Science and technology ‘ignored’ in Pacific Plan review

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Copyright: Jocelyn Carlin / Panos

Speed read

  • Review of plan to build closer regional ties does not mention science
  • Some of those who made submissions say their concerns were ignored
  • But regional science funding could rise due to issues such as climate change

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Science and technology organisations that contributed to a review of the Pacific Plan, which is designed to strengthen cooperation between countries in the region, say it ignored their concerns.

The review, which has produced various recommendations to update the Pacific Plan, received nearly 70 public submissions from organisations including the Pacific Senior Health Officials Network, the Pacific Europe Network for Science & Technology (PACE-Net) and the Digital Society Foundation (DSF).

But some of the organisations are unhappy that few of their concerns are included in the review’s recommendations about building the suggested Framework for Pacific Regionalism, which is to replace the existing Pacific Plan.

The forum secretariat’s governing body will be considering the suggested framework at their meeting in Suva, Fiji, this week (2-3 July), before sending it to country leaders for approval at their forum in Palau in the last week of July.

Christopher Sampson, founder of the DSF, believes “old thinking” dominated the review.

He adds that the forthcoming Framework for Pacific Regionalism should recognise that it is better if decision-making and development activities are locally driven, rather than centrally organised.

“I was disappointed that affordable broadband-speed internet was not highlighted,” he says. “This infrastructure is vital for enabling a sustainable future for the island people of the Pacific and to enable local empowerment.”

For Jito Vanualailai, a mathematician at the University of the South Pacific and interim coordinator of the Pacific Islands Universities Research Network (PIURN), the most glaring omission was related to scientific research.

“I can’t see any reference to science, technology and innovation (ST&I) in the review,” he says.

PIURN was established to “advocate for ST&I”, which Vanualailai says is under-appreciated in the region. He points to a recent survey of Pacific island governments — carried out by PACE-Net — which revealed a lack of interest in the role of scientific research.

“It’s not a priority for them and they don’t see it as a tool to solve problems like climate change and poverty,” he says.

Despite ST&I not being mentioned in the review, Vanualailai says there may be other ways of promoting the importance of scientific research — such as by setting up a regional research council.

But Matthew Dornan, an economist at the Australian National University, says the review has done what it set out to achieve.

“It was never meant to be a development plan, or a list of priorities — but a process to advance regionalism and help countries with their own development plans,” he says.

Dornan adds that earlier versions of the Pacific Plan were unworkable because they included too much detail and too many priorities.

“This didn’t serve anyone,” he says. “The review has taken the right approach against further priority setting.”

And, he says, people should not judge the review harshly “just because it does not include their own area of interest”. He adds that science would remain vitally important in the region — despite there being no mention of it in the review.

“As the effects of climate change become more pertinent in the Pacific, I expect funding for science to increase,” he says.

Link to Pacific Plan Review