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A probing view on island politics

Friday 24 July 2015 | Published in Regional


MAJURO – A newly-published book by long-time Marshall Islands journalist Giff Johnson hopes to shine a light on the difficult problems and choices facing the Pacific Islands today.

Johnson said his book, Idyllic No More, looks at where the islands are today, through a series of essays about challenges including climate change, governance, urbanisation, fisheries, and many others.

He told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific the book also covers the political state of the islands, and what it will take to build a future of hope and opportunity.

“I think I was motivated to put this out because I’ve been writing commentary over the last several years about a lot of these different governance type issues in the Pacific and it just seemed that there are so many issues that need a lot of engagement.

“People need to really look critically at directions that –not only places like the Marshall Islands, where I live but many other countries that share similar challenges – need to really get focused on.

“And I would say one of them is, for example, the millennium development goals – which have not been implemented very effectively in most island countries – and now all the countries are getting ready to sign up to a new set of sustainable development goals.

“And it seems to me without any serious reflection on what went wrong with the earlier ones, and how can we possibly do better in the second round over the next 15 years.

DATELINE PACIFIC: So the governance of these countries is not up to the challenges they are chasing, is that the suggestion here?

“I think what it is, is there are a whole range of issues that need to be talked about.

“One is people in government need to be more engaged with their communities, with leadership that’s outside of the government sphere, and we need to be asking some hard questions.

“And another area is just in basic accountability and the corruption that exists in many Pacific islands which is from small, to medium, to large.

“It all impacts on delivery of services. Things like, is there medicine in the hospital for patients to use, to services such as education. If people are ripping off money, then that means that money isn’t going to the service or the programme where it’s supposed to be.

“There are many different levels of this but people in different islands really need to address these.

“And one of the challenges in a lot of countries is simply that it’s hard for people given the style of the culture to be openly critical of leaders.

“This may be more so in certain places than others, but it means that it’s more difficult to get some of these issues on the table to do with policies or laws that may need some redirection in order to deliver on the needs of the population.

DATELINE PACIFIC: I guess the title of your book too, Idyllic No More, is quite a cynical assessment of the situation.

“I’d say actually that’s more trying to suggest that people, especially outside the region who have a tourist view of the islands, is that there are deeper issues.

“And on deeper reflection on these issues you really can see many of our islands need to evaluate and look at the directions they’re going in; particularly in dealing with things like increasing poverty in urban centres and lack of opportunities for people as people migrate out of remote areas and get into cities where there’s high unemployment, increasing crime; things like this.

“ I mean how do we address those because the income inequality, the poverty in some of our islands,--- has really begun to show.

“And going back to the issue of implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, I mean these are things that eradicate poverty, improve education, improve health services.

“And why aren’t governments able to deliver on those goals that they all signed up for. That’s a really important question we all need to ask.

DATELINE PACIFIC: Is this a question anyone’s asking or trying to answer?

“I believe there are a lot of people who are asking these questions, are beginning to ask more vociferously.

“I believe that there’s particularly a lot of innovative thinking and action in non-government organisations all over the Pacific and this is one area that I think needs a lot more support .

“NGOs everywhere in the region tend to be passionate about their work. They’re out in the community, they’re delivering really needed services and support that adds on to what governments do.

“And my observation is that there’s a lot of government ministries and agencies that don’t really recognise the importance of NGOs to supplement, to add on, to do things that they’re better at doing than government offices are.

“So this is an area that is talked about a bit in the new book – the need for support and appreciation for what people in the community can bring to the table in dealing with things like sustainable development and addressing some of these modern day problems that are existing, particularly in the urban centres.”