Helping each other through Peer Reviews: KIRIBATI’S EXPERIENCE

[Tarawa, Kiribati] Development coordination and effectiveness is vital to Kiribati – a nation of scattered, low-lying atolls, struggling against the rising tides of the Pacific.

Amid the friendly faces of the i-Kiribati people and the glistening aquamarine waters of the Pacific Ocean, something is amiss in Kiribati’s capital of South Tarawa. Ominous is the reality of coastal erosion, poverty and overcrowding, to name a few.

“We’re getting a lot more development assistance now than we ever have in the past,” says the President of Kiribati, HE Anote Tong, “and the question we ask ourselves is whether development financing coming forward is being optimally used.”

In linking these efforts to the Government and donor implementation mechanisms in place, President Tong does not mince his words in declaring: “I think it’s a failure of our system.” iribati, along with Nauru, was one of the first island nations to volunteer to undertake a Peer Review of development coordination in April 2010.

Peer Reviews are an important part of the Cairns Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination in the Pacific (Forum Compact) agreed by Pacific Forum Leaders in August 2009. The Compact seeks to accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including through supporting the implementation of the Pacific Plan and national development plan priorities, providing the principles and processes for coordinated delivery.

Regular Peer Reviews of Forum Island Countries’ national planning, budgeting, public financial and aid management systems are aimed at promoting international best practice in these areas through strengthened national systems and guided support from development partners.

Peer Review recommendations to the Government of Kiribati included several measures to improve Government mechanisms, including financial management, and donor coordination for more effective outcomes.

“I think a review is always very healthy,” said President Tong. “The mistake one should never make is to carry on doing what you’re doing without reflecting upon it.”

President Tong added that it is important to get people from the Pacific region to carry out the review as a lot of problems faced are similar.

“I think that the next step is actually dealing with these problems collectively. I’m sure the problems are the same and the solutions will be very similar.”

A team from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat was in-country recently, 18 months on from the Peer Review, to discuss further support needed by Kiribati to continue implementing its development coordination priorities including the peer review recommendations.

Seeking effective outcomes

“Aid is very important, but it’s got to be effective,” affirmed President Tong, “and I think that a lot of the onus is actually on the recipient countries.”

President Tong stressed that development projects should be appraised individually and on their merit, so that assistance is allocated for purposes that best serve the country.

“We need to reassess our method of deciding on our priorities,” he said, highlighting that one of Kiribati’s challenges remains one of senior management capabilities.

“We’ve found that a lot of the failures of the SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) are because of poor management, so we are beginning to reverse that process,” said President Tong.

“Financial information for management was not always up to date or of quality standard, but we have responded to the challenge and the accounts are now more up to date than they have ever been.”

However challenges clearly remain according to President Tong, including that aid is often heavily tied to the donor countries’ terms of execution and implementation.

“It reduces the impact of that assistance to our economic development, because much of the money goes back to the originating country. That is an issue that we wish to continue to address.

“I think there has got to be trust.”

Fine tuning the monitoring process

President Tong added that more effective monitoring is needed in order to make better use of aid.

Reflecting on his own beginnings as a Government planning officer, President Tong said: “I’ve wanted to put in place an arrangement whereby every quarter there is a development committee meeting reporting on every single project – fiscal progress, the obstacles, the revised costings, the financial progress – so we need to fine tune this.

“There is no doubt in my mind there are things we need to reassess.” Development Program Specialist with the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) in South Tarawa, Ms Amie Milligan, said the Peer Review process has been very beneficial for Kiribati, setting a number of targets that provide a tool kit to improve their development efforts.

“Those targets are something that we (AusAID), as part of our aid development efforts, measure ourselves against, and certainly we are actively encouraging other donors to do the same,” said Ms Milligan.

“Particularly in the last 12 months we’ve seen a very strong momentum grow around not only coordination in design, but also increasingly, coordination in delivery.”

Ms Milligan cited the example developing the Kiribati Government Water and Sanitation Roadmap as evidence of this improved coordination.

“We (AusAID) are jointly working with all Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility (PRIF) partners to look at how the World Bank’s work around the Kiribati Adaptation Programme and the Asian Development Bank’s work around sanitation are aligning to support what will be the Kiribati Government Water and Sanitation Roadmap.”

A similar example is apparent in the country’s economic management and reform efforts, where the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and Pacific Financial Technical Assistance Center (PFTAC) are the key agencies in the region delivering in that sector.

“We (AusAID) are more than happy to be supporting and financing those efforts to ensure that Kiribati’s needs and the Peer Review recommendations are met,” said Ms Milligan.

Ms Milligan added that one of the real challenges for donors in Kiribati is the issue of resourcing in-country.

“We recognise that development relationships are fostered in the country in which the programmes are operating, and remote management of programming is somewhat of a challenge.”

In that context, Ms Milligan welcomed the recent establishment of a joint ADB and World Bank office in South Tarawa.

“We see that as a real opportunity to continue to grow and strengthen the donor coordination in-country and work increasingly closely with the Government.”

Climate Change at their doorstep

Amidst these development coordination efforts, Climate Change is a looming threat to the low-lying atolls of Kiribati, and touches on almost every aspect of day-to-day living.

“I’ve always said that Climate Change will be the dominant feature of our future development – or our future demise,” said President Tong.

“In terms of our development planning, I have no doubt that Climate Change must be very prominent because it will dominate everything that we do.

“I think if it is the case – that we do receive substantial financial assistance – that hasn’t happened up to now – we do need to put our systems in place.”

President Tong added that if adaptation funds do not come, Kiribati will be forced to spend its own limited resources to assist its suffering communities.

Some 20,000 delegates from around the world are attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP17 currently underway in Durban, South Africa, where key issues on Climate Change affecting the Pacific’s vulnerable states will be negotiated.

Fourteen Pacific island countries are represented at COP17 under the banner of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). AOSIS is an intergovernmental organisation of low-lying coastal and small Island countries from around the world.

Pacific members of AOSIS include the Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. At their meeting held in Auckland in September this year, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders welcomed progress made under the Forum Compact in 2011 and recognised the efforts of Forum Members, the Forum Secretariat, partner agencies and development partners in strengthening development coordination across the region.

In their 2011 Communique, Forum Leaders recognised the importance of increased effort across the region to strengthen public financial management through the use of diagnostic tools and processes such as Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability assessments.

Leaders agreed to showcase evidence and experience gathered during implementation of the Forum Compact as part of a coordinated regional position at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) to be held in Busan, Republic of Korea from 29 November to 1 December 2011.

(Ends)

For further information please contact the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Communications Officer (for Climate Change in Durban), Mue Bentley Fisher via mueb@forumsec.org.fj or Media Officer Johnson Honimae (on Development Effectiveness in Busan) via johnsonh@forumsec.org.fj

Click here to view the Kiribati President’s full video interview

Click here to view the video interview with Amie Milligan of AusAID in Kiribati

Click here to view the related feature story: Helping each other through Peer Reviews: Nauru takes action