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Youve heard of money laundering, right? Where criminals take dirty money and conceal its origins by funnelling it through legitimate businesses or foreign banks?
Well for a long time now, something similar has been happening in the Pacific, but involving news rather than money.
Vanuatu Daily Post Media Director Dan McGarry alluded to this in his recent item Australia is not part of the Pacific conversation, which looked at Australias engagement with the Pacific (or rather in his opinion, the lack of it). He writes: Often in the past, Australian media services agreed to take the brunt of a governments opprobrium by front-running a story provided to them by a Pacific source. This allows the domestic service the cover of simply reporting what everyone else is talking about. During the now-infamous Presidential pardons debacle, Vanuatu media ensured the ABCs presence in a key press conference so that the reporter could ask the awkward questions that might have gotten a local journalist beaten up, or worse.
For those of you who dont live in Vanuatu and suspect Mr McGarry may have been exaggerating the potential danger of asking an awkward question, allow me to inform you that he is in no way making that up. Physical assaults of journalists, while not exactly routine in Pacific nations, are by no means unknown. Political leaders have little compunction in remonstrating with reporters and editors if they dont like the coverage theyre getting, and this has occasionally led to blows being struck. One former Prime Minister of Vanuatu once told me in an interview that he was perfectly entitled to take action against reporters at the government run radio station because they are my workers, they work for me, I pay their wages, Im their boss.
Things have obviously improved a good deal since then, but the mindset still remains among many leaders.
Let me give you an example of how news and information from a Pacific island country is laundered, for want of a better word, although I need to be slightly vague about some of the details of this, to protect my sources who might still be nervous about their roles in this being revealed.
In this particular Pacific nation, a man had just been appointed Police Commissioner, apparently based on little more than his loyalty to the then-Prime Minister. His main qualification for the post of leading the police appeared to be that he had been something of a criminal in the recent past. Which I suppose gives one a certain perspective on police work, but its not usually regarded as a positive thing for someone expected to provide leadership to a critical law enforcement service.
Recent months have seen an intensification of diplomatic activity in the Pacific Ocean, as traditional powers and new friends alike have redoubled their courtship of island administrations. Much of this activity has been driven by geostrategic anxieties, as the distribution of power in the world shifts.
Most pointedly, rapid economic growth in China has seen an expansion of that countrys power and influence, fueling speculation China will seek a greater say in regional and global affairs. In response, traditional powers on the Pacific rim are looking to shore up commitment to the rules and norms of the existing international order. Competition between the United States and China (and dramatic points of contention, such as the dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea) form a backdrop to renewed interest in the Pacific Ocean.
However it is far from certain that Pacific island countries share the same geostrategic anxieties, and diplomatic agendas, of traditional powers on the Pacific-rim. Indeed some island leaders are uncomfortable being relegated to the status of pawns in a power play-off by larger states.
Two distinct frames have emerged for considering the international affairs of the Pacific islands: the Indo-Pacific (a geostrategic concept largely defined by Pacific-rim powers), and the Blue Pacific (a collective diplomacy strategy adopted by island states themselves). These are considered in turn below.
US-led maritime security in the Indo-Pacific
Pacific island countries increasingly find themselves viewed by Pacific-rim powers as a sub-set of a broader region, the Indo-Pacific. This framing used particularly by strategic thinkers in Washington, Tokyo and Canberra alludes to a...
|Photo Caption: Ports 2221 Development Association Inc chairman Steven Gideon (center) with executives Willie Kaiano (left) and Gena Monda holding the copy of the eviction letter.|
It is rare to get a real insight into the differences within and between agencies in how aid is delivered. A new book, Navigation by Judgment: Why and When Top-down Management of Foreign Aid Doesnt Work by Dan Honig, does this.
For most of us who have worked in aid-funded programs, it is a mystifying and frustrating business, especially when you have had the experience of working for different aid agencies as I have had (UNICEF, AusAid, USAID and the German aid agency (GIZ), as well as multilaterals such as the ADB).
After reading a highly favourable review by Lant Pritchett on the Building State Capability Blog, I purchased the book, not least because I noted that Dan had worked on a youth-related project in Timor-Leste, as I had done. The books insight is not a new one, but what is new is that it is built on two solid evidential bases: an econometric analysis of a huge database of delivery outcomes of aid projects and eight case studies in two countries of the differences between USAID and DFID (UK aid) modes of aid delivery.
Honigs main finding, with some qualifications, is that program outcomes are better where aid agencies allow and encourage their direct staff or contracted staff to have greater latitude to exercise judgement. I prefer to use the Australian spelling because the word judgment in an Australian context can refer to legal decisions, the opposite of what Honig is referring to.
The value of navigation by judgement applies especially when the operating context is unpredictable and where performance is difficult to measure. Judgement refers to the scope that staff have to make their own decisions within the broad parameters set by the program design. This is in contrast to top-down management, which in the words of the books fly leaf is problematic: Tight controls and a focus on reaching pre-set measurable targets often prevent front-line workers from using skill, local knowledge and creativity to solve problems in ways that maximise the impact of foreign aid.
The econometric analysis is of evaluations of over 14,000 projects from nine international development organisations. Spoiler alert: no Australian aid projects are included. The analysis uses self-evaluated project outcomes as a measure of success. If you want to see Dan present the econometric results and more else besides, this video is well worth viewing.
In short, Honig finds that navigation by judgement is most helpful where environment predictability is lowest. The...
Last month, PNG University of Natural Resources and the Environment (UNRE) Vice Chancellor Professor John Warren quit his post and the country after receiving threats of legal action.
Warren, who only took up his position at UNRE in 2016, was previously Professor of Botany at Aberystwyth University in Wales. It seems, from a letter by Warren released by PNG Attitude, that he resigned after falling out with the University Chancellor and then with the Council. He writes of the chancellors repeated threats to report me to the police, and of a report he received that a court order was to be served on him.
UNRE is clearly a troubled institution. The previous Vice Chancellor had his appointment terminated following allegations of mismanagement of funds, and was referred to the fraud squad following allegations made by Rabaul MP, Dr Allan Marat. University students protested last year following the re-appointment of two senior staff. Students are once again protesting, this time at Professor Warrens departure.
Earlier in the year, Unitech Vice Chancellor Albert Schram was arrested shortly after resigning. He had his passport confiscated on a trumped-up charge. This unfortunate turn of developments was engineered by a former senior Unitech leader Schram had earlier crossed. It took about three weeks, and various court hearings, for the former Vice Chancellor to get his passport back and leave the country.
Warren says that the treatment of Schram motivated him to leave PNG without delay to avoid becoming entangled with the police and the courts. He writes that [a]lthough the charges were ludicrous, all the advice I received (in the light of the Albert Schram case) was that I should leave PNG as quickly and quietly as possible.
The handling of both the Schram and the Warren cases will have a devastating impact on the reputation of PNGs higher education sector.
There are too many powerful individuals in PNG who use the legal system as a form of harassment. The damage to both justice and the national interest is immense.
The post Papua New Guinea loses another Vice Chancellor appeared first on...
In setting out the Australian governments aid budget for 2018/2019, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, wrote: Our region is home to 40 % of natural disasters and 84 % of people affected by natural disasters worldwide. Our development program is one of the ways Australia can respond to these pressures. In this context, the development program is more important for Australia than it has ever been.
Why, then, if the development program is more important to Australia than it has ever been, has the Australian government aid program (Official Development Assistance or ODA) now fallen to the lowest level as a share of GDP ever, as shown in the graph below? Put simply, if the Australian economy was $100 we now contribute just 22 cents in overseas aid.
Source: Aid Tracker
One possible explanation, originally stated by Foreign Minister Bishop, is that cuts to the aid budget are needed to help repair the deficit and debt challenge in Australia. But the Australian aid budget is less than 1% of government expenditure: cutting it is simply not going to make any meaningful difference to the deficit. Furthermore, if reducing the budget deficit was the real reason for the cuts, why has the aid budget been cut by 32% in real (adjusted for inflation) terms since 2012/13, yet much larger government expenditure overall actually increased over that period by 31%? For every dollar of aid, Australia now spends $42 just on health and social welfare in Australia; independent think-tank The Australian Institute now rightly asks if charity now not only begins, but also ends, at home. Analysis by the Development Policy Centre shows that Australia is currently on track to spend more than $10 on defence for every $1 it spends on aid, reversing the age-old vision of turning swords into ploughshares.
A second possible explanation for the decline is that perhaps Australias aid program is not particularly effective. But the Australian governments own latest annual report on the aid program found that nine of ten strategic targets set by the g...
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