In introducing the Regional Strategy paper, the representative of the South Pacific Forum Secretariat (SPFS) emphasized the need to coordinate different programming and consultative processes in the Region. The SPFS aimed to assist in this task by linking the other processes with the Regional Strategy, a programming process approved by the Forum Leaders at Madang in 1995. Reference was made to the desire of the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and donors to better rationalise and coordinate all the different regional processes and activities. This was in fact one of the main reasons the SPFS was asked to develop the Regional Strategy.
Another rationale behind the Regional Strategy is the need to increase the influence of the PICs over the programming or prioritization process while recognizing that donors also have legitimate objectives which they want to pursue. To ensure this and to facilitate the setting of regional priorities, there was need for PICs to establish clear and consistent national priorities within an appropriate policy and resource context. The countries themselves also need to carefully select which of their objectives could be more cost effectively pursued at the regional level.
Regarding the Consultation, the SPFS representative emphasised the need to (i) adequately reflect national priorities, and (ii) note the many on-going processes and activities in the Region, including those by regional inter-governmental organizations, which are addressing many of the problems and concerns raised in the working documents. The SPFS also noted that the results of the Consultation could be a useful input into Regional Strategy process.
The key objective of the Regional Strategy (RS) as approved by the Forum Leaders, is to improve the effectiveness of regional assistance by ensuring that the targeted priorities reflect genuine critical needs which can be more cost-effectively met through joint regional use of resources. The long-term goal of the RS is to ensure that the determination of priorities is increasingly influenced by the PICs themselves, based upon a combination of their own rigorous analyses and needs identification and continuing dialogue with development partners.
PICs have consistently expressed a desire to have a greater degree of "ownership" of the regional programming process. The RS process is expected to produce a statement of regional priorities which both satisfies the PICs and meets donor requirements.
The programme process under the RS is based on five key principles.
(i) PICs must establish clear and consistent national development objectives and priorities within an appropriate policy and resource context. This seeks to ensure that the basic building blocks for the proposed programming process (i.e. national priorities) are well-developed and articulate. Open and constructive policy dialogue with donors and technical agencies also begins at this stage. It is recognized that some PICs currently lack the capacity to prioritize and plan effectively. Efforts are underway on the part of various organizations (e.g. ADB, EPOC, UNDP, AusAID) to improve this situation. From the viewpoint of the RS, the expectation is that most PICs will have independent capacity to formulate objective and priorities by the year 2000.
(ii) PICs must select for regional action only those aspects of their development priorities which can be best addressed through joint use of resources. This underlines the key decision-making role of PICs while ensuring rational and cost-effective use of resources. It will also increase complementarity between regional programmes and national priorities.
The criteria for selecting priorities for regional actions are to be applied by the PICs themselves while keeping in mind the policy objectives and aid procedures of donors as well as the mandates and expertise of regional organizations.
(iii) Donors must recognize that the priorities identified by PICs should form an integral part of the policy dialogue which determines allocation of regional assistance. This recognizes that any form of development assistance is most likely to work effectively when its recipients have a sense of ownership and commitment. It also recognizes the fact that agreement on funding priorities requires the active participation of donors.
(iv) PICs, with the assistance of regional organizations (under the umbrella of the South Pacific Organizations Coordinating Committee or SPOCC) and other approved technical agencies, must prioritize or rank the requirements submitted for joint regional action. This reinforces the importance of the decision-making role of PICs while recognizing the need for some technical assistance to translate priorities into projects or programmes which can be implemented.
(v) Regional (SPOCC) organizations and other approved technical agencies must develop full project/programme proposals based on the profiles endorsed by PICs, and submit them to donors for discussion with a view to funding. This again reinforces the decision-making role of PICs and the need for technical assistance to facilitate such a role. It also emphasises the need for dialogue and consultation with donors throughout the process to ensure agreement on funding.
The plan is for the RS to be implemented in stages over the next five years. For the first phase (programming for the 1997-2001 funding cycle), in view of time and resource constraints, it is proposed that SPOCC and other approved agencies, under the coordination of the Secretariat, will prepare regional profiles based on PICs' priorities. Some PICs may require assistance in clarifying their priorities and in screening them for possible joint regional action. It is expected that donors will probably continue their own programming exercises but they will be encouraged to use the outcome of the RS as a basis for dialogue.
Full implementation of the RS is envisaged for the 2002-2007 funding cycle. By then, SPOCC and other technical agencies are expected to have significantly withdrawn from involvement in identification of priorities and screening against regionality criteria. Instead, they will be concentrating on their technical role of translating priorities into programmes or projects. It is hoped that by this time, donors will have developed enough confidence in the ability and commitment of PICs and SPOCC organizations for them to make a more explicit commitment to the process in the following planning cycle.
Objectives of the Regional Strategy
1. Reaffirm the primary role of PICs' national interests, while establishing a
framework for effective regional cooperation.
2. Engender the PICs' sense of ownership over the regional programming and prioritization process.
3. Take into account limited in-country capacity of some PICs in the area of policy development and development planning.
4. Enable the PICs to establish and clearly articulate their national objectives and priorities.
5. Ensure that available resources are utilized in the most efficient manner consistent with development priorities of the PICs.
6. Strengthen aid consultation mechanisms and policy dialogue.
7. Facilitate agreement or consensus with donors on national and regional development priorities.
8. Allow for good management and wise utilization of development assistance, which are predicated on having clear and consistent development priorities.
9. Ensure that regional priorities are derived in a rational manner from national development priorities.
10. Maintain clear links and distinctions between national and regional activities, thus enhancing complementarity between the two while avoiding duplication and possible conflict.
11. Provide a clear and rational mechanism of ranking regional priorities.
12. Take into account the interests of disadvantaged PICs (i.e. smaller island states).
13. Provide a clear indication of medium to long-term priorities of PICs for regional activities.
14. Enable SPOCC organizations to develop their own programmes and involve them in the exercise.
15. Prepare profiles of regional priorities.
16. Avoid or minimize duplication between regional programmes.
Criteria and Guidelines for Determining Regionality
Criteria for regional programmes/projects:
(a) must benefit at least two Pacific island countries;
(b) must be developmental;
(c) should promote regional cooperation.
Guidelines to assist in ranking priorities;
(i) Priority should be given to on-going programmes/projects which continue to address common needs in areas of importance and relevance to countries;
(ii) priority should be given to programmes/projects which, while serving national needs, address common concerns and interests of a number of countries in the Region;
(iii) ranking should take into account the number of countries which will benefit from the regional programmes/projects;
(iv) ranking should take into account the greater benefits that will accrue from the undertaking of such programmes/projects on a regional basis;
(v) ranking should take into account the need to achieve an equitable distribution of the available resources among all the countries of the Region, but with special emphasis on the needs of more disadvantaged countries (i.e. small island states); and
(vi) the priority ranking applied by the recipient countries should be adhered to as much as possible.