Tone at the top adds to Pacific attraction

From the Chair, June 2020

Tone from the top has made a huge difference to the wellbeing of people in the Pacific. In most Pacific countries, there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus and apart from Australia and New Zealand, there have been no recorded deaths.

Most Pacific countries banned essential travel in early February

In what seems like a long time ago, during the first week in February this year, most Pacific nations restricted access by travellers to and from their countries following the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China.

At that time, there were 14,000 reported COVID-19 cases and just over 300 people had died from COVID-19 in China. Yet Fiji and most other large Pacific-ocean countries had the foresight and political will to restrict air and cruise ship travel.

As early as 29 January, the health department in America Samoa had advised residents to postpone travel unless essential.

Its cousin to the west, Samoa, had the wisdom to require compulsory screening of all visitors at all ports of entry.

Travel restrictions have saved lives in the Pacific

These steps have been effective. As a result, many Pacific countries have had no reported cases of the virus.

Of the Pacific Island nations, only Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia and New Zealand still had active cases as of 1 June.

Now is the time to show tone from the top to stop corruption

Systemic corruption is a critical issue for the Pacific. This undermines good governance and has had the impact of hindering development in key institutions.

As the then Transparency International New Zealand Director, Fuimaono Tuiasau, said to the Pacific Corruption Seminar on the eve of the world Journalism Education Congress in 2016, “misuse of power is essentially what corruption is about in the Pacific.”

The impact of corruption on vulnerable groups and on people in general in the Pacific can be quite severe.

GDP Per Capita 2019 ($US)
Rank Country GDP Per Capita
10 Australia $53,825
23 New Zealand $40,634
50 Palau $14,066
86 Fiji $6,379
101 Tonga $4,862
105 Samoa $4,500
115 Tuvalu $3,834
116 Micronesia, Federated States of $3,717
120 Marshall Islands $3,592
125 Vanuatu $3,260
129 Papua New Guinea $2,742
136 Solomon Islands $2,246
147 Kiribati $1,574

Source: International Monetary Fund

Low levels of economic growth in the Pacific reflect inequality compared to many other countries.

These low levels of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita are reflected in the table compiled by the International Monetary Fund. It shows the US dollar amount for the year ended 2019. Only in Africa are GDP per capita levels lower.

Small Pacific countries have the opportunity to be large ocean countries

Yet there is so much potential. Pacific countries’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ)s, which extend to 200 nautical miles offshore, give them access to resources over a much larger area than their land area. For example, the Republic of the Fiji Islands has an EEZ of around 1,290,000 square kilometres. This is over 70 times its land area of around 18,300 square kilometres.

When all the exclusive EEZs are added together, the small Pacific nations become large Pacific-ocean counties. This is a strong base to be sending out the right messages to prevent corruption and build strong integrity systems.

Another area for strengthening integrity systems in Pacific nations is to address the transparency of political party funding and the media. This is essential to protect sovereign nations from the influence of large developed countries that are interested in fishing, mineral and other resources in Pacific EEZs.

Opening New Zealand’s bubble to the Pacific

As the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to reduce, expectations have risen about widening New Zealand’s bubble to include Australia.

Based on public data, it would be even safer to open up travel between New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours to the east. Doing so opens up glorious spaces to see our nearby world up close and experience life in radically different ways from our indoor locked-down spaces where we’ve been confined for the previous two months.

And by sharing political as well as living experiences while travelling in the Pacific, there are opportunities to work together to strengthen the integrity of our media and political parties, using the tone from the top to address two big “C”s – Corruption and COVID-19.

Suzanne Snively, ONZM


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