Usually when you are talking of billions of dollars of investment in the Pacific you are talking about countries like Papua New Guinea or East Timor.
But, in terms of infrastructure, there is an organisation that has a budget of well over one billion dollars to invest in small Pacific countries.
The Pacifc Regional Infrastrucutre Facility, based at the Asian Development Bank’s office in Sydney, brings most of the major donors together in a powerful force.
Japan has recently joined and it is now looking for more co-operation with China and the United States.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Sanjivi Rajasingham, Director of the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility Co-ordination Office
GARRETT: The Pacific Regional Infrastructre Facility brings many of the world’s biggest infrastructure donors together to work with 12 Island nations on everything from road sea and air transport, to water, power, information and communications technology.
Its donors include Australia, New Zealand, The European Union, the European Investment Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and now Japan.
Sanjivi Rajasingham is Director of PRIF’s co-ordination office.
RAJASINGHAM: We are very happy that Japan has joined. As a matter of fact Japan sat in as an observer for many years so it is not as though they are coming in new but we are very, very happy to have them as a full member of the PRIF.
GARRETT: The Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility came into being as a result of the Pacific Islands leaders push for better aid co-ordination, which began at their summit in Cairns in 2009.
Rajasingham says getting rid of duplication and wasteful processes can make a big difference.
RAJASINGHAM: Infrastructure needs to be thought through carefully. You can’t build a bridge to nowhere or, you know, a white elephant project. So it has to be thought through carefully but if you build good infrastructure, it will have the economic returns.
GARRETT: China and Taiwan are not members of the PRIF.
China in particular is a big infrastructure donor but likes to run a separate race investing in highly visible projects often built by Chinese workers.
RAJASINGHAM: The PRIF partners would like to have more involvement formally with China. The way that this increased formality in interaction is still to be decided. We are hoping that we can get these partners, and also the United States which is a big donor in the northern Pacific, to maybe join some of our events and share with us what they are doing and how there could be better interaction and information sharing between the various parties.
GARRETT: Fiji, as a result of the coup in 2006, does not a benefit from the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility.
With an election date named Sanjivi Rajasingham says that could be about to change.
RAJASINGHAM: Once the elections are done and they are done in a fair and transparent way, there would be no reason for Fiji to be out of PRIF at all. We are preparing for that in the sense that we are looking at what are the kinds of things we could do in Fiji, and all the partners are doing that as well, so we are all hopeful that this will be resolved quickly and in a good way.
GARRETT: Corruption is a big problem with infrastructure projects, whether it be the padding of contract budgets or kickbacks to bureaucrats.
The Asian Development Bank maintains a blacklist of companies proven to have been involved in wrongdoing and has a red flag system to highlight areas that need closer attention.
Sanjivi Rajasingham says PRIF’s focus is on helping Pacific governments.
RAJASINGHAM: Out role really is to make sure that the institutions that we help with our technical assistance are geared and equipped to be able to deal with the issues that come up with corruption. So we need transparent processes, accurate book keeping, reporting, governance structures that work. So the importance of institutions cannot be understated in the fight against corruption. But I also need to mention that one of the most important things in the fight against corruption is civil society, and people at large, and the press are very important in this. And there are countries where we see an activist press has really made changes take place. And I am hopeful that you and your colleagues in these countries will take that on.
GARRETT: Despite the big money going through the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility many of the contracts and jobs go to overseas companies.
That is something Rajasingham is keen to change.
RAJASINGHAM: The only way that countries can develop is to do more and more for themselves and that is the tenent of development. This can also happen in infrastructure, if contracts are structured in such a way as to use local content as much as possible.
For instance, if you are the engineering company, subcontract some local engineers, draftsmen and so on. If you are a construction company get some of your workers, not just unskilled workers but skilled workers who are working your machinery from the local population.
And the more you do that, there is more capacity that is transferred to the local economy which can help in the future. Yes this is very important and it behoves the countries to try and build this as much as it can and the partners should also help it. But I also have to mention is that one of the big challenges in the Pacific is that there is very little professional skills available because people tend to leave. So another reason to do this is to try and incentivise the people to stay in their countries and to help the country grow.
SYDNEY, (RADIO AUSTRALIA PACIFIC BEAT)