Social Policies in Pacific Island Countries: Welcome Remarks
Dr. Naren Prasad from ILO Geneva Office; Ms Constance Viligilance from the Commonwealth Secretariat; members of the Diplomatic Corps; Mr. Will Parks, Chief of Policy, Advocacy, Planning and Evaluation, UNICEF Fiji; Distinguished workshop participants; Dr. Thelma Kay, Chief of Social Development Division, UN-ESCAP; the Head of UN-ESCAP Pacific Operations Centre, Mr. Iosefa Maiava; the Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics, Professor Biman Chand Prasad; Professor Patrick Watson from the University of the West Indies; representatives from NGOs; colleagues from USP, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the University I extend a very warm welcome to you all. I want to especially welcome representatives of the sponsors of this workshop: Commonwealth Secretariat, United Nations ESCAP, UNICEF, and UNRISD, ILO.
During the 1960s and 1970s, there was an increased interest in small islands and their development, resulting in the organizing of many international conferences, producing most of the publications available on this subject today. As a result of the various reports that highlighted the environmental fragility of island countries, the United Nations organized the landmark Barbados Conference in 1994 on the sustainable development of small island states. Fourteen major themes were addressed in the document, ranging from climate change, through coastal and marine resources to tourism and human resources development. However, the major focus was on the environment.
The Barbados plan of action remains the blueprint for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the international community to address national and regional sustainable development in SIDS. A review of the Barbados Plan of Action (10+) led to the conference in Mauritius (2005) and a Mauritius Strategy for small islands was adopted.
As a result of the Barbados and Mauritius conferences and declarations, it is now accepted that the small island states represent a special and unique case of development and require special attention.
Despite a lot of previous studies, there is still a lack of understanding of social policy issues in small island countries. Social policy issues are difficult to quantify and therefore there is not enough research on this issue. Social, which can be taken to be the condition of how people live, and economic, which relates to how scarce resources are used to satisfy diverse wants and needs, are clearly closely linked. The separation between “social” and the “economic” is an artifact of academic analysis and government departmentalization. Most countries tend to emphasize the need to increase the well-being of their citizens.
Should countries put more emphasis on generating economic growth and leave the social development take care of itself? It is generally accepted that social development is a product of economic growth. This approach became the mainstream view from the 1970s where countries were urged to put more emphasis on generating growth. The main idea was that economic growth would trickle down from the top, and social development would automatically be taken care of. This was known as the trickle-down theory of development. Although this approach was demonstrably ineffective in meeting basic needs, it is still predominant in development circles.
On the other extreme, it is argued that economic growth results from social development. The emphasis is placed on building the human capital a priori or the “trickle-up” effect. The argument of this approach is that a more educated and healthier work force can contribute better to the economic growth process.
This “chicken and egg” question still generates much debate today. Numerous empirical studies have been undertaken on this topic without providing clear cut answers—although we can note a definite shift in development thinking, including that of the World Bank, that there needs to be much more concern than previously with social development.
Among the small island states, we know that some countries like Mauritius, Barbados, Seychelles, and Malta, tend to have high levels of social development while others are failing behind. Why have some small islands succeeded in social development? What lessons can be drawn? Why are others not doing well, especially in the Pacific?
Noting the above gaps and obvious comparative questions, t on social policies in small states started in 2006 when Dr Narend Prasad was at the United Nations Research Institute for Development, with the support from the Commonwealth Secretariat. Fourteen country studies were produced: Trinidad & Tobago; Guyana; Barbados, Jamaica; Grenada; Dominica; Malta; Vanuatu; Solomon Islands; Fiji; Samoa; Tonga; Mauritius; and Seychelles.
The issue of social policy is addressed by evaluating the practice of domestic public policy in these small states, paying particular attention to the function, role and evolution of: consensual democracy or social corporatism; the welfare regime; deployment of jurisdiction resourcefulness, and social cohesion/inclusion. A new approach to social policy is taken in this project, implying Social policy as state intervention which involves overarching focus on working in tandem with economic policy in pursuit of national social and economic goals. So the main markers in this new approach relate to specific focus on interventions that are focused on social development, but working in tandem with economic policy.
Those of you who have read the background to this project will know that a regional meeting for the Caribbean region was organized last year in Barbados where researchers presented their findings to policy makers from the region. The aim of this workshop is to present the findings to policy makers from the Pacific region. The papers presented will be revised after this workshop and published.
I hope that this two-day workshop will provide an opportunity to share notes on social policy issues and learn from other countries. In this age of rapid globalization, it is vital for all of us to learn from the experiences of other similarly-placed countries and to benchmark our development performance. I hope the findings will help policy makers make “better” and informed policy decisions. There is also a Caribbean scholar, Prof. Patrick Watson, who will share his experience and present the findings from that region, which is so similar and yet more advanced from ours. We in the Pacific know so little about the Caribbean despite overwhelming similarities. Why do Caribbean economies grow much faster than that of the Pacific? Why do the Caribbean countries have higher levels of human development, as measured by the human development index? These are important questions to ponder and I am sure that Professor Watson’s paper will stimulate a lot of comparative discussions and perhaps some policy responses. I also hope that you will incorporate in your discussions issues relating to the current global financial and food crisis and other issues affecting small island countries. Feel free to interact with researchers so that the papers reflect an accurate picture of your country situation.
I think that an important issue in social development is that of quality. Quite often we measure social development using indicators that do not pay enough attention to quality. It is now, for instance, realised that even though the Pacific islands have high rates of literacy, primary and secondary participation, there are serious issues of quality. I think that a greater focus on quality in our societies in general will lead to more successful social and economic development.
We should also focus on poverty as a special case of the efficacy of social and economic development. Addressing poverty directly is an important component of advancing both social and economic development.
Additionally, given the speed of the H1N1 pandemic, the Pacific islands need to focus even more of ensuring that they have a fully-functioning, high quality, and well-networked surveillance and information gathering and sharing system to not only alert to major impending problems and disasters, but also arrangements to obtain expert advice and necessary assistance. Unfortunately, scientific testing facilities in our countries have not been given priority.
I challenge you all our learned scholars from the Pacific to dialogue and use this opportunity to gain a better understanding of social policy issues this new approach and come up with answers that will help move forward our small island nations as we strive for an improved standard of living. Because the world is faced with an unprecedented financial and economic crisis, and competition for aid, resources, and trade will become fiercer in the future, there is a special responsibility on all of us to strive as never before to fine-tune our policies, to implement them with vigour, to monitor and evaluate them effectively, and to constantly learn and re-adjust.
You will be pleased to note that in our new Strategic Plan, the University has given priority to strong policy dialogues with our member countries and to applied research with important policy and development outcomes. I challenge my colleagues at USP to take advantage of this opportunity, and to make a difference to public policy and development outcomes for our region.
Finally, I welcome you all to the University of the South Pacific once again and wish you very fruitful discussions. A lot of research and resources have gone into this workshop—including your valuable time. It is vital that you have concrete policy and practical outcomes from this interaction. Please enjoy your discussions and the hospitality that USP and Fiji have to offer.
Professor Rajesh Chandra