Pacific, virtual – students at The University of the South Pacific (USP) kick-started the learning programme series on Right to Information (RTI), which will deliver 10 workshop sessions to students over a month connecting 14 USP campuses in 12 Pacific Island countries (PICs) virtually.
The RTI workshop series is organised by the USP Students Association (USPSA) in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) under its project ‘Strengthening anti-corruption, transparency and accountability in the Pacific Island Countries (“Pacific Anti-Corruption Project”) funded by the UK Government.
At the launch ceremony of the RTI workshop series, Mr. Aneet Kumar, Deputy Secretary General, USPSA said that the workshop introduces the concept of Right to Information and outline links to transparency, accountability, openness and integrity.
“Students will learn those concepts in the context of international standards and commitments including The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with focus on the SDG 16. It will help build resilient economies across the Pacific, especially as our economies recover from the effects of COVID-19,” added Mr Kumar.
Right to information is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by Article 19 of UDHR, which encompasses the freedom ‘to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.
USP Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, who welcomed students and distinguished guests at the launch of the series, expressed the University’s appreciation and gratitude towards the great collaboration that has brought the event to fruition.
Professor Ahluwalia urged, “We all have a role to play as custodians of the Pacific in nurturing our students to recognise the characteristics of good governance and as such our USP academic programmes aspire to foster in our students a commitment to high ethical principles and standards.”
Prior to the workshop, USP academics developed their expert knowledge through the Train the Trainer Session on Right to Information provided by UNDP in partnership with USP and USPSA last year. Over the four sessions of knowledge exchange conducted from 23 November – 1 December 2021, they were trained on the values and practical application of right to information and open data for the advancement of public integrity, anti-corruption, transparency and accountability. The trainers will now facilitate the workshop series on Right to Information.
USPSA President and Chair of the USP Student Council, Mr. Mani Mate, who was part of the earlier training emphasized, “USPSA is proudly taking the lead of this important initiative, contributing to strengthening the Pacific anti-corruption movement. I believe students will deepen and expand their academic interest, knowledge and skills through the workshop and further their study on RTI.”
“The Pacific Anti-Corruption Project which is aimed at strengthening anti-corruption, transparency and accountability in the Pacific Island countries aligns with key regionalism agendas and frameworks. For our students and youths in the region, such projects have a rippling effect across the university’s multi-campus structure, contributing towards the life-long learning experience of a diverse student population,” added Mr. Mate.
His Excellency. Mr. Thomas Coward, British High Commissioner to Solomon Islands and Non-Resident High Commissioner to Nauru said, “I am so glad we are working in partnership with the University of the South Pacific through UNDP to deliver this series of workshops to support students to increase their knowledge of RTI. This important work makes a difference. It helps to root out corruption. It helps ensure resources go to where they are needed. It also helps drive more inclusive, informed and transparent decision-making processes, and ensure that governments are more accountable and responsive to their citizens.”
Under SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, all PICs made a commitment to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Mr. Levan Bouadze, Resident Representative of UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji highlighted that the right to information was a precondition to achieving progress on sustainable development and therefore, an important target under SDG 16.
“It is encouraging to see students learn this important aspect for sustainable development. It is our commitment to providing knowledge transfer opportunities like this workshop to students as future experts to contribute to accountable and inclusive governance in the Pacific,” said Mr Bouadze.
The launch ceremony was followed by the first session of the RTI workshop with students participating virtually from four USP campuses in Solomon Islands, Nauru, Niue and Kiribati.