Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 18:45 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 18:45 | SYDNEY

Pacific development: Whose solution?


Fergus Hanson


13 November 2007 14:12

In response to my Solomons post, a reader writes:

One lesson from past development experience should surely be that sustainable solutions neither come unilaterally from Canberra (or the Lowy Institute for that matter) nor expeditiously. Hence, whilst these debates are important, and interestingly aid spending is an issue for the first time in 23 years in an election campaign, the specific policy details of Pacific engagement may be better off escaping the dumbing-down inherent in electioneering in marginal electorates. It may sound elitist, but I am more comfortable with the specific details of aid and development politics remaining mildly insulated from partisan politics.  

There’s been a long debate about the merits of imposed versus local solutions to development. The recent resurgence of polio because of the failure of Nigeria and India in particular to live up to their end of the global effort to eradicate it is a clear example of the need for local buy-in to development goals.

But recent debate focuses on a more nuanced approach to the imposed vs. local conundrum. In The End of Poverty, Sachs calls for a ‘global compact’ which he envisages as greater unilateral transfers from developed states and a stronger commitment from developing countries to reducing poverty.  In The Bottom Billion, Collier is sceptical about the ability of aid to bring the world’s poorest countries back from the brink (although his research shows it does play a role). Instead he calls (amongst other things) for action by developed states such as an unreciprocated WTO trade offer for the world’s poorest nations.

In other words, while there is no doubt local buy-in is needed for any development solution to be sustainable, the developed countries (in the Pacific’s case, Australia) hold most of the chips and need to take action (whether unilaterally or as a group) if the world’s poorest states have any hope of escaping poverty. Pacific states love to ignore Canberrajust look at their voting patterns in international organisations. But that’s not to say we should resign ourselves to being walked over. Australia is the largest aid donor to the Pacific and can and should set the framework for how taxpayer-funded development assistance is delivered. As the EU’s success in driving reform in former communist states demonstrates, the framework under which aid is delivered matters.