Pacific Islands Seek Greater 'Ownership' of Development Decision-Making

HONOLULU (Oct. 5) – Pacific islands should turn the challenge presented by the global economic crisis into an opportunity to rethink the business-as-usual development approach pursued by governments in the region, concluded a gathering of eminent Pacific thinkers who participated in a recent East-West Center workshop on the region's responses to the crisis.

The diverse group of participants talked openly and passionately about what has being going wrong in their various islands and expressed a deep conviction that only by focusing on their core values and envisioning different approaches towards growth can the future they desire for their people be realized. The workshop, titled Pacific Responses to the Economic Crisis: "Business as Usual" or "Getting Growth Right"? was held in Honolulu Sept. 22-24 under the auspices of the East-West Center's Pacific Islands Development Program (PIDP) in collaboration with the Oceania regional office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Suva, Fiji.

Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, Director of the Pacific Islands Development Program, said that "the workshop began an open dialogue about inclusive governance mechanisms to ensure ownership of the decision-making process that prioritize Pacific islands' values in order to promote sustainable, equitable, and spiritual development of our own human and natural resources for the current and future benefit of our region's peoples."

The workshop brought together 18 participants, including former heads of government, current political leaders, development practitioners, prominent academics and civil society representatives such as church leaders and NGO representatives. Following a unique theoretical approach promoted by Dr. Halapua known as Talanoa (storytelling), the agenda for the workshop was kept open and flexible in order to offer participants the appropriate space to shape the dialogue as they saw fit. Discussions centered around Pacific values, sustainable development, aid dependency, subsistence economies, natural resource management, human development, education, alternative political and economic structures, land, climate change, and the need for equal and meaningful participation in the decision-making process that affects peoples' lives.

The workshop was seen as the first step in a critical long-term dialogue process that many feel has been missing in the region, where development decision-making has often been driven by donors, international lending agencies, or leaders perceived to be more closely tied to outside influences than their own people. Participants conceded that these decisions have generally been based on short-term time frames (either the election period or a donor planning cycle), made with limited knowledge and information about the ramifications of the decision, and merely reactive to a situation mostly beyond the control of the decision maker. The discussion converged around the idea that new processes of engagement and information sharing, enhanced institutional collaboration, and more appropriate governance and economic systems must be put in place over the short, medium, and long terms to ensure Pacific Islands peoples' have the ability to more effectively shape their own, and their descendents, futures.


The EAST-WEST CENTER is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous and just Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Center comes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided by private agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations and the governments of the region.

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