9 May 2018

NZ aid boost welcomed in Pacific

5:07 pm on 9 May 2018

A significant boost in New Zealand's foreign aid budget has been heralded as part of a transformative shift in the country's relations with Pacific islands.

Jacinda Ardern visited Fasi Government Primary School to see the destruction caused by cyclone Gita.

Jacinda Ardern visited Fasi Government Primary School to see the destruction caused by cyclone Gita. Photo: Pool photo / Michael Craig / New Zealand Herald

The 30 percent increase, primarily for the Pacific, was announced yesterday by foreign minister Winston Peters.

Foreign aid will be hiked by $US500 million ($NZ714 million) over the next four years, increasing support for multilateral and humanitarian agencies.

Mr Peters said it was time to reverse the pattern of under-investment in the Pacific which over the past nine years left New Zealand open to criticism that it had abandoned its neighbourhood.

Moving away from the previous government's focus on economic development, more money had been earmarked for responding to climate change and other emergencies, he said.

Josie Pagani

Josie Pagani Photo: Supplied

The director of the New Zealand-based Council for International Development, Josie Pagani, said the funding supported a new emphasis on partnership in New Zealand's relations with the Pacific.

"This is moving us beyond a very 20th century approach to aid and development where it is a hierarchy, where we are seen as a donor, we come in, we hand over money to an aid recipient, and they're very grateful," said Ms Pagani.

"I think the change here is that you've got a government and an approach which is in line with development good practice, which is where local people get to say what's right for their communities and how they want to develop.

"Shifting beyond... an aid relationship where you're dependent on aid to something where you're truly independent. That's in New Zealand's best interests. We want a region that's prospering, a region that's free from any of the stresses and the strains that we're seeing in the world today where there's a lot of insecurity."

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown Photo: Phillipa Webb / Cook Islands News

The Cook Islands finance Minister Mark Brown said his country welcomed the change from New Zealand.

"This is in line also with what the Cook Islands development priorities are," he said.

"Although we were looking over the last number of years to grow the prosperity of our countries, it's also important that we ensure there is balance in the social aspect as well, and that we don't leave people behind as the country is prospering."

New Zealand's move came as Australia also announced a significant aid increase to the region, considered by many observers a response to China's growing influence in the Pacific.

But collaboration between aid partners was the best way to enable Pacific states to achieve their development goals, Mr Brown said.

"For us, the use of blended finance, if you like, which is sources of development finance from different sources, and being able to put it together to produce an output that benefits our countries, is something that we've been doing for a number of years now.

"So it's encouraging to have these commitments from New Zealand to work on a partnership basis"

Emele Duituturaga

Emele Duituturaga Photo: PIANGO

With New Zealand making more funding available for regional NGOs, Pacific civil society is expected to play a greater role in defining what is needed in their communities.

Executive director of the Suva-based Pacific Islands Association of NGOs (PIANGO) Emele Duituturaga said New Zealand's "Pacific Re-set" was music to their ears.

"The change in position on climate change - this is the number one issue for the Pacific - that was very welcomed," he said.

"The 'Pacific Reset' strategy, while we're still waiting to see what that sounds like, that's very welcomed from PIANGO's point of view and Pacific NGOs.

"New Zealand, for a very, very long time supported civil society and NGOs in the Pacific and when there was a change in direction of the government, a lot of that funding had gone. So this is wonderful and great news."

The new funding will lift New Zealand's overseas development assistance to 0.28 percent of its gross national income, still well below international averages.

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