Pathways to Recovery from the Pandemic in the Pacific Islands
Assessment of Civil Society Inclusion in the Governments’ Response to COVID-19
Pacific Island Countries (PICs) are currently grappling with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though many countries in the region have avoided high COVID-19 infection rates and have begun vaccinating their citizens, fragile systems have resulted in vulnerable populations being further exposed to health, economic, and social threats.
On the whole, PIC governments have taken laudable steps to address the multiple, interconnected consequences of the pandemic, especially in quickly passing measures to mitigate economic shocks and restricting travel from beyond their borders to reduce transmission. However, they also have missed opportunities to leverage the expertise and connections that CSOs could offer to pandemic-focused relief efforts, particularly in terms of addressing the social impact of the virus. The lack of CSO inclusion in some government actions has become an especially pressing issue in recent months, as some island nations have faced the dual challenges of sharp increases in COVID-19 cases and vaccine hesitancy.
To provide insight into how CSOs in the Pacific Islands have been involved in governments' efforts to respond to the pandemic, and paths forward to improving cross-sectoral collaboration and problem-solving, NDI, with the support of USAID, carried out qualitative research with CSO and governments stakeholders, as well as individual political and civic activists from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. NDI’s report, Assessing the Inclusion of Civil Society Organizations in the COVID-19 Decision Making of Pacific Island States, is the culmination of this work.
The report finds that there is considerable room for CSOs to take on a more active role as partners in government efforts to address the wide-reaching effects of the pandemic, particularly for vulnerable populations. The empowerment of women, young people, and other marginalized groups is critical for “building back democratically” in the wake of the pandemic, and the civil society sector is key to ensuring their equal and active political participation. To address new concerns arising from the pandemic, as well as more long-standing ones such as restrictions in market access and gender-based violence, PIC governments can take proactive steps to include CSOs as full and equal partners in the implementation of COVID-19 recovery measures. Now more than ever, CSOs have a critical role to play in both supporting governmental efforts to mitigate the social, economic, and health-related harms of COVID-19, as well as holding the government accountable to ensuring policies and public services are inclusive and do no harm.
Though this report has focused on PIC government inclusion of CSOs in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lessons of this research apply to strengthening democratic governance in the region beyond the current crisis. Creating and maintaining strong relationships between CSOs and the government will lay the foundation not only for addressing future crises, especially ones related to climate change, but also for driving a continuous effort to make our societies more transparent, accountable, and inclusive. The pandemic has underscored the need for robust dialogue and partnerships between all sectors of society, with a particular need to center the voices that represent those left most vulnerable by economic, political, and social shocks. In particular, as PICs begin to pivot toward a post-pandemic world, normalizing collaboration between governments and civil society will prove fruitful for building more resilient societies to weather future storms.