At the start of the month (May 2018), Winston Peters announced the government’s plan for the biggest increase in aid for over a decade. An extra $714 million over four years will flow into New Zealand’s share of aid, increasing our GNI aid percentage from 0.21% to 0.28%. Peters has also hinted at additional increases over the next couple of years, involving a goal of contributing 0.35% of our GNI to aid by 2024.
This is a governmental response to New Zealand’s ‘underfunding’ over the past years. New Zealand has given far less aid in comparison to other OECD countries, leaving us open to criticism that we are forgetting our neighbours. New Zealand currently spends around 60% of its official development assistance on the Pacific Island region. The recent increase in aid will build on this, with the bulk of the money heading towards the Pacific region. This increase in aid ensures that our voice and support we show towards the Pacific is driven and backed up by money.
Such an increase in funding also affirms earlier statements made by Peters referring to the ‘Pacific Reset’ – where a transformation of New Zealand relationship with the Pacific will go beyond aid. Showing our level of commitment to the Pacific, it shifts what underpins the relationship of aid between us and the Pacific – mutual respect and partnership. It expands our ability to contribute in a way that encourages less of a relationship based on dependency and more of a relationship based on partnership.
This relationship New Zealand has with the Pacific is one of family, which sets us apart from the rest. Any work that is done within the Pacific, therefore, builds on existing trust, mutual understanding, and respect, making it more than just about the money.
It is important to acknowledge that it is more than just money which is necessary to transform our relationship with the Pacific beyond aid. Relationships between the Pacific and New Zealand are already one of family. Through a multitude of pathways, we already have multiple connections with the Pacific. Pacifica people make up 7.4% of New Zealand’s population. Over 30 New Zealand government organisations are active in the Pacific, multiple NGOs, and many New Zealand businesses in construction. Good things have been happening for years, and relationships are already present. However, for this funding increase to be used productively within the Pacific, we need more effective and efficient arrangements between all the actors currently active within the development space.
Increased support from New Zealand will allow for greater funding of local Pacifica organisations. Due to this, Pacific civil society is expected to play a greater role in defining what is needed in their aid communities. Josie Pagani, the director of CID, attributed this to the current government having an aid approach which is in line with development good practice “...where local people get to say what's right for their communities and how they want to develop”.
Such a commitment allows a movement away from 20th-century aid approaches where development work is based off a hierarchy, and where New Zealand is seen as givers of money which we hand over when we feel like people need it. This reset changes the dial in terms of allowing local governments to dictate what is needed in relation to their local need and local development. In the past, New Zealand has had an agenda as to where the money would go. This new approach engages with the local Pacific in a way which can tap into a lot of untouched resources already existing within Pacific nations.
Peters appears to be placing few guidelines around where and how the money should be spent, thereby letting local powers and people dictate where the money is needed most. There is no clear overarching purpose or strategy outlining the aid priorities in which the funding will funnel towards. While this may seem lazy or unorganised, having fewer restrictions on the money allows it to be used in ways which are true reflections of the region’s needs. No moulding of ideas and/or projects will have to be done to fit the specifics of the funding.
This flexibility is essential with the upcoming effects climate change is going to have on the Pacific region. There is only so much we can predict in terms of what aid will be needed in the years approaching. Placing restrictions on where the funds should go may be too restrictive down the track. Having few restrictions does not mean the funding can’t be used effectively, however it will need to be carefully managed. The New Zealand government must now shift their attention on how to effectively spend this money on a case by case/need by need system, but also be aware how each of these cases will mould into a big picture.
This reset gives more recognition to the complex and connected system we are part of. Unless we develop a greater understanding of local needs, we will only see black and white answers, based on what we think is ‘right’ and will be ‘beneficial’. This means that we will only scratch the surface of issues. A ‘reset’ encourages conversations between local partners and NGOs both within New Zealand, and between our Pacific neighbours, to discuss local needs. If Peters is truly genuine about having a reciprocal relationship with the Pacific region based on family values, then this increase is a vital step in the right direction for a 21st-century development framework.