New Zealand Government Neglects Voices of the Needy

Published: Thu 8 Sep 2011 10:01 AM
New Zealand Government Neglects Voices of the Needy
The 42nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Auckland is drawing to a close without hearing the needs of ordinary Pacific people. The New Zealand Government’s ongoing retrenchment of funding for Pacific civil society groups and its refusal to assist civil society to have a say in this year’s Forum Leaders’ meeting is an embarrassment for a country that should be acting as a regional role-model for good democratic principles.
NZADDs, an aid and development think-tank, says that while recognising the importance of the private sector to the Pacific, leaders at this meeting also needed to hear from civil society groups like churches and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). “Pacific leaders continue to rely on the tradition of strong Pacific families to provide a social safety net for their people, but under modern pressures families are no longer able to cope alone and many are suffering. In the absence of Governments’ capacity to do so, it is the civil society organisations, such as churches and NGOs, that provide vital services and speak on behalf of people who often do not benefit from elite-led economic growth projects,” says spokesperson Joanna Spratt.
“It is particularly disturbing to hear that in the lead-up to the Forum the NZ Government refused to assist Pacific civil society in getting a pre-prepared statement to Pacific Leaders. Instead, the NZ Government suggested that civil society should go through individual country governments,” says Ms. Spratt. “This is despite the fact that the NZ aid programme continues to cut funding to the very organisations that could best achieve this. This disregard for civil society does not bode well for the concerns of Pacific people over the year of New Zealand’s term as Chair of the Forum.”
In his speech marking the Pacific Island Forum’s 40th anniversary, Prime Minister John Key made no mention of civil society as an important partner in development efforts, suggesting an apparent neglect of the importance of functioning democracies for sustainable economic development.
If the NZ Government’s aim to achieve prosperity in the Pacific is genuine, and not just a cover for advancing NZ business interests through the aid programme, civil society voices must be at the table. Without listening to these voices we risk repeating the mistakes of the past, where endeavours to achieve economic growth have simply further advanced the few already powerful politicians and business leaders, leaving everybody else behind.

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