There are twelve independent small island states in the South Pacific region and a similar number of dependent states and territories. A majority of these states are in fact archipelagos, and in a number of cases, local government equates with ‘government of the island’. In such instances, local government can refer to government of village (or rural) communities, or to a mixture of village and urban communities. In Kiribati and Tuvalu, some islands are classified as ‘100% urban’, and yet others as ‘100% rural’. Urban councils are referred to as town councils and the rural councils as island councils. Both have the same legal standing but their individual responsibilities vary according to those granted to them at the time of establishment. In the case of Tuvalu, 53% of the population is rural with the other 47% comprising the population of the capital island of Funafuti which is the only urban council in the country.
When decolonization occurred in the Pacific Islands (from the 1960s to 1980s) the newly formed independent states found it necessary to refocus attention on decentralization and the strengthening of local government. Public sector reforms in the 1980s and 1990s that aimed at increasing efficiency, productivity and accountability, and that were part of the global phenomenon of ‘reinventing government’, included efforts to promote and strengthen local government. Fiscal crises, frustration with central government services, and political instability spreading across the Pacific provided the impetus for governance reform and the need to systematically undertake scholarly research work in local government.
With the Pacific Island countries being influenced by globalization and its attendant benefits and downsides and the revolutionary developments in ICT, it is particularly important for any considerations and decisions regarding decentralization and local government be made against the backdrop of global trends to decentralize decision making and improving local government capacity to address local challenges and issues. The negative impacts of climate change around the world makes dwellers of tiny islands and rural areas most vulnerable in their isolation connected only with mobile phones, radio, TV and perhaps computers.