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Governance and Security: A Major challenge to Pacific Civil

Society
Paper presented by Aisake Casimira
ECREA at the Pacific Forum, organised by Council for International Development (CID)
15th August, Auckland Panel Discussion

Introduction
One of the new buzzwords in diplomatic and bilateral discussions is the term “good
governance”. We hear it during public speeches by prominent people, read it in the media
and even as a condition in bilateral and multilateral aid proposals. We are told that it is
necessary so that more investment could happen which would result in greater economic
growth and hence, poverty alleviation. But for many in civil society it may mean different
things and to 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 a full time paid employment. With the
amount of scams and alleged corruption in some of our countries at present, many in civil
society would welcome it as about time it becomes a priority in our national life. But
what does it mean, why it is used and for what purpose?

Governance
The World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) particularly, proffered
strong arguments that,
a. Many development projects in developing countries have failed because these
countries lack “good governance”;
b. 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 the 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:
a. 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

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for the rule of law; protection of individual human rights, especially private
property; efficient public sector management.
b. Economic: promotion of neo-liberal free market capitalism as the means to achieve
long term economic growth. This involves the implementation of the “economic
reforms” which are 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, advisors and trainers.

The focus of my comments is on the latter mainly because it is 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. I am sure my two panelists
will speak on those. The other major point that I wish to highlight here is about security
and the proposed regional security draft policy that is rumoured to be on the drawing
board.

The WB first used the concept of good governance in its 1989 Report Subsahara Africa:
From Crisis to Sustainable Growth in which it characterized the crisis confronting the
region as a “crisis in governance” and linked ineffectiveness of aid with governance
issues. However, the WB’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. Shifting through some of their arguments, one
notes three things that are being stressed:
a. Without “good governance” structures, the poor and the developing countries
cannot achieve economic growth and reduce poverty;
b. “Bad governance” (evidenced by corruption and financial scams) is increasingly
being 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.

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

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a. Definitions of good governance tend to equate governance with institutions and
structures of governments which 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. Therefore it
stands to reason that governance issues should also be addressed to the corporate
world, financial markets, multilateral financial institutions, multilateral trade
bodies, bilateral donor agencies, media, religious groups, NGOs, trade unions, etc.”
b. Assume that good governance can be imposed from the outside rather than
encouraged from within. It is based on the assumption that the developed countries
have the best institutions, which should be embedded across the world irrespective
of cultural and historical conditions. It would appear that developing the poor
countries are required to mould themselves after the image of the developed First
World countries that are providing the aid. Little appreciation is given to the fact
that there can be other models of economic and political development.
c. View good governance as an end in itself rather than a means for the development
of people. 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 issues of people at large for whom
governance really matters. For most people, it also means a better quality of life; an
equitable distribution of wealth, income and natural resources; full employment;
access to housing, health and education; restraining privileges of elites; the right to
choose alternatives; cultural development and so forth. In other words good
governance cannot be an end in itself.
d. The linkage of good governance to the reduction of poverty is very questionable.
There is no guarantee that good governance institutions would automatically lead to
reduction of poverty and promotion of sustainable development. Poverty, infant
mortality and illiteracy rates have remained high in several countries which have
established democratic governance norms and institutions for decades (India for
example). On the other hand, one finds that rapid economic growth and massive
reduction in poverty levels occurred in several Asian countries under poor
governance structures and authoritarian regimes. Moreover neo-liberal economic

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policies do not have a good record for achieving the type of economic growth
which leads to the reduction of poverty.
e. Good governance is an evolving process and has the potential to become a potent
instrument for radical transformation provided it is applied in all spheres of social
life. But in its current usage meaning and application, it seems that good
governance rhetoric is subtly being used to further the old neo-liberal economic
agenda. Further, it is of concern that discourse about good governance is currently
providing a facile way for diplomats to sweep under the carpet real concern about
issues of poverty that deeply affect ordinary people.

Now I will turn to the other major point that I wish to highlight - security.

Since September 11, an unprecedented post cold-war US-led anti-terrorism agenda has
been forged between the most influential superpowers with the 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. Mainstream 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, and some critical changes in their legislations
that affects fundamentally their own constitutions and human rights of their
residents and citizens.

Security is defined in terms of “perceived” threat by the coalition. There is no open


debate about this definition before being finalized into new policies and strategic
directions for domestic and international changes in policies and relations. It is defined
within the close 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
business/profession, for example the multi-national corporations and security consultants.
The impact of this on civil societies in the Pacific region is dramatic.

Moreover, civil societies of many of our countries do not rise to the occasion and come
together in unity to tackle this situation by raising critical awareness on a broader and

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more balanced definition of security which is more enabling to the community at large in
terms of how citizens -individually and collectively - see their role and responsibility in
their contribution to more sustainable solutions. Two major reasons for this are:
a. The pace of “manufacturing consent” by the coalition is deliberately fast and
aggressive, leaving no or little room for reflection by the public or even the
decision makers themselves;
b. The 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 still ineffective in intentional, sustained and equally enthusiastic collaborative
work with other NGOs (and society at large) horizontally.

In terms of good governance, there is very little resemblance of that, apart from the very
superficial debated by people’s representatives in Parliaments, House of Representatives.
Even the current ‘backlash’ domestically, of this security coalition - Senate and Special
Enquiries/investigations - does neither to deter anti-terrorism coalition members in
continuing their current course of actions, nor provide sufficient basis for the
mobilization of a well-informed public debate about such issues.

In the Pacific, Australia, flanked by USA and Japan, is setting the tone. This is not only
for the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) member countries, but also for the Pacific-rim, i.e.,
including ASEAN. Australia’s new governance programme is closely linked with the
newly defined overarching “security concerns” of Australia (and its partners) within the
region and internationally, as reflected in its modified Foreign Policy. New Zealand also
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 a 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 management/corruptions and scams in the some
Pacific Island governments, have “excused”, i.e., provided the ideal context for
interventions or more appropriately invasion, the Australian aggressive and overt ‘big-
brother’ influence. This is to say that the people of the Pacific have been led-down by,
a. The bad leadership of its own leaders, and
b. Following from the above, provided an ideal context for the leadership of their
own countries to be usurped by “other leaders” whom they do not have ultimate
control over (through the ballot box, or their process of representation).

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This can be the ultimate disempowerment in a democracy and in particular for civil
society. What is equally sad is that, civil societies in developed countries in Australia and
New Zealand (except for some NGOs) do not work with their counterparts in the region
to provide lee-ways for forcing vested interests to be more accountable in their dealings.
A possible major reason for this is that, for example, Australian and New Zealand civil
societies and NGOs have been successfully mainstreamed under their Federal
Government’s inclusive/participatory “good governance approach” with its local NGOs
in the delivery of Overseas Development Assistance. This may be a good thing –
taxpayers/citizens involved more directly with the delivery of aid.

However, and this is the punch line, civil societies and NGOs in these two countries, it
seems, have lost their acute sense of critical awareness of the bigger picture of security
which has re-defined and/or re-packed their noble contributions without them
contributing to that debate/agenda setting. Overnight, there has been a major change in
Australia’s approach, but the NGOs and civil societies still believe that they probably do
not need to “re-defined’ their own involvement. Hence, ironically the Pacific Island
NGOs are left with 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 PIF will become the object of a more concerted effort by the global anti-terrorism
coalition to integrate its security agenda into the regional PIF (and national governments)
priorities. This could lead to the re-prioritisation of local priorities to suit non-Pacific
mind-sets. Unfortunately a next phase (which can be irreversible) of this non-Pacific
mind-set/priority has already been taken – militarism, in the intervention in the Solomon
Islands. While Boungaville has been relatively ‘isolated’ in terms of 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.

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Moreover, once agreed, Fiji’s involvement will be followed by demand by the alliance
for Fiji to spend more on security measures (police, military, immigration, scholarships,
etc) because Fiji becomes the target of terrorists. This means that scarce resources are re-
diverted 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 – growth of militarism is something to look out for. It will be
much harder for civil society in the peace movement to ‘confront’ a more consolidated
local security force which has drawn new 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 approved by its Parliament, can manufacture local arms. All
been rushed in the name of security.

There is a very urgent call for NGOs and civil society in the region to come together in
solidarity on this issue to provide clear alternatives pathways for engaging local Pacific
communities in,
a. Demystifying the security agenda;
b. Framing already existing legitimate Pacific norms (processes and structures) into
frameworks/tools for exploring alternative approaches to peaceful futures;
c. Mobilising local interests/agencies to ownership with serious intent of their
contributions to a more peaceful Pacific.

Conclusion
Let me stress that governance and security are acceptable words but their current usages
are not so much for people’s development and the promotion of human dignity and rights
but about freeing up Pacific Island countries’ economies and political systems to the neo-
liberal economic agenda. Moreover, it undermines the role of civil society and conversely
presents a new challenge regarding its relationship with the state and the market, and
investing its security in their governments.