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Book review: Larmour, P. Governance and Reform in the South Pacific National Centre for Development Studies, ANU: Canberra (1998)





Title: Governance and Reform in the South Pacific

Author: Larmour, P. (ed.)

Published by National Centre for Development Studies, ANU, Canberra (1998).

ISBN: 0 7315 2347 4 ISSN 0817-0444

pp: 326 + x


Prior to the 1990s governance or good governance hardly entered into the policy discourse surrounding development. Instead economic policy models tended to set the agenda for externally funded reform programs in developing countries. Throughout the ‘80s it became increasingly clear (notably in Africa) that reform programmes based solely upon economic models were not achieving their desired developmental aims. In 1989 the World Bank identified this failure as being the result of a ‘crisis in governance’, or the improper use of power in managing countries. (p 1) Since that time concern over the concept of ‘(good) governance’ in developing countries has grown. Now governance seems to overshadow economics as the dominant mode of policy discourse on development.

There is a large body of material on the appropriateness for developing countries of the economic models propagated by institutions such as the World Bank and IMF (favourite targets for leftist writers). However, the implications and potential impact of the policy discourse on good governance has not yet been subject to such rigorous scrutiny. Governance and Reform in the South Pacific begins to subject the issue of ‘good governance’ in the Pacific to the scrutiny that it deserves.

It is a collection of thirteen essays, each by different academics or planners, on various aspects of governance in four Pacific Island countries. Although the book does not gel into one unified piece this is not a criticism of it. Rather it is a symptom of the fact that what good governance actually means or involves is frustratingly vague. This vagueness allows good governance to be applied to a broad range of situations. It also allows a broad range of methodological approaches to be taken in analysing governance. By collecting together a range of different authors, topics, methodological approaches and styles, this book highlights the breadth of the debate on good governance. As this book contains a number of self contained chapters, so too will this review treat each chapter separately, making comparisons where appropriate.

Although each of the chapters in Governance and Reform in the South Pacific are quite separate, care has been taken to ensure that the book does not become too fragmented. Peter Larmour’s introduction (chapter 1) and Barrie MacDonald’s chapter entitled " ‘Good’ governance and Pacific island states" (chapter 2) provide a thorough introduction to‘governance'. These chapters trace the historical development of the governance concept, and explain some of the reasons for its rise to prominence. The major criticisms of the concept are also outlined. McDonald’s chapter ends with an examination of reform in Kiribati, which illustrates on a practical level many of the theoretical points that have been raised.

These introductory chapters are written clearly and succinctly, and provide sufficient background to the concept of governance to make debate about it easily accessible to students and policy makers alike. They also provide a strong thematic grounding which the other, more diverse articles, can then relate back to.

Of the remaining chapters the majority analyse various aspects of governance in Papua New Guinea. Ron May, in his chapter entitled "From promise to crisis: a political economy of Papua New Guinea" (chapter 3) traces the history of Papua New Guinea from a macro economic perspective. His analysis of why PNG has failed to achieve its apparent potential diverges from this economic perspective to provide broader political reasons for under performance. This article exemplifies the shift of focus from economics to governance, and illustrates the way that the two policy approaches complement each other. David Kavanamur (Chapter 5: "The politics of structural adjustment in Papua New Guinea") continues the macro economic approach, this time looking in detail at the structural adjustment programmes of 1981, 1990 and 1994.

John Burton’s contribution (Chapter 7: "Mining and maladministration in Papua New Guinea") examines mining in the Western Province. It shifts the theoretical framework from the more usual macro economic approach to one of microeconomics. Similar to May’s approach, the economic analysis is combined with a more generally political consideration of issues. His analysis is thorough, and his approach should prove interesting to anyone looking at how Pacific Island countries could best utilise their natural resources.

The remaining chapters about Papua New Guinea depart from economics and adopt a variety of frameworks to work within. Henry Ivarature (Chapter 9: "The Sandline International controversy in Papua New Guinea") provides a detailed description of events surrounding the recent Sandline incident. Documentation of ‘incidents’ occurring in the Pacific is often hard to find (and undervalued in academia), so this study is a very welcome addition to the book. Sinclair Dinnen provides an assessment of governance from a criminological viewpoint. His chapter (Chapter 10: "Criminal justice reform in Papua New Guinea") canvasses the usual debate about restorative vs. retributive justice, and provides some interesting new examples of the (in)operation of the criminal justice system.

A feminist perspective on what good governance might involve is provided by Orovu Sepoe (Chapter 11: "Women and democratic politics in Papua New Guinea"). This piece is disappointingly glib, with a reliance on stereotypes, such as the comment that ‘[w]here women are involved, politics is non-violent and peaceful.’ (p 276). In the introduction the point is made that she ‘writes as an advocate as well as an analyst’ (p 15). Although most of the underlying points made do have validity, her role as an advocate colours this chapter too much for my liking.

The last of the chapters relating to Papua New Guinea focuses on how the media can be used to affect international relations (Rosaleen Smyth "The role of the media in relations between Australia and Papua New Guinea" Chapter 13). The usual discussion of how media and governance relate focuses on how free media contributes to good governance in society. This chapter looks at a completely different aspect of the role of the media, by focusing upon two situations in which media, both in Australia and Papua New Guinea have affected popular perceptions of PNG to the point that aid payments were threatened. These examples call into question the real extent of ‘independence’ for developing countries in the new climate of good governance. The chapter provides new perspectives on ‘old’ questions that all developing countries face. It is therefore valuable for all countries in the Pacific.

Solomon Islands are discussed in two chapters. The first, "Deforestation and politics in Solomon Islands" (Chapter 6), by Tarcissius Kubutaulaka also looks at governance in relation to natural resources management. Because his methodology is very different to that found Burton’s chapter on natural resources management (discussed above), the two chapters allow for a useful comparison of approaches. Kubutaulaka’s approach is much more concerned with examining the social conditions that create an environment in which corruption can flourish. Nanau’s chapter (Chapter 8: "Decentralisation reform in Solomon Islands") covers a different subject area to any of the articles on PNG. Decentralisation is both an aim and a source of problems for many Pacific Island countries and Nanau’s article briefly introduces the broad topic of decentralisation. Nanau explains the political rationale and ideology behind decentralisation for those who are not familiar with the area. He then goes on to analyse the Provincial Government Acts of 1981 and 1996 and to identify problems with the decentralisation programmes. This chapter covers a lot of material and is, sadly, too short for Nanau to expand his thoughts on decentralisation.

The two chapters that refer to Samoa also cover quite different subject areas. Cluny and La’avasa Macphersons' chapter (Chapter 4: "Creeping paralysis: dependency and sovereignty in peripheral Pacific states") considers the implications of the good governance agenda in respect of Samoa’s independence. This chapter does not pose any new questions. It does, however, ensure that the questions raised are not too abstract by placing the debate firmly in the context of the Samoan economy. Asafou So’o (Chapter 12: "The price of election campaigning in Samoa") documents with great clarity some of the difficulties of operating an electoral system in a country with strong traditional kinship ties and expectations. This article primarily focuses on voting in pre - universally enfranchised Samoan society. It would be very nice to see a study of how universal suffrage has altered election practices in Samoa.

Although all the chapters are diverse Governance and Reform in the South Pacific is more than a collection of unrelated essays. As my comments above suggest, comparisons of the different methodologies used are of great value. The different methodologies also usefully demonstrate to both students and established policy writers/researchers that there is no one correct way of looking at governance. Similarly the number of issues covered by this book is merely a reflection of the breadth of the impact that the governance agenda is having, rather than an indication of lack of coherency.

This book fills a need for easily accessible information on what governance in the Pacific might mean or involve. The topic of governance is, however, one that deserves still more examination. Most of the articles in Governance and Reform in the South Pacific are based on larger pieces of research that their authors are undertaking. I hope that in the future we might see some of these essays expanded into longer pieces of work.

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