CSOs ‘crucial’ for Pacific

Digital Society Foundation's Chris Sampson at the annual regional CSO Forum last week. Picture: SUPPLIED

Digital Society Foundation's Chris Sampson at the annual regional CSO Forum last week. Picture: SUPPLIED

INCREASING population movements, economic progress, human security and governance have been identified by participants at the annual regional Civil Society Organisations’ (CSO) Forum last week as thematic priority policy areas for consideration by the Pacific leadership.

These priority policy areas were agreed to by representatives from across the Pacific following national consultations prior to their participation at the regional CSO Forum held at the Forum Secretariat in Suva. They will be presented to the Forum Economic Ministers meeting in Palau in April, and the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Nauru in September, by representatives selected by CSOs during the forum.

Specific issues under these thematic priority areas include youth entrepreneurship and women’s financial inclusion, migration and finance in relation to the impacts of climate change Pacific communities are grappling with, and the importance of regional policy recognition for issues including effective border control and support for indigenous people’s rights.

The Forum Secretariat was likened to a fono, nakamal, fale and/or maneaba (community meeting spaces in Samoa, Vanuatu and Kiribati respectively) by Sione Tekiteki, director of governance and engagement with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat — a space where regional decisions had been and will continue to be made by Pacific Forum leaders with acknowledgment that “the voice of CSOs is crucial in developing well-informed regional policy for the Pacific”.

“The manner in which the region navigates its policy processes together through the Blue Pacific narrative has to be imagined as a fleet of voyaging canoes,” Mr Tekiteki said. “As a fleet of canoes, the collective forward movement is propelled by each canoe in the fleet, each person in the canoes contributing to the fleet’s collective momentum. Similarly, the importance for CSOs to strategically align their concerns/issues with relevant frameworks, projects and forums that, can contribute to the collective realisation of the architecture envisaged in the Framework for Pacific regionalism.

“CSOs as a collective group, representing different concerns to regional dialogues can start engaging with governments, and the private sector under a new kind of CSO diplomacy whereby, the exploration of CSOs role and contributions to national and regional policy is embraced, as relative to what governments and the private sector are also doing.”

Mr Tekiteki said CSO diplomacy was a new way of continuously dialoguing with each other for practical national and regional policy results. He made reference to discussions and the proposed signing of memorandum of understanding documents between CSOs and the governments of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as a good example of “CSO diplomacy”.

The regional CSO Forum was attended by around 40 civil society representatives from 16 forum countries. Participants included regional umbrella bodies and international non-government organisations.

Nerida-Ann Steshia, representing the Nauru community-based Organisations Board, said the regional CSO Forum was a crucial platform for civil society representation at various regional decision-making levels, adding the knowledge exchange meant a more substantial and informed feedback when they returned home.

“CSOs have a really important role in the development of all countries; we are the platform for people in communities, having our say is vital for sustainability and a lot of social issues that affect peoples’ lives so it’s really important that CSOs in national bases work together, and more importantly, work together collectively as the Pacific,” she said.

For Matthew Vaea, chief executive officer, Samoa Association of Sport and National Olympic Committee the regional CSO Forum represented the inclusion of all sectors in regional policy-development. Having been part of the process in the last two years, Mr Vaea has observed “a progressive advancement of the engagement of civil society in these sort of platforms for dialogue”.

“The space that the Forum Secretariat has provided for civil society is a critical platform. My involvement and the lessons learnt from it is: to be heard, you need to be in the right space and obviously being here with policy makers, the technical officials and the leaders within the Forum Secretariat brings civil society close to the issues at heart, of our region and also our leaders,” Mr Vaea said.

Raijeli Nicole, the regional director for Oxfam in the Pacific sees the regional CSO Forum as an expression of the practice of democracy, where regional policy development is inclusive of government and civil society including the private sector representations, acknowledging other spaces where development issues are also being discussed by Pacific peoples.

Ms Nicole spoke of the role of international non-government organisations in amplifying national and regional issues at the global level through their international chapters, for example, advocating to be an agenda item in various panels or side events at a global event like COP23, to ensure there is space and time for the voices of Pacific peoples.

“What I foresee is the practice of policy-making being a reality for a mixed group and is not just for us who are policy organisations,” Ms Nicole said.

“When we look at the Civil Society Forum participation right now, we’ve got groups from the sports sector: that’s different and good because it means that then others who sit in other sectors engaged in other areas will know that policy making is not just for those who work in human rights or work on women’s issues or environment but that it’s for everybody; that it matters, policy matters for everyone.”

The annual regional Civil Society Forum is co-ordinated through the Forum Secretariat’s “Strengthening Non-State Actors Engagement in Regional Policy Development and Implementation Programme”.

The program is funded by the European Union through the 10th European Development Fund.

* The views expressed are not of this newspaper.

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