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   From Issue 48, Winter 2004/ 2005

   Britain withdraws from aid body for second    time

     

    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    the UK, Britain has withdrawn for a second time in a decade from the Pacific Community,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.

      The UK 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
    Pacific Island 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.

      Although Britain will no longer be a member in its own right, the UK will continue to
    protect the interests of Pitcairn, the sole remaining colony in the region for which it pays the organisation £15,000 a year.

       Britain's relationship with the Community has followed an erratic path over the past
    decade. In the mid-nineties Britain gave notice that it would drop out of the body in 1995
    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 organisation's budget.

      The British 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 management.

        A thorough-going 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 wide
    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 became independent,
    leaving only Pitcairn;Britain might easily have dropped out then.

       In latter years, the British government has taken a less global view of development,
    focusing on needy areas in Africa and India, rather than trying to spread itself too thinly and
    too widely. Ninety per cent of its aid funds now go to lower- income countries.

      As happened at the time of the withdrawal in the mid-nineties, the region has been assured
    that Britain would seek to increase its multilateral aid through the European Union and other donors.

     

    Reformed Pacific Commission Is Valuable Source of Aid

    Change your mind, Mr Blair


     ONE of Britain's most experienced diplomats in Pacific affairs has urged Mr Blair’s
    government to think again over withdrawing from the Pacific Community, formerly the
    South 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
    Nauru.
     

     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 1997.

     These duties, as well as a close working relationship with his deputy, Vernon Scarborough,
    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 vast region.
     
    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 of
    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 and 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
    reforms.

     “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 island members.”

     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 where Britain's 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
    back in.

     “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. 

     Britain's 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 – what value Britain's
    work on helping vulnerable small states?

      “Britain still has a moral obligation to demonstrate practical bilateral interest in the region
    which membership of the Pacific Community exemplified.
      It is not good enough to hide
    behind our EU contribution, not always the most effective and timely of development mechanisms.

     “Ministers should think again, and quickly.”

     Mr Scarborough said that he shared and endorsed Mr Peart's views.

 

 

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