IN A MOVE that has disappointed Pacific governments as well
as support organisations in
the UK, Britain has withdrawn for a second time in
a decade from the Pacific Community,
the international body it helped to set up
in 1947 to promote development programmes
throughout the region.
Its contribution of
£250,000 a year of the organisation's core budget goes towards administration
and management costs to keep the organisation afloat.
government gave 12 months notice of withdrawal in December 2004. Officials
have since confirmed that funding ended
on Dec 31.
This move coincides
with the winding up this year of all Britain's
bilateral aid to the region following a decision made by Clare Short, Britain's
former International Development
Secretary, in 2001.
Formerly known as
the South Pacific Commission, the organisation is composed of 22
states and territories, as well as Australia and New Zealand, and the three
metropolitan powers, Britain, France and the United States. Holland, also a founder, left
when it ceased
to have responsibility for any regional territory.
will no longer be a member in its own right, the UK will continue to
the interests of Pitcairn, the sole remaining colony in the region for which it
pays the organisation £15,000 a year.
relationship with the Community has followed an erratic path over the past
In the mid-nineties Britain gave notice that it would drop out of the body in
but, after representations by Pacific countries, agreed to stay on until
the beginning of 1996.
At that time the UK
was committed to meeting slightly more than 12 per cent a year of the
government's explanation was that, burdened with the nation's own heavy
deficit, all departments of government had to accept their share of
across-the-board cuts in spending.
At the same time,
there was concern over the way the organisation was being run.
Officials spoke openly of a lack of direction
with an alarming proportion of the members' contribution being spent on
review by the newly-appointed Secretary General Dr Bob Dunn, an Australian,
reinvigorated the organisation’s performance to the extent that the new Labour
Government in Britain
felt able to rejoin it in 1998 shortly after its 50th birthday, to
acclaim throughout the Pacific.
There have been
many changes in Britain's role as a member of the European Union, the United
Nations and regional organisations affecting the Pacific since the commission
was founded. The watershed for Britain
came in 1980 when Vanuatu
leaving only Pitcairn;Britain
might easily have dropped out then.
In latter years,
the British government has taken a less global view of development,
needy areas in Africa and India, rather than trying to spread itself too thinly
too widely. Ninety per cent of its aid funds now go to lower- income
As happened at the
time of the withdrawal in the mid-nineties, the region has been assured
would seek to increase its multilateral aid through the European Union and
Commission Is Valuable Source of Aid
mind, Mr Blair
ONE of Britain's
most experienced diplomats in Pacific affairs has urged Mr Blair’s
to think again over withdrawing from the Pacific Community, formerly the
Pacific Commission. He admits the move
had struck “a particularly distressing
chord” with him.
Michael Peart, now retired, is a former High Commissioner to Fiji,Kiribati, Tuvalu and
He was Deputy Head of South Pacific Department in the FCO in the late
80s. He also
served as the Privy Council's appointee to the University of the
South Pacific in Suva, conducted Britain's
foremost day-to-day liaison with the South Pacific Forum and
represented the Pitcairn
Islands at the SPC between 1995 and
These duties, as well as a close working relationship with his deputy,
who was Ambassador to the Federated
States of Micronesia, Marshall
Islands and Palau,
meant that he had a unique and intensive oversight for British policy in the
Both Mr Peart and Mr
Scarborough are members of the Pisuki Council.
“It was my clear view that one of the most effective areas of work for a
contribution from Britain
was the practical development offered to the small and highly vulnerable states
the region by the SPC,” Mr Peart said in a letter to The Outrigger.
“I had been disappointed to arrive in Suva
just as Britain's
original withdrawal from the
SPC was taking effect.
“It was clear that the SPC had been suffering a certain sclerosis
the proportion of
budget spent on administration had depleted the important
development work. That is
why I worked hard with other reformers to get Dr Bob
Dunn, an Australian, appointed
Secretary General, and then supported him in pushing
through his thorough-going
“By 1997 the Pacific Community, as it was renamed to fully reflect a membership
extending north of the Equator, had embraced reforms that made it
into an effective and valuable source of technical and practical advice to its
Mr Peart said that in mid-1997 when Dr Dunn wrote to Clare Short, the
newly appointed Labour Secretary for International Development, asking Britain
to rejoin, he weighed in
with wholehearted support.
“I was delighted that one of my last acts before leaving the region
was to attend the 50th anniversary meeting of the Pacific Community in Canberra
rejoining was warmly welcomed.
“As many things had changed over the years, not least the European Union
support for the organisation, which included a lot of British money, we
rejoined with a reduced
contribution to the core budget – reportedly just
£250,000 a year”.
“So both of Britain's
concerns which precipitated withdrawal - inefficiency and the
cost of our
contribution - had been addressed.”
Mr Peart said that a recent scan of the organisation’s web site
demonstrated the practical
advice that is given daily by the technical, health,
social and other experts to 22 island governments and numerous institutions.
This is an organisation that delivers.
“It is beyond comprehension to me that once
again Britain is withdrawing; particularly
as it is the same government that,
as one of its first policy acts in the region, took Britain
“I do not see how this squares with the Prime Minister’s concern
aboutthe effects of
global warming which could wipe some of these island states from
the map, the agenda
to encourage good governance, the war against HIV/AIDS and
so many other areas of
concern to Britain where the Pacific Community plays a key role.”
overwhelming focus on Africa, he said, had already led
to the ending of her
bilateral development programme in the region and the
winding-up of the valuable VSO programme.
“Instability in the region is, unfortunately, not so rare - e.g. Fiji
and Solomon Islands
in recent years.
“Many of the island countries are members of the Commonwealth
work on helping vulnerable small states?
still has a moral obligation to demonstrate practical bilateral interest in the
which membership of the Pacific Community exemplified. It is not good enough to hide
contribution, not always the most effective and timely of development
“Ministers should think again, and quickly.”
Scarborough said that he shared and endorsed Mr