Shine A Light

Shine A Light: Is the PIDF Still Relevant Today?

“It’s not about Government, it’s about the positions of nations in this part of the world,” Mr Rabuka said.
23 Jan 2023 12:36
Shine A Light: Is the PIDF Still Relevant Today?
The Pacific Islands Development Forum building in Suva. Photo: Leon Lord

The Fiji Government will continue to invest in the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), despite the belief in some quarters that it no longer serves the  purpose of its  establishment.

PIDF was an initiative of the FijiFirst Government following Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum in 2009.

Fiji was suspended for reneging its commitment to hold an election after the Bainimarama military coup in 2006.

The core purpose of the PIDF is to accelerate the integration of the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environment – in the region.

 

With Fiji now back to playing a key role in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIFs), political commentators argue that the existence of the PIDF is irrelevant.

However, it needs consistent and continuous support for it to remain to serve its purpose for the region.

The organisation’s operation is funded through grants and donations, the bulk of which is given by Fiji.

Responding to questions, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said the PIDF was still relevant to Pacific regionalism, despite the change in the Government.

“It’s not about Government, it’s about the positions of nations in this part of the world,” Mr Rabuka said.

 

Mr Rabuka assured continuous financial investment and support towards the PIDF.

“We are committed to funding the Forum as part of our regional responsibility, so we will continue to do that.”

Mr Rabuka embarked on his first official one-day visit as Prime Minister and line minister for Foreign Affairs to Kiribati yesterday.

Several attempts to get a comment from the PIDF, including its Secretary General, Solo Mara, were unsuccessful.

“Contact Foreign Affairs for anything on the PIDF. I am no longer with the PIDF since last year,” Mr Mara said over the telephone.

 

IS THE PIDF FUNDING NECESSARY? 

Former foreign affairs permanent secretary Robin Nair said PIDF lost its relevance a long time ago, after Fiji rejoined the PIFs.

Mr Nair was part of the organisation in its early days of inception as the permanent secretary for Foreign Affairs from 2016 to 2017.

He recalled during the time Fiji was funding the organisation at a tune of about $150,000 to $160,000 annually.

The organisation’s financial report for the year ended 31 December, 2018, alone indicated that PIDF received $1,913,000 from member countries – Fiji, Tuvalu, Nauru, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands. The bulk of the contribution was from Fiji.

Mr Nair said the funding was unnecessary, and the FijiFirst Government could not afford it, nor sustain their support towards it.

“It was a waste of money, a waste of time and Fiji was paying for it. Fiji wasn’t fit to run it,” Mr Nair said over a telephone interview from Australia.

 

“I think its time has gone past a long time ago; it should have been closed and done with some time ago.”

PIDF carries out work peripheral to that done by the PIFs. It focuses on issues of climate change, and the blue and green economies.

The money received by the organisation is utilized to fund operations and pay for the employees. There are about 18 staff currently employed by the organisation.

Transform Aqorau and James Batley argued in their paper “The Pacific Islands Development Forum: A Shaky Future?” that the PIDF had difficulty securing sustainable funding, and the problem of establishing a focused work programme.

“One weakness of the PIDF is that it has relied to a large extent on Fiji to subsidise its budget; a secure and reliable long-term funding stream has not been established.”

 

LACK OF SUPPORT

Former foreign affairs permanent secretary Robin Nair said PIDF lost its relevance a long time ago, after Fiji rejoined the PIFs.

University of the South Pacific’s Professor Sandra Tarte said while PIDF had been around for some time, there were some questions about its role and relevance.

Professor Tarte is the head of school, and director of the politics and international affairs programme at the university.

“I think that could be because of the previous Fiji Government, the Bainimarama Government, re-engaging with the Pacific Islands Forum and prioritising its relationship with the region through that mechanism, and not prioritising and putting much investment into the PIDF,” she said.

Professor Tarte said PIDF was not fulfilling its regional role.

 

“I think there’s been a slump for the PIDF, lack of support and direction for the organisation.”

She said PIDF was carrying out its mandated role for the first few years only.

“It was doing that, on climate change, ocean, sustainable development, but then I think it did lose its way a bit because I think the Fiji Government dropped the ball, it didn’t continue to invest in it.”

Professor Tarte said there was potential for the forum, but it needed the support of the Fiji Government and the member countries.

Whether it should be abolished or not, Professor Tarte said there needed to be frank and open discussion.

“Noting that it’s also a regional organisation, so everything that is discussed in Fiji, it needs to consider its regional mandate.”

 

ABOUT THE PIDF

This year is the 10th year of the organisation’s existence. It has done work both at the national and regional level.

In 2016, the PIDF achieved observer status at the UN General Assembly. But there have always been doubts about the future of the PIDF.

It wasn’t until in recent years that its relevance in Pacific regionalism was questioned.

The first PIDF summit held outside Fiji was in the Solomon Islands in 2016, but that was poorly attended. There were no summits held in 2017 and 2018.

Even when the idea of having a regional organisation without Australia and New Zealand was birthed, there was not much support from some Pacific countries.

These countries included Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Samoa. Mr Nair said Pacific countries that became members were either reluctant or they joined out of respect for Fiji.

Current members of the PIDF are Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Pacific Islands Associations of Non-governmental Organisations, and Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation.

 

Feedback: ivamere.nataro@fijisun.com.fj



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