Showing posts with label development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label development. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

La’o Hamutuk calls for inquiry into Timor GAP ‘mismanagement’ of oil resources

The Suai project on the South Coast ... "liberated" land but confused communities.
Photo: La'o Hamutuk
AN INDEPENDENT Timor-Leste development and social justice agency has called for an inquiry into the Timor GAP corporation established to manage the country’s energy resources for the benefit of its citizens, alleging “poor management” and “possible corruption”.

La’o Hamutuk, which has been monitoring state management of the oil and gas industry reserves and government spending, has sent an open letter to the Court of Appeal president Guilhermino da Silva and other agencies.

The state-owned company Timor Gás & Petróleo, E.P. was established in July 2011 and it began operations three months later - but has never filed an annual report for the past three years as required by law, according to La’o Hamutuk researchers.

“La’o Hamutuk has asked them about this many times, and Timor GAP said that problems with the internal audit of their GAP-MHS subsidiary prevented publication of these reports for more a year,” the development agency said in its open letter.

"We believe that Timor GAP, E.P. may have committed legal violations, maladministration, poor management, and possible corruption, as well as ignoring legal obligations for accountability and transparency."

The letter called for an “external audit” initiated by the "Camara de Contas [Tax and Audit Tribunal] or Parliament".

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tear gas, hidden truth and news media 'fudging' over East-Timor

Timorese protesters condemn Australian policy over the Timor Sea oil and gas reserves issue
and call for justice over the disputed maritime boundary. Photo: La'o Hamutuk
Quote from the Timor-Leste development and resources watchdog La'o Hamutuk over the recent news agency 'false report' on a demonstration over Australian duplicity over the Timor Sea disputed oil and gas industry:

Why are the world's media so eager to report lies about violence committed by people from Timor-Leste, but so reluctant -- in the past and still today -- to report truthfully on those who commit violence against them?

This was from a recent article posted by the NGO on its blog over allegations of fabrication by a news agency stringer and condemning media reluctance to correct the facts.


ANALYSIS: ON Thursday, 5 December, about 20 students and activists peacefully protested across the street from the Australian Embassy in Dili to urge Australia to respect Timor-Leste's sovereignty and rights to its undersea oil and gas.

In their statement (original Tetum), they urged Australia to "stop stealing and occupying the Timor Sea, but show your good will as a large nation which follows democratic principles to accept a maritime boundary based on international legal principles."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

End petro 'shoddy deals' with East Timor by maritime boundary justice, says advocate

Timor-Leste's government "palace" in the capital Dili ... seeking a fair deal over
the Timor Sea maritime boundary. Photo: David Robie/PMC
Report by The Independente in Dili
AUSTRALIA should stop "short-changing" Timor-Leste with "shoddy deals" over oil and gas and establish permanent maritime boundaries with its island nation neighbour, says a Timor Sea justice advocate.

Tom Clarke, spokesperson for the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, says it is high time the Australian government stopped "jostling" Timor-Leste over the temporary boundary.

In a strongly worded statement, Clarke kept up his criticism of the Australian government's strategy of manoeuvring Timor-Leste into temporary resource-sharing agreements over oil and gas extraction in the Timor Sea, arguing such contracts were not a long-term solution.

"Only permanent maritime boundaries - established in accordance with current international law - can put this matter to rest," he said.

"Prime Minister [Tony] Abbott has a chance to cement Australia's strong relationship with Timor-Leste by agreeing to permanent boundaries that would ensure Timor-Leste is not being short-changed through shoddy deals regarding oil and gas resources."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

East Timor's Independente champions genuine 'free press'

Independente's editorial director Mouzinho Lopes de Araujo ... living up
to the "people's freedom" motto. Photo: David Robie/PMC

WHILE the Timor-Leste media industry was rejuvenated by a national congress last month that voted on a new code of ethics, one of the country's most independent chief editors has warned against the risks of a "media council elephant".

Mouzinho Lopes de Araujo, editorial director of Timor-Leste's newest paper, the Independente, is proud of the progress of the country's fledgling media but says there are still many problems to address.

"There are many impediments to a free press in Timor-Leste," he says. "We don't really have a free press in this country. The press is all about what the government is doing and celebrations."

A draft media law is currently before the national Parliament and it is widely feared that a journalist licensing system and criminal penalties could be imposed as in Fiji and mooted in Papua New Guinea.

"The government is only interested in getting its own agenda across in the media, not what the people want," Lopes says.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

East Timor's Hera Power Plant - mega-project or 'mega problem'?

The new jetty and entry post at Hera Power Plant near Dili - just across the road
from the electricity producer. Photo: David Robie/PMC
THE TIMOR-LESTE capital Dili's main heavy oil power plant at Hera, about 15 km on the eastern side of the city, still remains at the centre of controversy.

A fact-based page by the advocacy group La'o Hamutuk (Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis) cites many critical performance reports and is headed: "Mega-project or mega problem?"

Little has been in the public domain in recent months, but according to review documents cited by LH last year, the supervising consultancy ELC/Bonifica said in a report in January 2012 on the construction phase:

"The overall performance of the Contractor CNI22 [Chinese Nuclear Industry Construction Company No. 22 [responsible for the high-voltage national transmission grid], remains poor in particular for the quality of finishing works. Despite of continuous warnings done by the Consultant [E/B], the situation does not improve."

A separate report also said three (out of seven) generating sets from the Hera plant were operating, using diesel fuel unloaded at Tibar port to the west of Dili.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

ADB signs new US$50m loan for Timor-Leste roads plan

Asian Development Bank resident representative Shane Rosenthal and deputy director general
of the Pacific department Noriko Ogawa at the media conference in the new
Resident Mission in Timor-Leste. Photo: David Robie/PMC
 THE ASIAN Development Bank has signed a US$50 million loan with the Timor-Leste government in the latest segment of the Asia-Pacific nation's road upgrade programme.

Timor-Leste currently has plans for about 600 km of road reconstruction - almost half of the national grid - at a cost of around US$1 a kilometre.

It is planned to have a national network of "reliable, safe" roads that are also "climate change proof", ADB officials told local media.

The latest loan agreement signed by ADB's deputy director-general of the Pacific department, Noriko Ogawa, and Finance Minister Emilia Pires covers a 117km stretch across the rugged interior between Manatuto and Natarbora.

Many roads in Timor-Leste, especially in remote areas and also between the capital Dili and some main towns, are currently risky and prone to erosion and flooding.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Change economic direction or face 'bleak' future warning for Timor-Leste

The La'o Hamutuk logo sign outside the development advocacy group's office
in Bebora in the Timor-Leste capital of Dili. Photo: David Robie
THE INDEPENDENT Timor-Leste development advocacy group La'o Hamutuk has called for an urgent review of national budget planning priorities for next year or the country will face a "bleak" future.

The Asia-Pacific nation's oil and gas revenues are predicted to dry up by 2020 - six years earlier than has been previously thought.

"We have only six years to develop our non-oil economy and markedly increase domestic revenues, which is an urgent national challenge," La’o Hamutuk said in an open letter to the national Parliament.

As well as greater emphasis on "human infrastructure" development, the advocacy group also called for more transparency around the budget debate and better consultation with civil society.

Earlier this year the 2013 budget process dropped the traditional plenary debate in favour of a closed door ad-hoc committee review.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Asia-Pacific faces 'alarming scenario' in latest global warming report

THE RISING possibility of a warmer world in the next two decades is magnifying the development challenges South-East Asia is already struggling with, and threatens to reverse hard-won development gains, says a new scientific report just released by the World Bank Group cited on Pacific Scoop.

Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience was prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. It builds on a World Bank report released late last year, which concluded the world would warm by 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century without concerted action now.

This new report looks at the likely impacts of present day (0.8°C), 2°C and 4°C warming on agricultural production, water resources, coastal ecosystems and cities across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia.

"South East Asia" includes the western Pacific (PNG and Timor-Leste) - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

“This new report outlines an alarming scenario for the days and years ahead ¬ what we could face in our lifetime,” says World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rio+20 - a squandered 'to do' list from Hell

Sunrise at Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach ... but little joy in the Rio+20 conference outcomes. Photo: David Robie
Mac Margolis analyses the conference of 192 nations that was supposed to be mapping out solutions to climate change but has been widely branded a "colossal failure".

In a city park girding the gray Atlantic ocean, dozens of people stood on line before a giant tent, each toting small bags of garbage. They waited patiently, each one eager to add their bit to the work in progress—plastic artist Vik Muniz’s giant montage of the Rio de Janeiro made of recycled trash. Turning waste into art is Muniz’s specialty and a sorely needed skill set for the occasion.

Across town, in a cavernous convention hall, delegates from 192 nations were putting the finishing flourishes—and their bravest faces—on another piece of work, the final statement of Rio+20. But to hear it from green groups, social activists, and even some conference-goers, global leaders had turned Muniz’s idea on its ear, converting a precious and rare international summit into a squandered opportunity.

For the past three days, heads of state and ministers had gathered at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to hash out a global road map for reversing climate change and achieving economic growth for all without trashing the environment. They congratulated themselves on a job well done.

“I have not the slightest doubt that the outcome document you have adopted will provide an enduring legacy,” said Sha Zukang, secretary-general of the Rio+20 conference. “During this conference, you, the world’s leaders, renewed your political commitment for sustainable development.”

Marine life in peril
Others were not so sure. Optimistically dubbed “The Future We Want,” the conference statement read more like “The To-Do List From Hell.” With marine life in peril, global carbon emissions reaching a record 32 billion tons last year, and emerging market powerhouses led by China adding to the fumes, expectations were bright for concrete action. But by the end, world leaders were as conspicuously short on goals, timetables, and commitments as they were high on rhetoric.

In a speech in Rio, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called sustainable development “the only viable development” possible in the 21st century. “The only way to deliver lasting progress for everyone is by preserving our resources and protecting our common environment,” she added.

Part of the problem was the gymnastics of striking a balance among 192 nations, ranging from juggernauts to poorhouses. Brazilian wordsmiths who edited the final-document draft reportedly had to hit the delete button repeatedly to accommodate outliers and to keep talks from derailing. That they produced a document at all was already something of a triumph, an effort hailed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as a “victory for multilateralism.”

Brazilian wordsmiths who edited the final document draft reportedly had to hit the delete button repeatedly to accommodate outliers and to keep talks from derailing.

To others it was a pearl of underachievement. No new targets were set for slashing gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that scientists warn are overheating the atmosphere. When developing nations proposed creating a $30 billion fund to back green jobs and environmentally sustainable initiatives, the richest countries played deaf, distracted perhaps by the euro-zone crisis.

Protection measures
Likewise, specific measures for protecting the high seas and endangered reefs and marine fauna ended up on the cutting-room floor, with further discussion deferred to another environmental parley in 2015.

“It is frankly astonishing that world leaders all agreed that this is a major problem needing an international, coordinated solution and then deferred any decision on action for another two and a half years,” Susan Lieberman, international policy director for the Pew Environment Group, said in a statement. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that one in 10 natural heritage sites around the globe are endangered.

But while many in Rio despaired, others lobbied. Ivonne A-Baki, the secretary of state for Ecuador, worked the corridors in Rio to drum up support for protecting a 1 million–hectare patch of unspoiled rainforest. Yasuni Natonal Park, where the equator meets the Andes, is famed for its fabulous variety of plants and animals. It also sits on 846 million barrels of oil, fully a fifth of Ecuador’s proven reserves, worth an estimated $7.2 billion, a treasure trove for a poor country. But instead of cashing in that wealth, Ecuador declared the Yasuni off-limits to drilling and wants the world to pitch in.

“By leaving the oil in the ground, we avoid releasing 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” says Baki. “That’s about as much as France or Brazil emit in a year.”

In exchange for leaving the area intact, Ecuador is looking to raise $3.6 billion from international donors to help protect the park. Though Rio+20 failed to pass the vaunted $30 billion green fund, it was the perfect venue to tout the project.

“Sometimes in a big meeting like this, the good intentions stay on paper,” she said. “But we were in Rio to raise awareness. We have to understand that climate change is going to be a lot more expensive for the world than the current economic crisis.”

Pacific Rio+20 climate change blog
Rio+20 reports on Pacific Scoop
Pacific NGOs brand Rio+20 a failure
Poverty pollutes

Al Jazeera's Inside Story reports on the 'multinationals takeover'

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dodging the censors – an ungagged recipe to rescue Fiji’s national pension fund

HOW BIZARRE. The Fiji censors have gagged a perfectly reasonable and well-argued article about how ordinary Fijians can help their much-maligned national pension fund. Almost two years ago, the University of the South Pacific economist and former MP Professor Wadan Narsey penned an article in The Fiji Times about the “circling coup wolves”, which were putting the Fiji National Provident Fund at risk. His accompanying cartoon depicted the FNPF as a cash cow laden with pensions with a bunch of wolves snapping at its hooves. (By law, some 16 percent of Fijians wages and salaries must be paid into the fund - savings amounting to F$2.5 billion and with assets on paper worth $3 billion). The introduction said:
contributors and pensioners should be concerned. Perhaps worried. Perhaps frightened. Because our FNPF life savings are under threat.

While outlining the threatening wolves and the potential harm they could cause the FNPF, he also pointed out the lack of representation for the country’s contributors and pensioners:
We the FNPF contributors who own the savings do not have a single direct representative on the FNPF board who can be accountable to us. Why don't we?

We remain quiet at our peril.

But this fresh article on Pacific Media Centre Online today has a far more positive tone, more in the vein of what Fijians can do for the country’s fund (to rescue it) rather than what the fund can do for them. A visionary recipe for development. Yet the regime’s censors gagged the article from a Fiji Times edition last week – they “took it away and didn’t return it”. Narsey says:
Can Fiji National Provident Fund contributors and pensioners assist it become more viable?

With a stagnating economy, FNPF revenues have been severely constrained. Few new jobs have been created and existing incomes have not grown; many loans are non-performing; returns on FNPF investments have been declining; and large amounts of capital values have been written off because of mismanagement.

But collectively, FNPF contributors and pensioners remain the largest group of spenders in the Fiji economy.

Here is the challenge: can FNPF contributors and pensioners direct their consumption expenditure towards FNPF investments, and change FNPF policies for the better?

And Narsey made a number of suggestions about how the fund can be restructured, provide fairer representation and also about strategic help. This was a very positive and constructive article. As the author notes:
Why would the Bainimarama regime ban this article from a daily newspaper? What greater damage is being done to our people’s welfare which the papers are stopped from reporting, every day? Why do we Fiji citizens continue to suffer this daily loss of our basic human right to freedom of expression, without even a whimper?
Fiji’s draconian media censorship has to stop.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

PNG pipeline clash story - tribal feud or Exxon whitewash?

A READER has picked up on the remarkably contradictory reports by local Papua New Guinean news media linking a bloody feud between Southern Highlands tribes with tension over profit-sharing about the $15 billion gasfield and international media coverage - reported far from the conflict area, and downsizing the development conflict issue. He noted the contrast between one story from the front page of the Post-Courier, blaming the royalties tensions over the liquefied natural gasfield and pipeline, and a Radio Australia item, saying it was "lonstanding tribal dispute". (This RA report was also filed by a PNG journalist while other news agencies later carried even stronger ExxonMobil denials of profit-sharing problems):
...two stories on the same topic. And they remain two very different stories.
The lack of coverage in the next few days didn't make the situation any clearer. Café Pacific believes that the influence of the Exxon publicity machine had a lot to do with the international wire service "playdown" stories, conveniently cashing in on the hasty police statements. Take your pick:

Version # 1: Post-Courier, 25 January 2010
Raid said to be caused by tension from benefits agreement

By Mohammad Bashir

Eleven people were gunned down in an early morning raid on Pawale village in the PDL4 area of the PNG LNG project in Southern Highlands.

As a result, the government and developers have been given 48 hours to step in and restore order.

In a gang style attack, four groups of young men from the neighbouring Imawe Bogasi clan armed with high powered guns reportedly staged the raid, killing 11 young men and injuring many villagers.

Hundreds of women and children who fled are unaccounted for after 270 houses and other properties were destroyed.

Southern Highlands provincial police commander, Superintendent Jimmy Onopia last night confirmed the fighting but he could not provide details of the deaths and destruction to properties.

Pawale village in Simberigi,
Erave district in the Southern Highlands Province was a home to the Toroko, Haukerake and Ase Tipupurupeke clans.

The raid was believed to be in retaliation for the killing of an Imawe Bogasi clansman before the December Licensed Based Benefit Sharing Agreement (LBBSA) forum.

Spokesman for the Tipurupeke clan, Steven Paglipari, confirmed the killings yesterday, saying the situation on the ground was tense.

During the LBBSA, Pawale villagers of PDL4, who were the principal landowners, did not take part in the forum because of threats and intimidation.

Pawale council president Max Apua said the Bogasis refused K5000 and 14 pigs given two weeks ago as "bel kol" at a mediation ceremony chaired by Erave's first judge Justice Nemo Yalo.

Justice Yalo appealed to the warring clans to put their differences aside.

Moloko Tiburua Peke, ILG chairman Apiko Pelipe and Mr Apua called on the government and the developers to step in immediately and address the situation.

Speaking on behalf of the six clans of Pawale, Mr Apua said they would not hesitate to take the law into their own hands if the Government and the oil and LNG developers failed.

An updated version of the above story was carried by Pacific Scoop.

Version #2: Radio Australia, 25 January 2010
Eleven people have been reportedly gunned-down in the Papua New Guinea highlands over a longstanding tribal dispute.

Police in the Southern Highlands say they lack the resources and manpower to go and stop it, or prevent more casualties.

The province houses gas fields that will form PNG's Liquefied Natural Gas project, and the project's lead developer, Exxon Mobil says they are monitoring the situation very closely.

But PNG's Southern Highlands Police Commander, Jimmy Onopia, says the fight is between two tribal groups in the Erave district over the death of a villager from one of the waring tribes.

Presenter: Firmin Nanol

Speaker: Jimmy Onopia, PNG's South
ern Highlands Police Commander

Some other items:

Deadly PNG clash not linked to LNG project: police (AFP)
Exxon Says PNG violence tribal, not related to its LNG venture (Bloomberg)
ExxonMobil denies links to PNG deaths (Sydney Morning Herald)
ExxonMobil says clash in PNG had no link to LNG project (Radio NZ International)
PNG LNG 'not linked to clash' (Upstream Online)

Meanwhile, the mystery woman who posed as a human rights lawyer in the daring "great escape" when 12 hardened criminals broke out of Bomana prison earlier this month, has been described by police as "a beauty" (identikit picture). And warders were so gob-smacked that they were "distracted" from their usual jail screening protocols.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Anzac stranglehold on the 'free' Forum

By Dr Roman Grynberg

"Is the Pacific Islands Forum a place where free nations can exchange their views openly which is what the founding fathers wanted when they broke away from SPC? Freedom, as the Americans quite rightly remind us, is not free. The increasing power and domination of the islands by Australia and New Zealand is the real price the islands nations pay for Australia and New Zealand financial support."

IN THE early 1970s recently independent Pacific island leaders balked at their enforced silence in what was then the South Pacific Commission where they were unable to discuss French nuclear testing because of the opposition of the French government.

They decided as a group to create a new forum where independent nations would be free to talk. At the time Pacific island leaders were divided over whether the new 'Forum' should include Australia and New Zealand or not.

Ostensibly because of the huge resources these two countries could bring to the table they were grudgingly included.

Initially the Forum and its secretariat, then called the South Pacific Economic Community (SPEC), was there to provide technical assistance to the islands, hand out small bits of cash for training and workshops and to service the annual meetings of leaders.

However, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) quickly grew to become the region's paramount political organisation where all major issues of the day are discussed.

It has replaced the Secretariat of the Pacific Community which now performs an essentially technical role. The two organisations co-exist but the highly contentious political issues are largely handled at the Forum.

By the late 1990s the Forum, under pressure from Australia and New Zealand, began to evolve as a policy making body rather than a technical body assisting the islands.

Regrettably the change in the function of the Forum was never accompanied by an increase in its capacity to set the policy.

At the beginning of the current decade this role as a policy making body became even more important when the 'ethnic tensions' occurred in the Solomon Islands.

'Regional cover'
The very important and beneficial Australian lead intervention to save the Solomon Islands from the possibility of civil war and total collapse meant Australia needed what is called 'regional cover' from the Forum for the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.

This sort of intervention could not be done bilaterally and needed the support of other island states through the Forum.

But whereas RAMSI started as a truly positive intervention to save the Solomon Islands it has evolved into creeping control of economic policy by the young Australian 'babycrats' as they have dubbed in Honiara.

Some of the commercial policies they have advocated and implemented will directly benefit Australia.

The wags in Honiara now say the RAMSI mission will continue for many years and will only ever come to an end once the last overpaid 'babycrat' in Honiara pays his last mortgage installment in Australia.

If the Forum is a policy body then who establishes the policy? These decisions over policy are made by ministers on advice from officials.

Ministers then seek endorsement from leaders.

But where does the actual policy come from? The answer is very simple. In theory it is the technical people at the Forum secretariat who prepare the papers and the advice.

In reality, however, there is simply no capacity within the Forum secretariat to establish independent policy on most economic issues.

Aid 'thank you'
The policy either comes directly or indirectly from Canberra and Wellington or through its 'multilateral cover', that is the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

If you look at almost every study undertaken in the region by the international financial institutions you will find a thank you on page 2 or 3 for the funding provided by AusAID or NZAID.

These organisations have Australian and New Zealand staff seconded to them and Canberra vigorously and jealously controls their trust accounts.

Only very occasionally do any of these institutions dare give advice that Canberra and Wellington explicitly disapprove of. This did occur recently with the World Bank's courageous and successful push to get Australia and New Zealand to open up their horticultural labour markets to Pacific island temporary workers.

Who sets the Forum agenda? In the Forum as in all international bodies, a draft agenda for every meeting is sent out to all members and they must all agree.

In reality in most cases only Australia and New Zealand have the capacity to review these documents and make substantive comments and hence they very largely set the Forum's agenda.

Not one Pacific island country, even PNG, the largest, has one dedicated official whose sole job it is to work only on Pacific island affairs.

Australia and New Zealand have scores of officials and desk officers in Canberra and Wellington with experts on each Forum island country.

Pacific island officials work on so many areas they have to be a 'jack of all trades' but because they are so busy they rarely even have time to read the meeting papers prior to an international meeting.

As a result they are almost invariably outgunned by their Australian and New Zealand counterparts at any meeting.

So if the Forum's policy and the agenda are by and large set in Canberra and Wellington why do Pacific island officials, ministers and leaders continue to accept it?

The answer to this is fairly complex. The first reason is that some of the advice provided by Australia and New Zealand is basically sound.

Whether it is democracy and the rule of law or the liberalisation of telecommunication and air transport few Pacific islanders would doubt that the advice provided by Canberra and Wellington either directly or through their regional or international surrogates has done anything other than benefit the people of the region.

However, there are many glaring examples in the past of policy advice which Canberra and Wellington would not be so proud of.

But this is not the point really. I have witnessed Pacific island officials and ministers sit there and agree to policy they know is not in their country's interest.

You will often hear outsiders ask why they remain silent? The usual response is a cultural explanation. Many Pacific island cultures, though by no means all, have no tradition of engaging in the sort of direct confrontation needed to achieve their foreign policy objectives.

I don't like this explanation because it portrays Pacific islanders as victims and I have seen another type of more subtle calculus occurring.

Many Pacific islanders remain silent for what are often good self interested reasons.

Courageous questions
It takes a courageous official to question Canberra and Wellington when Australia and New Zealand provide two-thirds of the income of the Forum Secretariat and a very large part of their national aid budget. Careers of officials can be terminated. Prime Ministers will receive letters of complaint about recalcitrant ministers and pressure can be brought to remove governments where they are too strident. All this is part of the normal use of power to retain effective control of countries in Australia and New Zealand's lake.

But in the final analysis what buys the silence of the islands in Forum meetings stems from the 'original sin' of the Forum leaders who included the aid donors as members and created a Forum where the poor and vulnerable are better off remaining silent.

There is an ancient proverb that goes, more or less 'He who eats the food of others shall grow weak in the mouth and he who takes the goods of others shall grow weak in the arms'.

This I believe explains much of the silence that is observed at forum meetings.

Whenever a Pacific island leader or minister sits there and accepts policy that is not in their national interests they know that speaking up too loudly may risk the aid flows to their country.

There is, however, even a dirtier secret about the Forum that all ministers and leaders know.

They can sit there at Forum meetings and nod silently to a policy which they have no intention of implementing when they go home and there is no-one to force them to do so.

So what happens are an endless cycle of meetings with quiescent ministers who agree silently to things because they know it will cost them too much to object publicly or they have no intention of implementing when they get home.

Implementation of decisions has simply never been a great priority for the Forum.

So if the purpose of creating the Forum 35 years ago was to have a place where free and independent countries could speak freely then the silence of island ministers means that the Forum is really no longer fit for its purpose - because of the disproportionate power and wealth of Australia and New Zealand.

'Original sin'
There are some Pacific islanders who dream of reversing the 'original sin' of the forum's founding fathers.

The Forum Secretariat with its six figures incomes, manicured lawns and its cycle of largely fruitless meetings (which provide very profitable daily subsistence allowances) will not change and Pacific islanders are never likely to throw Australia and New Zealand out of the Forum. International organisation do not change - they simply become irrelevant or less relevant, witness the UN over 60 years.

More to the point, Pacific islanders irrespective of how they feel about the Forum still need a place to talk to their neighbours Australia and New Zealand.

But is the Forum a place where free nations can exchange their views openly which is what the founding fathers wanted when they broke away from SPC? Freedom, as the Americans quite rightly remind us, is not free. The increasing power and domination of the islands by Australia and New Zealand is the real price the islands nations pay for Australia and New Zealand financial support.

For the larger Melanesian states which constitute 85% of the Pacific island population there is the realisation that if they want independent and unbiased advice then they have to form their own secretariat.

Hence with Chinese and possibly EU funding the Melanesians are creating a Melanesian Spearhead Group secretariat in Vanuatu.

The Melanesians want the freedom to get independent advice but they want the Chinese and the Europeans to pay.

This will also probably not work in the longer term but at least for the moment Chinese and EU interests in the region are profoundly different from that of Australia and New Zealand and will give the Melanesian states much greater policy space.

Things will only change with the circumstances. In the last generation it was France which silenced the islands. The present culture of silence in the Forum stems from the nature of the relationship with Australia and New Zealand. It is perverse and will never lead to a healthy relationship. There may yet come a generation of Pacific island leaders who have a genuine vision and intestinal fortitude to lead their countries and the region. I do not see it yet but I wish the Pacific islands, the region that has been my home for 25 years the very best in raising them.

Dr Roman Grynberg was - until last week - Director of Economic Governance at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. This article was originally published in The Fiji Times under the title "Who owns the Forum?" and reproduced on Café Pacific with the author's permission.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New book explores crucial role for Pacific media in development

A new book on Pacific media is being launched in Suva, Fiji, on Monday to add to the growing literature on Pacific journalism. With a core of University of the South Pacific contributors and journalists and media analysts around the region, Media and Development will be exploring critical issues facing the Pacific - and what journalists can do about it. No doubt this publication will become a core text at the USP and other journalism schools, at least for postgraduate students. Published by the Fijian Institute of Applied Studies and co-edited by USP journalism head Shailendra Singh and economics professor Biman Prasad, the team of 23 contributors - including me - ought to be congratulated on the effort. After the book launching by Fiji Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte at USP, the co-publisher - Pacific Media Centre - will have another launch in Auckland further down the track.
With growing evidence of low economic growth, poverty, mismanagement, corruption and political instability in the Pacific, the co-editors argue that an unfettered flow of information is vital:
The media has a crucial role to play in facilitating quick and better access to information about issues such as health, education, technology, economy and politics to help to maintain the social and political cohensiveness that is so important for development in small and vulnerable countries.

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