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Aisaki Casimira: Pacific Governance & Security

Governance & Security:
A Major challenge to Pacific Civil Society

AISAKI CASIMIRA questions the good governance and security agendas promoted enthusiastically by governments and international institutions. To be a positive influence good governance issues need to be addressed by all sectors including the corporate world and financial institutions. Secondly, instead of Pacific countries being drawn into the anti-terrorism security agenda, dominated by U.S. priorities, questions should be asked and alternative approaches explored for a more equitable, peaceful Pacific.


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“Good governance” is a catch-phrase, often heard in diplomatic and government circles these days. It’s heard in public speeches by prominent people, and read in the media. It’s even included as a condition for bilateral and multilateral aid proposals. We are told good governance is essential to encourage more investment, which will result in greater economic growth and will apparently then lead to the alleviation of poverty. But for many in civil society it means different things. For those to whom the term means something, even vaguely, it raises expectations that it must be something good and has something to do with feeding their families three quality meals a day or getting full-time paid employment. With numerous scams and alleged corruption currently occurring in several countries, many in civil society would welcome good governance and say it’s about time it became a priority in our national life. But what does it mean, why is the term used and for what purpose?

Governance

The World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) make strong arguments, for it saying:

  • Many development projects in developing countries failed because these countries lack “good governance”;

  • Without good governance structures, the poor and developing countries will not be able to achieve development.
  • Consequently “good governance” has become an explicit condition laid down in aid policies of bilateral and multilateral donors which developing countries must adopt in order to receive foreign aid. It is seen as having various dimensions:

    Political: under the “good governance” umbrella the political system of choice is democracy. This involves: the legitimacy of government expressed through free and fair elections and the multi-party system; public accountability and transparency to reduce corruption and set-up proper consultative processes; respect for the rule of law; protection of individual human rights, especially private property; efficient public sector management.

    Economic: promotion of neo-liberal free-market capitalism as the means to achieve long-term economic growth. This involves implementing “economic reforms” associated with structural adjustment (labour reforms, tax reforms, deregulation etc). Aid is provided not only in terms of financial loans but also through the provision of technical assistance, scholarships, and an army of consultants, advisers and trainers.

    My focus here is on the economic aspects mainly because it’s less well known to many in civil society. In my opinion, the former is well understood by regional governments; the need for political reforms to accommodate governance issues noted above and because of growing concern in civil society on these issues. The other major point I wish to highlight is security and the proposed regional security draft policy, rumoured to be on the drawing board.

    The World Bank first used the concept of good governance in its 1989 Report Sub-Sahara Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth, which characterised the crisis confronting the region as a “crisis in governance” and linked ineffectiveness of aid with governance issues. However, the Bank’s 1998 report Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn’t and Why represented a major push for good governance to be made a condition for aid loans. Since then governance indicators have been formulated by the Bank to measure governance in more than 150 countries. Three points are stressed:

    a. Without “good governance” structures, the poor and developing countries cannot achieve economic growth and reduce poverty;

    b. “Bad governance” (evidenced by corruption and financial scams) is increasingly seen as the main cause behind all the ills confronting these societies;

    c. “Good governance” must be made a requirement (or conditionality) for development aid from the international donor community – the cornerstone of development cooperation.

    The good governance agenda

    Yet when one assesses the “good governance agenda” laid down by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank and the IMF, one finds the following:

  • Definitions of good governance tend to equate governance with institutions and structures of government that prevent corruption, promote accountability and transparency, the rule of law and participation through the democratic process. While these issues are important, such an approach to good governance is rather narrow and omits any connection with basic economic, social and political rights. As Singh (2003: 5) writes: “The time has come to broaden the concept to include all formal and informal actors who play a role in decision-making or in influencing the decision-making process. Viewed in totality the notion of governance would encompass all non-state actors including markets and civil society. It’s reasonable then that good governance issues should also be addressed in the corporate world, financial markets, multilateral financial institutions, multilateral trade bodies, bilateral donor agencies, media, religious groups, NGOs, trade unions, etc.”
  • There is an assumption that good governance can be imposed from the outside rather than encouraged from within. It’s based on the presumption that developed countries have the best institutions, which should be embedded across the world, irrespective of cultural and historical conditions. It would appear that the developing poor countries are required to mould themselves in the image of developed First World countries that are providing the aid. There is little appreciation of the fact that there may be other, more appropriate models of economic and political development.
  • Good governance is seen as an end in itself rather than a means for the improvement of people’s lives. The problem with good governance indicators is that they are mostly aimed at foreign investors and lenders for assessing political risks in countries where they invest, instead of addressing the needs of people at large for whom governance really matters. For most people, good governance also means a better quality of life; an equitable distribution of wealth, income and natural resources; full employment; access to housing, health and education; restriction of the privileges of elites; the right to choose alternatives; cultural development etc. In other words good governance cannot be an end in itself.
  • Linking good governance to poverty reduction is questionable. There is no guarantee good governance institutions will automatically lead to the reduction of poverty and promote sustainable development. Poverty, infant mortality and illiteracy rates have remained high in several countries with established democratic governance norms and institutions for decades (India for example). On the other hand, rapid economic growth and massive reduction in poverty levels have occurred in several Asian countries under poor governance structures and authoritarian regimes. Moreover neo-liberal economic policies do not have a good record for achieving the type of economic growth which leads to the reduction of poverty.

    Good governance is an evolving process with the potential to become a potent instrument for radical transformation, provided it’s applied in all spheres of social life. However currently it appears good governance rhetoric is subtly being used to further the old neo-liberal economic agenda of free trade which gives freedoms to corporates at the expense of the broader community. Further, it’s worrying that the discourse about good governance is providing a facile way for diplomats to conceal real issues about poverty that deeply affect ordinary people.

    “Security” after Sept 11

    Since September 11, an unprecedented post cold-war US-led anti-terrorism agenda has been forged between the most influential superpowers with high-ranking support from Australia. This is the most influential coalition on the global issue of security. The coalition:

    a. Defines what security means and actively campaigns in all critical regions to garner support;

    b. Mainstreams their pre-defined security issue into other global issues which is fundamentally changing the shape and balance of power in this post cold-war era;

    c. Actively promotes security domestically in their own countries leading to changes in their domestic and foreign policies, with some critical changes in regulations and legislation which fundamentally alters their own constitutions and the human rights of their own residents and citizens.

    Security is being defined in terms of “perceived” threat by the coalition. There is no open debate going on about this definition before it’s finalised into new policies and strategic directions at both the domestic and international levels. It’s being defined within the closed ranks of security related agencies and networks – President and/or Prime Minister’s Office, Intelligence, Military, Police, Immigration/Customs and agencies/individuals directly connected to that “inner circle” by virtue of their profession, for example the multi-national corporations and security consultants.

    Impact of new direction on Pacific societies

    The impact of this on civil societies in the Pacific region is dramatic. Civil societies in many of our countries are not rising to the occasion and joining together to tackle this situation by raising critical awareness about a broader, more balanced definition of security, which would enable the Pacific community at large to contribute to more sustainable solutions. Two major reasons for this are:

  • The pace of “manufacturing consent” by the coalition is deliberately fast and aggressive, leaving little room for reflection by the public or even the decision makers themselves;
  • NGOs, especially in the Pacific are very strong and most effective when working vertically on issues, i.e. issues relating to their own core special interest, but are still ineffective in sustained and equally enthusiastic collaborative work with other NGOs (and society at large) horizontally across the region.
  • There is little semblance of good governance, apart from at the superficial level of debate by people’s representatives in Parliaments, and House of Representatives. Even the current “backlash” domestically, against the security coalition - the Senate and Special Enquiries - neither deters anti-terrorism coalition members in their course of actions, nor provides sufficient basis for well-informed public debate about the issues.

    Australia setting tone in Pacific

    In the Pacific, Australia, is setting the tone, flanked by the USA and Japan. This is not only for Pacific Island Forum (PIF) member countries, but also for Pacific-rim countries, including ASEAN. Australia’s new governance programme is closely linked with the newly defined over-arching “security concerns” within the region and internationally, as reflected in its modified Foreign Policy. New Zealand lends its “silent support” to the alliance. There is hardly any debate being generated on the issue as to “why this convergence” and if there is convergence, “how should we deal with it?”

    In fact, the military coups in Fiji and the Solomon Islands and Bouganville cases, coupled with the backdrop of major financial scams and mismanagement in the same Pacific Island governments, have provided the ideal “excuse” for interventions or the Australian aggressive ‘big-brother’ influence. The people of the Pacific have been let-down by:

  • Bad leadership of their own leaders
  • providing ideal conditions for their own countries to be usurped by “other leaders” who are not controlled by the ballot box or due process of elected representation
  • This has tragic repercussions, particularly for civil society, ultimately disempowering democracy. It is equally sad that civil society in developed countries in Australia and New Zealand (except some NGOs) are not working with their colleagues in the Pacific region to provide alternatives and in support of forcing vested interests to be more accountable. A major reason for this may be that Australian and New Zealand civil societies and NGOs have been successfully mainstreamed under their Government’s inclusive/participatory “good governance approach,” with local Pacific Island NGOs accepting Overseas Development Assistance.

    Lack of questioning in Australia & NZ

    It seems civil societies and NGOs in Australia and New Zealand have lost their critical awareness of the bigger security picture, and have been redirected onto a new agenda without any discussion taking place. Overnight, there has been a major change in Australia’s approach, but NGOs and civil societies still believe they don’t need to “re-define” their involvement. So ironically Pacific Island NGOs find themselves in a situation where they are being caught between a hard rock - alliance with passive local governments in the Pacific - and the deep blue sea.

    The Pacific Islands Forum will be subjected to more intensive efforts by the global anti-terrorism coalition to integrate its security agenda into regional and national governments priorities. This could lead to new priorities to suit non-Pacific mind-sets. Unfortunately a next phase (which may be irreversible) has already been taken - militarism, in the intervention in the Solomon Islands. While Boungaville has been relatively “isolated” in the regional/global (UN) context, the Solomon Islands has been staged in a more global agenda of “Security in an Unstable World.”

    This re-defined agenda has been integrated in other main global issues (for example the role of the UN in peacekeeping). The US is trying to operate outside the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity and genocide. The ICC exemption agreement proposed by the US government to Fiji is closely tied to the agreement to involve Fijian troops in Iraq. Fiji has nothing at all to gain from these agreements. Both are in favour of the US government.

    Moreover, once agreed, Fiji’s involvement will be followed by demands by the alliance for Fiji to spend more on security measures (police, military, immigration, scholarships, etc) because the country may become the target of terrorists. This means scarce resources are redirected to meet these new priorities. It goes without saying, Fiji becomes engaged in the web of “partnerships” further intertwining our “security agencies” with their Australia (and partners) counterparts. The growth of militarism is something to look out for. It will be much harder for civil society and the peace movement to “confront” a bigger local security force gaining greater legitimacy in keeping the peace in the region, in partnership with its non-Pacific partners. New bills have been passed in Fiji without debate. For example, Fiji, if it’s approved by Parliament, can manufacture local arms. This has been rushed through in the name of security.

    There is an urgent need for NGOs and civil society in the Pacific to unite on this security issue and to provide clear alternatives for engaging Pacific communities by:

  • Demystifying the security agenda;
  • Defining already existing legitimate Pacific norms (processes and structures) and exploring alternative approaches for peaceful futures;
  • Mobilising local interests and agencies to take up the work of planning and contributing to a more peaceful Pacific.
  • Conclusion

    Governance and security are words taking on new meanings, not so much for people’s development and the promotion of human dignity and rights. They are now more about freeing-up the economies and political systems of Pacific Island countries to the globalisation, free-trade agenda. This process undermines the role of civil society and presents a new challenge regarding our relationship with the state, the market, and the nature of security.

    ************

    Aisake Casimira, director Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education & Advocacy (ECREA), Suva, Fiji. This article is adapted from a talk given by Aisake Casimira, on 15 August 2003 in Auckland at a conference held in conjunction with the Pacific Island Forum meeting organised by Council for International Development. The author thanks Mosese Waqa for his help with ideas in the article.


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