THE PACIFIC CONFERENCE ON GOVERNANCE
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Grand Millennium Hotel, 71 Mayoral Drive, Cnr Vincent Street, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
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With half the Pacific region’s population aged under 23, young people will affect every aspect of development in coming decades and winning the fight against corruption, which remains an issue of critical concern in the Pacific region, hindering sustainable development and threatening peace, security and stability, depends on harnessing this demographic dividend.
The Pacific Governance Conference titled ‘Pacific Youth Spotlighting Anti-Corruption in Climate Change and Gender Equality’ builds on a series of milestone developments under what has now become an unprecedented youth anti-corruption movement led by the University of the South Pacific Students’ Association (USPSA) in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji. Namely, in 2021, the UNDP and the USPSA established a strategic partnership with aims and special focus on advancing the international anti-corruption commitments such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions, with these initiatives being anchored on regional policy documents such as the Teieniwa Vision – Pacific Unity against Corruption and the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent among others.
USPSA’s first major contribution to the regional anti-corruption policy dialogue with youth was the organization of the first Pacific Youth Summit in December 2021. The unprecedented hybrid online and in-person event was titled ‘The Values of Integrity for the Achievement of Sustainable Development: Resilient Youth Leaders: Drivers of Sustainable Development’. It brought together over 5,000 youth leaders, students and professionals (60 percent female) from 12 Pacific countries (Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) to discuss the importance of integrity and stronger youth action on anti-corruption, transparency and accountability towards progress on the sustainable development agenda. As well as directly engaging a significant number of young people from across the region, and being widely reported in the media, the Summit forged high-level partnerships, including with the members of the Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific (CROP) such as Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the Pacific Community (SPC).
Subsequently, alongside continuing youth outreach via surveys, creative arts and workshops, USPSA organized the Pacific Regional Leaders Dialogue in May 2022. This high-level event gathered face-to-face and virtually more than 835 political and business leaders, young people and civil society groups from across the Pacific region to discuss the benefits and applications of right to information (RTI) and generate ideas to strengthen good governance and fight corruption. The primary context was RTI’s importance in regional social and economic development, specifically the SDGs, and the commitment made in 2021 by Pacific leaders to the Teieniwa Vision. Overall, the Dialogue was significant in developing the collaborative policy-orientated tone of the movement and advancing cooperation between government and non-governmental stakeholders, including academia, civil society, youth, women’s groups and media organizations, through a whole-of-society approach.
Capitalizing on these groundbreaking developments, and with the aim of inspiring further demand and articulating and enabling increasingly informed and determined anti-corruption engagement, in October 2022 USPSA organized the second Pacific Youth Summit which was titled ‘Stepping up for Corruption-Resilient 2050 Blue Pacific’. The event aimed to further strengthen the youth integrity movement in the Pacific and reinforce the message that the young people of the region are committed to investing in a corruption-free, environmentally and economically sustainable future for themselves and others. Yet again, the event had a hybrid format, combining in-person events at the University of the South Pacific with virtual participation at six USP campuses in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu and online access across the region via social media platforms. It was prefaced by awareness raising activities and followed by advocacy campaigns, activism via social media platforms, and action statements to reinforce the key messages and ensure high visibility across the region. Aside from attendance by high level political leaders and expert specialists, in-person and online participation engaged youth leaders, students, young professionals and media representatives from 12 Pacific Island Countries (Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu). With over 1,000 individuals attending (65 percent female), related social media outreach engaged over 20,000 people, and the event attracted significant media attention.
One major outcome of the 2022 Pacific Youth Summit was the adoption of the Pacific Youth Vision on a Corruption-resilient 2050 Blue Pacific. The Vision demonstrates clear demand from Pacific youth for a structured dialogue on good governance and anti-corruption, and further anchors youth ambitions in key regional strategic documents, including the Teieniwa Vision and the 2050 Pacific Strategy. The Summit, for the first time, brought together three major CROP agencies (USP, PIFS and SPC) to discuss and promote the anti-corruption and good governance agenda at highest levels. The presence of these agencies significantly boosted the influence of the youth anti-corruption movement and their recognition of the Vision demonstrated its policy impact. The Pacific Youth Summit is now expected to become an annual event and the Youth Vision is accepted as a formal representation of the voice of Pacific youths.
The Youth Vision has enabled the ambitions of Pacific Youth to be presented to the world, as occurred during the Special Pacific Panel Discussion in Washington D.C. in December 2022 as part of the 20th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) organized by Transparency International. The Panel Discussion, organized by USPSA and UNDP, aimed to inspire and inform global youth on how to influence improved integrity and anti-corruption. It showcased the Pacific experience especially with regards to achieving progress on pressing global issues of particular relevance to the Pacific region including climate change and disaster risk reduction and shared learnings from the region on how young people can effectively access and influence policymakers to build a fair and sustainable future.
At the IACC 2022 event, the engagement and advocacy by USPSA culminated in Transparency International expressing interest for the Pacific Youth Vision to become a global youth vision to be adopted at the next IACC.
The continued youth advocacy and increased demand for more structured and sustainable dialogue on anti-corruption, culminated with the establishment of a Youth Advisory Board on Good Governance based at USPSA. The Advisory Board, to be formally launched at the end of April, is expected to be affiliated to PIFS and work closely with other CROP agencies to further scale up and institutionalize the strategic youth engagement in support of the regional anti-corruption commitments under the Teieniwa Vision and the 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy. Engaging in a range of advocacy activities with a diverse set of stakeholders, including civil society groups, women, students, and other young people, with the aim of supporting and promoting well-functioning institutions with a high level of integrity, the Board will strengthen the inclusion and sustained involvement of non-state actors, including media, academic, community and faith-based organizations, and increase engagement of development partners to support the enhancement and safeguarding of transparency, accountability, integrity and anti-corruption across the Blue Pacific. While structurally anchored at USPSA with an outreach to 50,000 youths across the Pacific, the Advisory Board intends to be as inclusive as possible to include other youth organizations, such as the Pacific Youth Councils, national universities in the Pacific and youth at large. Throughout all youth activities, USPSA will remain open to partnerships and participation and will continue to encourage specifically participation of young women.
In summary, the USPSA Pacific anti-corruption initiative has informed and empowered a large number of educated and potentially influential young people regarding the impact corruption has on sustainable development, and how young people and other civil society groups can identify and combat it while also promoting the right to information as a powerful anti corruption tool. Critically, the initiative has connected young people both to the current regional political leadership and the wider community, empowering them to voice their anti-corruption concerns and advocate for action. The work has also empowered Pacific youth to engage positively in areas beyond right to information and anti-corruption. This has benefits for future political engagement particularly relating to sustainable development, gender equality and the climate crisis.
Focused on providing sustainable and inclusive platform for policy dialogue on anti-corruption, USPSA and the established Youth Advisory Board have committed themselves to continue directly engaging with policy makers, leaders and professionals around the 2050 Strategy and other regional commitments to identify and encourage long-term solutions for addressing corruption in critical areas for the Pacific.
Capitalizing on these unprecedented developments, and with the aim of inspiring further demand and articulating and enabling increased, informed and positive anti-corruption engagement, the USPSA and the Youth Advisory Board are organizing the 2023 Pacific Conference on Governance – ‘Pacific Youth Spotlighting Anti-Corruption in Climate Change and Gender Equality’. The conference responds to continued interest and the determined calls of young people in the Blue Pacific, which identified the criticality of climate change and gender equality and the need for continued spotlighting of these issues in the priority policy anti-corruption dialogue in the region.
The above activities and the conference are supported by UNDP under the Strengthening Anti-Corruption, Transparency and Accountability in Pacific Islands Countries (Pacific Anti-Corruption Project) funded by the UK Government and UN Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption (UN-PRAC) Project funded by the Government of New Zealand.
Spotlighting anti-corruption in climate change mitigation efforts and promoting gender equality
Climate change and anti-corruption
The Pacific region is especially vulnerable to climate change and lacks adaptation options. Rising only a few meters above sea level, and with much of the population living close to the shore, the increase in sea-level poses an existential threat to many Pacific Island Countries (PICs). With recent events dramatically demonstrating an increase in extreme weather such as tropical storms and cyclones, PICs are among the world’s most vulnerable to natural disasters, and changes in rainfall patterns are having wide-ranging impacts on water supply, agricultural production, food security, and soil erosion. Likewise, threatened coral reef ecosystems are vital to all PICs, providing important fishing grounds and serving as one the biggest tourist attractions, another important source of revenue and employment.
As elsewhere in the world, corruption negatively affects climate change responses undermining mitigation efforts and decreasing the quality of adaptation infrastructure in the Pacific. Although the successes or failures of climate change interventions rarely focus on governance issues, corruption threatens the related response. Climate finance, often routed outside established channels, is particularly vulnerable. With huge funding committed, and even greater sums required, the top recipients of climate finance are among the most corruption prone places in the world. Regarding mitigation efforts, corruption weakens environmental regulations, reduces the effectiveness of clean energy programmes, and increases rates of deforestation. It can also prolong investments in non-renewable energy and enable corporate
interests to influence individual politicians or governments to direct policy away from climate action. Regarding adaptation interventions, corruption and fraud reduce funds available for activities such as responsive infrastructure, water supply, soil conservation, or developing resistant crops, as well as causing biased allocation of funding or location and subsequent suboptimal responses and weakening regulatory enforcement of adaptive programmes.
On the one hand, corruption fuels the climate crisis by depriving countries of much-needed revenues to act on climate change and build resilience. On the other, climate impacts reinforce corruption by creating economic and social instability and inequality, fostering an environment more conducive to corruption and misuse of funds that ultimately deprive the poorest and hardest hit. Overcoming corruption in the race against the climate crisis requires collective action and bold partnerships between government, the private sector and civil society to recognize and combat the issue through more effective management of resources and programmes.
Globally, and particularly in the Pacific region, appropriate and effective anti-corruption tools and strategies are required to ensure that climate change responses, including financing, are optimized for impact and success, and that such interventions are not undermined. With anti-corruption and climate response efforts entwined, synergies between them can strengthen policy decisions and legal frameworks in both domains and tailored approached need to be sought to fit national and regional contexts.
Gender equality and anti-corruption
Corruption disproportionately impacts the poor and vulnerable especially women, who represent a higher share of the poor. Gender inequality exacerbates corruption risks that ultimately disproportionately affect women and vulnerable groups of society.1 Corruption affects access to the basic services such as for example health and education. As women are often the primary caretaker of the family, they are therefore in more frequent contact with potentially corrupt health and education facilities. It is also because women (particularly poor women) may be more dependent on essential services provided by the public service, which increases their vulnerability to corruption. Corruption can also exacerbate existing inequalities reflected in practices that either privilege or target certain groups. The currency of corruption for women can also be sexualized, as women and girls are more likely than men to be asked to pay bribes in the form of sexual favours, particularly when they are unable to pay money as a bribe due to lower incomes.
Women may also experience inequality when it comes to reporting corruption when it has taken place, due to unconscious bias in reporting mechanisms. While reporting mechanisms for seeking redress are accessible to both males and females, more males than females utilize these reporting mechanisms.
For example, a report by the Asian Development Bank documented that in 2014, 12% of the complaints to the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) were from women, while 88% came from men3. The report recommended providing women friendly consumer complaints mechanisms, such as having women complaints officers and incorporating online anonymous complaint processes, to ensure that both men and women have equal access.
Women entrepreneurs may also be particularly affected by corruption, because they may work in the informal sector (for example, in Fiji, women make up 91% of full-time homeworkers and 91% of those who make and sell handicrafts). Workers in the informal sector may be more likely to be victims of corruption, because they are not protected under labour laws and therefore may be unlikely or unable to make a complaint to officials.
These considerations are also important in the context of the sustainable development efforts in the Pacific under 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy and understanding corruption’s linkages to gender equality as part of the gender dimensions of democratic governance.
While the issue is complex, a gender-responsive approach to anticorruption efforts can increase the awareness of women regarding their rights and improve women’s contribution towards achieving inclusive results. For this reason, recognizing that corruption affects men and women differently, and that anti-corruption and gender equality efforts are mutually reinforcing, the youth of the Pacific would like to open a dialogue on the specific challenges and opportunities to strengthen future policy decisions and help in designing more targeted actions for advancement of women’s rights and women’s empowerment in the fight against corruption.
The conference will inform, inspire, empower, and add further momentum to an important emerging youth movement particularly concerned with the connections between corruption and sustainable development through spotlighting two key topics: i) response to climate change, and ii) promoting gender equality in the Blue Pacific region.
Specific objectives include:
- Raising awareness: Through the lens of the regional policy commitments, the conference
will raise awareness and discuss about the specific challenges, opportunities and solutions to addressing corruption challenges in the Pacific in relation to climate change mitigation and promoting gender equality.
- Facilitating knowledge-sharing: The conference will provide a platform for youth, policy makers, experts, researchers, and practitioners to gain better understanding and share knowledge and best practices on how to achieve progress in the fight against corruption to improve climate change mitigation and gender equality outcomes.
- Developing innovative solutions: The conference will foster collaboration and innovation among stakeholders from different sectors to discuss new ideas and effective solutions to addressing corruption in climate change efforts, and ways for addressing the nexus between gender inequality and corruption.
- Advocating for policy change: The conference will advocate for policy change at national and regional levels to promote transparency, accountability, integrity and anti-corruption in climate finance, and strengthening gender responsive anti-corruption measures.
- Promoting women’s leadership: The conference will highlight the importance of promoting women’s leadership in anti-corruption efforts and decision-making processes and explore ways to address the gender gap in leadership positions in the public and private sectors.
- Youth empowerment and furthering Pacific youth unity against corruption: The conference will further empower young people, civil society representatives and community groups to engage with decision-makers and build partnerships among stakeholders from different sectors, including government, civil society, private sector, and international organizations, for inclusion of the youth voice in coordinated Pacific anti-corruption action.
Participants and format
Participants, who will attend physically in Auckland, New Zealand and virtually across the Pacific region, will include young people and students from 18 Pacific countries (including youth representatives from University of the South Pacific, Pacific Youth Councils, national universities, civil society) along with leaders and representatives from Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Pacific Community, Pacific political leaders and policy makers, international governance experts, representatives from civil society and media organizations, and academia.
- Empowered youth and marginalized groups to access policy spaces in national and regional fora and wider recognition and support for the next steps and actions in implementation of the Pacific Youth Vision for a Corruption-Resilient 2050 Blue Pacific facilitated by the Youth Advisory Board in coordination and cooperation with CROP agencies, PIFS and SPC in particular.
- Enhanced cooperation and collaboration between youth, regional organizations, Governments and non-governmental stakeholders through a whole-of-society approach (academia, civil society, youth, women’s groups, media etc) regarding promotion of the benefits of combating corruption and promoting good governance for achievement of the 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy.
- The conference will have identified creative and innovative solutions and next steps and
actions in implementation of the Pacific Youth Vision for a Corruption-Resilient 2050 Blue Pacific facilitated by the Youth Advisory Board in coordination and cooperation with CROP agencies, PIFS and SPC in particular.
- The conference will have identified the role of education in advancing the good governance and gender equality agenda in the Pacific region and how corruption affects its progress. The challenges, opportunities and solutions from academic lens.