By Emele Duituturaga, Executive Director, Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO)
The catalytic role of local civil society organisations (CSOs) in rethinking development in the Pacific is a theme that has been weighing heavily on my mind since the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (4HLF) in Busan.
The conference, which took place in Korea last December, was the culmination of concerted organised civil society activism that arose out of the 3HLF, held in Accra in 2008. For me, as one of more than 300 global CSO representatives in Busan, delivering an address on behalf the people of the Pacific region in the closing session was the pinnacle of my CSO career.
Since returning home from Busan, I have been asked: so what did the conference deliver for Pacific CSOs? In Busan, civil society was represented by our own Sherpa at the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness negotiating table. Never before had civil society been considered equal to governments, donors and multilateral organisations. But then, 2011 was no ordinary year. From the Arab Spring to the ‘occupy wall street’ protests—all around the world citizens were taking to the streets. For me, it encapsulated the role of citizens and the power of organised civil society to change the destiny of nations.
For Pacific CSOs like the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO), the journey from Accra 2008 to Busan 2011 mirrored our own struggles and journey. It reaffirmed our recognition as independent actors in our own right, while addressing our challenges for demonstrating accountability and striving for development effectiveness. In the three years from Accra to Busan, we joined more than 20,000 CSOs—trade unions, youth and women’s groups, faith-based organisations and other social movements in more than 90 countries—being consulted on the process, agenda and expected outcomes of HLF4. In September 2010, CSOs agreed on the Istanbul Principles and, in June 2011, agreed to the International Framework on CSO development Effectiveness to strengthen our own effectiveness in development.
More than 500 of us gathered at the pre-Forum Civil Society Forum in Busan. More than 300 participated in the official HLF4. We spoke with one voice—and it was not in vain.
Paragraph 22 of The Busan Outcome Document (BOD) gives legitimacy to the vital role of CSOs. While not entirely a success for global CSOs, the BoD was an achievement. In particular, paragraph 22 is crucial for us as Pacific CSOs.
Now, when often levelled with the question: ‘who do you represent and how legitimate are you?’ we cling to the promise of Busan, which reaffirms our role as development actors in our own right. We are not an appendage to government services, nor are we conduits for donor foreign policies. We Pacific CSOs are a vibrant and essential feature in the democratic life of our countries. We play a vital role in overcoming poverty, advancing human rights, gender equality, social justice, decent work, environmental sustainability, peace and an end to corruption.
We are pleased to have achieved global legitimacy through the recognition and the endorsement of the Istanbul Principles and the Siem Reap Consensus on the International Framework for CSO development effectiveness in the BOD. Through this framework, we commit to improve our own practices and will strengthen our transparency and accountability as well as our contribution to development effectiveness.
In doing so, we are confronted with the reality that the civil society space has been shrinking despite Accra. We call upon governments to ensure minimum standards that guarantee an enabling environment for civil society organisations to fulfil their development roles. This is in keeping with binding commitments, both in law and practice, as outlined in international and regional instruments that guarantee fundamental rights.
The AusAID Civil Society Engagement Framework is a welcome policy direction for our Pacific Islands region. Through this framework AusAID (a critical partner in the region) recognises the potential of CSOs as powerful agents of change. Furthermore, the Framework recognises the Istanbul Principles, which provides the avenue for mutual engagement as promised in Busan.
The Civil Society Engagement Framework sets out how AusAID will consult and partner with non-government organisations and community groups to pursue the goals and maximise the impact of Australian Aid. The new AusAID civil society web portal, launched today, is a central hub of information about civil society projects supported by AusAID.
About the author: Emele Duituturaga
Emele Duituturaga is the Executive Director of the Suva-based Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO), a regional coordinating body for umbrella NGOs in 18 Pacific Island countries and territories. Emele is the global Co-Chair for the Open Forum on CSO Development Effectiveness and also the Global Co-Chair of the Group of 13 (G13) Steering group to establish the CSO partnership for Development Effectiveness as a post Busan initiative.