Governance and Development in the Pacific: Ken Piddington and Neil Plimmer Review a Round Table Held at Victoria University of Wellington

By Piddington, Ken; Plimmer, Neil | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

Governance and Development in the Pacific: Ken Piddington and Neil Plimmer Review a Round Table Held at Victoria University of Wellington


Piddington, Ken, Plimmer, Neil, New Zealand International Review


The discussion was divided into two segments, the first dealing with governance and the second focusing on development; the close inter-relationship between these two themes was, however, recognised throughout, and was dealt with specifically in comments by the opening speakers, and also during the thematic overview which was presented at the conclusion of the round table.

From the outset, it was emphasised that global and regional pressures were increasingly being felt throughout the region; these were in many cases difficult to meet and complicated the task of governance. One response had been to set out to strengthen various forms of regional co-operation, both through existing institutions and through initiatives such as the Pacific Forum's Pacific Plan. But many issues had their origin outside the region; major examples included climate change and over-exploitation of fishery stocks. This had led states to use their international links in an attempt to establish more effective forms of control, either through the United Nations or through other relevant agencies.

Participants were informed that the formal suspension of Fiji from activities within the Pacific Forum would take effect later in the week. This did not, however, equate to a suspension of Fiji's membership--neither did it apply automatically to each and every activity within that grouping; there were a few exceptions which had been agreed upon.

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Governance exercise

Over a period of years, it had become apparent that concrete action (including some forms of intervention) wild sometimes be needed, especially in cases where states had failed in the effective exercise of governance (such as Solomon Islands), or where the constitutional process had been suspended by military action (the immediate example being that of Fiji). In the latter case, the question was put: should the perpetrators of such action be taken more seriously, particularly by Australia and New Zealand, but also by the other members of the Pacific Forum? Should there be an attempt to find out in a positive sense what the coup leaders ,night have done (for example, to avert the meltdown of the Fiji economy), and what might they still be able to achieve? It was pointed out that with the current stand-off in diplomatic communication such dialogue would need to be pursued on a separate track.

In the meantime, sub-regionalism is inevitably emerging as a stronger factor within the wider Forum. Some discussants argued that this could only be countered if the region as a whole went beyond consultation and tackled the need to come together in the face of mounting external pressures. Current Chinese interest was quoted as an example of the way in which 'weak' regionalism would open the way to divisive action; although it was not so much the fact of China's engagement as concern that it be carried out in ways that strengthened good governance. The 'Pacific Way' had been the rallying call across the Forum group in the earlier years. Where is it now? Several participants argued for a multi-faceted process, with dialogue proceeding at different levels and through various regional networks. The rupture in diplomatic relations between Fiji and New Zealand only made this set of alternatives more important. Indeed, there was a danger that the tendency to look for a Pacific Islands 'collegiality' (excluding Australia and New Zealand), advanced recently by the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, would only be reinforced.

Questions were raised during the concluding phase of the discussion on governance about the capacity of New Zealand (or Australia) to enter into this plurality of dialogue. Yet it was necessary to explore and support Pacific-style formulae for constitutional reform. For example, Samoa had from the outset pursued options outside a tight Westminster model and had applied the concept of synthesis with Samoan culture and the traditions which it transmitted, for example in terms of hereditary rank. …

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