An Independent External Review Panel headed by former World Bank Vice President, James Adams, has recommended the Secretariat of the Pacific Community hand over responsibility for the Regional Rights Resource Team, youth, culture, its Community Education Training Centre and its Pacific ICT Outreach Centre to other organisations.
The Review recommends the Regional Rights Resource Team be handed over to a suitable NGO, the youth program to UNICEF, the culture program to UNESCO and the training and ICT Centres to a university, such as the University of the South Pacific.
The 26 member nations of the Pacific community hold their annual meeting in Noumea, next week.
Presenter: Campbell Cooney
Speaker: Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Pacific Community Secretary-General
RODGERS: Over the last six years there has been a major change in the Pacific that was not there before. This includes the decision by the Pacific Island Forum leaders to reorganise the regional organisations in the Pacific so the SPC has merged with two other previously standing alone organisations. The applied geo-science technology organisation, SOPAC, and the South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment, SPBEA. We also have the Pacific Plan for Cooperation for the Pacific in the period, so I guess it is a review that looked at the new organisation that was larger in size, in scope over the last six years and really asking the question how does it remain relevant. what services should form its core business, how should that be financed sustainably and how does it make the greatest impact for Pacific Island countries and territories?
COONEY: With the merging of those different programs and different groups, is there duplication and has it come unwieldy just the number of programs that you are responsible for?
RODGERS: Well no actually because practically all the programs that were SPC-operated represent gaps in the Pacific Island countries and territories, not in all of them. But when you actually have a look at gaps in individual countries and put them together, there are still some gaps that other organisations, including SPC, are not addressing in terms of capacity within the country. So the issue was not so much duplication, it was more about how do we actually bring greater focus, how do we actually generate greater results for countries and territories? And I think the areas that they have recommended for SPC to move away from were areas where it is perceived at the time of the review by the review team that there were other organisations that were delivering the services. And that is a function of the fact that they did not have enough time to delve into details on these programs. We have since followed up on these areas and for some of them it is more straightforward than others.
COONEY: Alright we’ll have a look at some of those programs and that and things, but you did mention there earlier the financial constraints and since 2008 and other issues around it as well, I suppose there has been less financial gains to play with there. Is this part of the issue for the SPC that it’s just getting a little bit harder to get access to that money when there are other people out there perhaps competing for it, and countries just don’t have the money that they once did?
RODGERS: That is absolutely correct, I mean the global economic crisis has impacted negatively globally but in particular in the Pacific, twenty-two of our members from the Pacific and they’ve been laying off staff, they have been facing quite a lot of financial difficulties, as well as our founding members; Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States, they themselves have been struggling with financial difficulties. So the reality was that money is unlikely to grow, however countries are more reliant on SPC, in particular the small island states for delivering regional services that compliment their national service capacities, many of which from small island states do not have across the sectors that SPC works in. The question then becomes how does SPC with its current level of funding improve its performance, increase efficiencies so that as much as possible through a different modality, both in financing as well as service delivery? We can actually make a much bigger difference with roughly the same amount of funding. And I think that is where the review has been very, very helpful. We currently operate a 100-million US dollar budget, 15 per cent of that is what we would call secure funding under member contributions, and then of course a very small portion of that, about another 15 per cent is what we would call slightly longer term program funding support, mostly from Australia and France. But round about 65 per cent or 70 per cent of our funding is in projects, and these are time bound and they finish when the projects finish. What the review team has recommended is that for SPC to be able to sustain a minimum level of high priority services to members over the long term we need to increase our core funding from 15 per cent to about 35 per cent, and that will then mean that our teams are working across 22 sectors, can focus on delivering essential key services to members while at the same time continuing to solicit project money to sort of supplement the core, which has likely increased. And I think from our perspective that target is achievable within the three year period that they have anticipated or recommended. Our partners who are current contributors have reacted positively and we’re working very closely with them to try and put in place a schedule over the next three years to shift from the current 15 per cent to 35 per cent by 2015.
COONEY: Of course I understand that the vote hasn’t been made on these recommendations, but as we heard there the RRRT, a suitable NGO youth program to UNICEF, culture program to UNESCO, training in IT centres to universities such as the USP. I’m curious is there interest or is there any indication that the groups, NGOs, UNICEF, the UN programs and others are perhaps happy to take on those programs?
RODGERS: Thanks very much for raising that, probably the first point to make is that apart from RRRT which currently has a regional number of staff working in it, the other four programs are fairly small programs in terms of resources going into them. So the numbers of programs shifting out maybe big, but in terms of actual staff numbers and the finances, it’s actually quite small. Youth program for instance we have one staff, culture program we have one staff and if I just start with those two, culture we have consulted with UNESCO in Apia, the response from UNESCO is that they would not be able to take over or take on the current role that SPC plays. UNESCO of course has the global mandate on culture, but their current capacity and focus is quite different, so we actually compliment each other, which means that if SPC shifts out of culture UNESCO doesn’t take it on, there’s going to be a huge gap in the culture program in the Pacific. So what I’ll be recommending to the governing body next week on culture is that’s important for the Pacific, it is a smaller resource, and at the moment it’s not actually classified as a separate stand alone program in SPC, it is part and parcel of a broader human development program. And I would be hoping that the governing body would accept that and retain that part of our human development program. With the youth program what we’re doing is to mainstream the youth programs through to the Director General’s office in a division that we call Strategic Engagement Policy and Planning facility, and we’ll take on a broader coordination role, we’ll work in partnership with UNICEF, we’ll still coordinate some of the regional initiatives and work with partners to make sure that we bring support to the Pacific Island countries and territories. The ICP and Community Education Training Centre, USP has actually been very responsive in our consultations for the Community Education Training Centre. We will run the final program of the CETC next year. We’re working very closely with the USP to start next year to put the CETC training program online, and in 2014 onwards that program will be totally taken on by USP, which actually immediately spreads the coverage of the program to the use of other countries, a lot of them that they can actually run in-country as opposed to us going to Fiji. The ICT outreach, and this is the ICT that sort of deals with support to countries, USP is also very happy to take that on from next year. What we’re working on however is USP does not have as many members as SPC does. And therefore we’re working on a mechanism whereby USP takes on the leadership of that, but we may actually have to retain a small capacity that supports USP in countries where USP doesn’t have membership, but we will no longer be playing the lead role in ICT development in the region.