Twelve Pacific nations will benefit from a $19.8 million investment from USAID to improve governance throughout the region.

The program — Promoting Just, Engaged, Civic-minded and Transparent (PROJECT) Governance — is aimed at ensuring Pacific nations are able to develop human rights and good governance in a culturally-appropriate manner.

The five-year project was formally launched on Monday, during a virtual meeting between the Pacific Community, USAID, and regional leaders including Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo and Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who welcomed the cash injection to boost their countries’ governance capabilities.

“Notwithstanding our young democracies’ human rights and good governance records, further efforts must be made to support and strengthen them to ensure that we continue,” said Fiame.

Even though Samoa’s months-long constitutional conflict would surely “be recorded in the annals of Samoan history,” the country just passed its national budget and just two days before, Fiame delivered her first United Nations address as the first female Samoan prime minister.

FSM President David Panuelo
FSM President David Panuelo spoke about the need to address human rights issues in the Pacific. Screenshot/Zoom

“We were able to achieve this notwithstanding the challenges we face as a country and people,” she said.

Likewise, Panuelo noted in his speech that, partly in recognition of the program, he had been working to bolster confidence in his country’s governance. He also noted the increasing pertinence of addressing human rights issues in the Pacific.

The country had recently launched its first cyber-security bureau, applied for membership in Interpol, and Panuelo recently tabled his country’s first-ever Freedom of Information Act with congress.

“If passed by congress, (it) would explicitly state that FSM citizens have the right to information from their government and also provide the means and mechanisms for citizens to access that information,” said Panuelo. “I have often said that a better world is not something we ask for; rather, that a better world is something we build, as we are doing today.”

USAID deputy mission director for the Pacific and Mongolia Sean Callahan said the program aimed to eliminate incentives impeding transparency, reduce corruption, create mutual accountability, remove opportunities to manipulate elections, and enable a strong media and watch-dog organizational presence.

“The growing presence and influence of undemocratic influence expose many countries to nontransparent and unaccountable commercial activities which undermine local markets and hamper legitimate investments,” said Callahan. “Just governance takes place within the context of the democratic political system that is representative of the will of the people.”

In her speech, Fiame said that the region faces myriad shared challenges, from climate change to the pandemic, and expected questions about whether the program was trying something attempted previously.

“There are no simple answers to such a question as we know too well the constraints and challenges that we face in the implementation of work nationally and regionally,” said Fiame, noting the past failures of other projects would inform this program. “Governance and good governance hold different meanings to different people and governments, and this is particularly true in the case of our Blue Pacific countries, with our strong and vibrant cultures and traditions.”

The program’s implementation groups, called the Blue Pacific Alliance, would be led by the Pacific Community, in conjunction with the East-West Center, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and CARE USA.

Pacific Community director general Stuart Minchin noted his organization’s approach to the project would be developed and implemented with a culturally relevant approach across the Pacific nations.

Talanoa — a term used across the Pacific that reflects discourse with transparency, inclusion and participation — would be central to the process.

The project would take a culturally sensitive and dynamic approach to promoting good governance across the region, with contextual consideration. Give the current challenges faced by Pacific nations, the pandemic included, the project “could not come at a more critical time,” said Minchin.

“Our alliance brings decades of regional experience in strengthening civic participation, the empowerment of women, enabling meaningful community participation and building accountable and transparent systems and governance frameworks,” he added.

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