The Centre for Citizenship Education in the Pacific
Today they are small, isolated and with few resources, facing a range of problems and dangers not forseen even thirty years ago, and with which they are all in varying degrees ill equipped to cope. Inevitably there is talk of failing or failed states.
With the assistance of donor countries and organizations, however, a complex of cooperative or collaborative arrangements has been set up under the umbrella of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), which is now working on a “Pacific Plan” which would better coordinate these and other programmes. It will not be easy, however, to strike an acceptable balance with the much-prized autonomy of the Island states.
Although progress is being made the needs are urgent. It is important that every effort should be made to speed up the process and deal with the difficult issues being faced by all the members.
For all their common problems the Islands of course have individual needs. Even so, programmes can be envisaged which would further assist with economic, transport, communications, education, health, governance, security problems and so on. Tailored responses should certainly make a great difference. What may be most difficult will be to achieve a whole-of-government approach.
And whatever success might be achieved with, say, fisheries management, or prevention of money laundering, ultimately the outcome will depend on securing the understanding, the support and the participation of the Islanders themselves, the citizens. They must appreciate what is being done, have confidence in the system, and be concerned for the well-being of all. They must be both ready to accept their responsibilities and aware of the opportunities open to them. It is for them to think about any changes that might be made in their own governmental or social conventions.
Democracy cannot easily be taught. People can nevertheless be helped and encouraged to become good democrats and good citizens by a process of discussion and exploration of ideas and models among existing community groups – village, church, sporting, womens’, secondary school, service organization, ngos – and led by well known local people. This is now seen as the best way to improve standards of citizenship, of transparency and accountability, and of good governance.
It is crucial that these sessions be handled in a way understood by, and acceptable to, the local people. Local leaders can give guidance on issues of cultural sensitivity, and can emphasise that the purpose is to lift standards rather than propose some modification of current constitutional procedures.
By actively participating in local and national government, citizens can do a great deal not only to help themselves but to make a more significant contribution to the economic and social development of their countries.
Over time, of course, there are likely to be inputs from Australia and New Zealand, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the European Union, and others.
The New Zealand Centre for Citizenship Education is in a position to produce a toolkit which would help Island authorities, either geared to a specific situation or which could be circulated by the PIF Secretariat and then adapted by individual members.
CCE has had experience producing guides to Parliament, government and the law, and to handling local issues. It promotes practical procedures for citizenship education. Two years ago it produced a booklet emphasizing the many linkages between all Pacific citizens including New Zealanders. The Centre is working on a series of oral archives on Pacific peoples and their stories. CCE promotes the concept of a society in which good citizens understand and take full advantage of the processes of government and are able to make their own individual contribution.
It is the aim of the CCE to build support for all the other major programmes currently being set up to help the Island governments. It would see itself as playing a minor part in the Pacific Plan.
Elsewhere in the world the US and the Europeans are thinking in terms of introducing democracy, rescuing “weak” states, and stressing the importance of human rights – and considering the use of conditionality in certain cases.
In the Pacific the need is rather to make sure that democracy works better. Plainly enough there is a need to for the development of common approaches, the sharing of values and the encouragement of a sense of service, and strengthening capacity. There is also need for community development and advocacy for good governance.
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