditional knowledge, to support sustainable development in our region.  It was prepared with the active participation of our members, staff and development partners. In Niue, our members have endorsed the Secretariat’s move to clearly identify our priority areas of development work and to focus resources accordingly in line with our plan for 2016-2020.

The Independent External Review 2012 identified the particular value of SPC to our small island members, where they rely heavily on SPC for assistance due to their capacity limitations and resource constraints. The challenge for SPC is to balance the need to provide the full range of services required and expected by our members and, at the same time, identify areas of expertise and focus.

SPC will continue to focus on regional public goods where it is generally accepted that these services are most effectively provided by one organisation on behalf of all the members. Infectious diseases surveillance, statistics and tuna stock assessment are good examples. Yet we need to be more selective in what we do.

The demands created by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Pacific Framework for Regionalism are also among the factors impacting SPC that will be on the agenda in Niue.

In addition to contributing to the implementation of SDGs in a range of sectors, SPC will continue to contribute to the development of appropriate indicators and to the collection, collation and dissemination of data for monitoring the implementation of the SDGs. SPC is concerned at the volume of indicators and data required for this process and external assistance is clearly needed if Pacific Island countries and territories are to provide reliable data and statistics on the progress made with the implementation of the SDGs.

There is no doubt that funding arrangements influence what we do and how we do things. Sustainable financing is key. With a finite pot of donor financing being negotiated on an organisation-by-organisation basis, the incentives are there to compete rather than collaborate. This needs to change.  Improving the coherence of policy advice and the way CROP agencies work together will be an important activity in 2016.

In Niue, our members also provided guidance to the Secretariat on the key challenges facing the Pacific Community in governance, partnerships, regional architecture and coherence between agencies that comprise the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP).

There is consensus on the benefits of regional integration and cooperation, especially in Small Island Developing States, given their severe resource limitations and capacity constraints. The nine CROP agencies have agreed to collaborate even more in support of the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

There are clear benefits from working together on technical challenges. Technical cooperation works well in many areas because members retain their sovereignty but are still able to benefit from a collective approach. There are many examples of successful cooperation between members, including tuna tagging and fisheries science, and in public health surveillance through an established Pacific region network administered by SPC.

Some of the key capabilities considered essential for SPC to strengthen include mechanisms such as country programming, in-country presence and collaboration with other agencies to better understand member priorities and context, and avoid duplication. Furthermore, with constrained resources, effective cooperation with other agencies becomes even more important.  Our focus will be on results and the impact of our work.

The global community has set ambitious goals for sustainable development that come into place in 2016, and the all-important UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) is just around the corner.  The outcomes of COP 21 will have a bearing on the sustainable development and future survival of all Pacific Island countries and territories, with no exceptions. Understandably, this is an issue galvanising the region and it was reflected in the Conference theme: “Resilient Pacific people – turning the tide”. An optimistic outlook, turning challenges into opportunities and collaboration hold the key.