Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Suva, Fiji

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: First of all, thank you for joining. It’s been interesting to learn here in Fiji about media localization and the intention to expand the space in which journalists get to operate. Hopefully, you’ll take advantage of that space and ask hard questions of me and other visitors, as well as officials and others here in Fiji. 

I'm thrilled to be here at the University of the South Pacific. It was inspiring to be engaged by the USP students and to know that thanks to an investment made long ago by USAID – thanks at least in part to that, that the discussion we had here at USP was also beamed to a dozen other campuses on islands across the Pacific. 

It's clear that many individuals who come from a great university like this would like to stay in their own communities, make their own country better. But key to that will be enhanced economic opportunity, more inclusive growth, lasting recovery, of course, from the effects of the pandemic, and critically, investments in making Fiji and other Pacific Islands more resilient to extreme weather events and the climate crisis that is upon us all. We had an interesting exchange, as well, about the importance of governance and how critical it is for islands in the Pacific, Pacific countries, all countries globally, to invest in the security of their people, economic opportunity for their people, but also governance and human rights. And it's really important that, as USAID thinks through how we expand our work here in Fiji and beyond, that we think about investments in all three of those domains. 

The immediate reason for my visit, as you know, is that we opened, today, the USAID Mission for the Pacific Islands, based in Fiji. It's very exciting. We are now going to spend the coming months hiring more staff and mobilizing more resources to do more things in each of the sectors that I've alluded to. I had a productive conversation earlier today with the deputy prime minister, Deputy Prime Minister [Seru Nakausabaria] Kamikamica, about how USAID can enhance our partnership and tried to hear from him about the government's priorities. And I'm looking forward to continuing my conversation next with the Secretary General [Henry] Puna, the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum. 

Tomorrow, I will be talking to the Chiefs of Defense Forces from all across the Pacific about how defense and development leaders can work together to keep us safe from dangers like climate change, among others. I will be visiting Nabila Village where I will hear about work that USAID is already doing to expand opportunities for women in sustainable fisheries. And we know that sustaining the fishing sector here is absolutely critical in the hearts and minds of so many fisher-people. I couldn't be happier to be here in Fiji to get a preview of some of the great work that I think we will be in a position to expand on in the years ahead. And I'm looking forward to taking your questions. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you Administrator Power. In the home of USP we'll start with the student newspaper Wansolwara, Avi Milanm, you can go ahead.

QUESTION: Bula. My name is Avi Milan, I'm a student reporter for Wansolwara under the journalism program. So my question is, given the growing youth populations in the Pacific, especially Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Fiji, how does USAID see this affecting efforts to allow communities to adequately adapt to climate change? And secondly, how will you include Pacific youth voices in doing this?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Forgive me, the growing US population? Youth population, okay. Thank you, that second part makes sense in the context of the first part. Look, I think, around the world, so USAID has full-fledged missions in 80 countries and programs in more than 100. And we target growing youth populations all around the world in two main ways. The first is, we create dedicated youth programming. For example, after school programming to keep young people away from gangs in certain communities where gangs, and violence, and insecurity is prevalent. Programs that target basic education that inevitably are targeted toward youth, or do skills training for young people, for example, digital skills, or now artificial intelligence. These are the kinds of programming we'd be looking across our portfolio here to see if those kinds of programs make sense. 

But the main thing that USAID team members have to do all around the world is make sure that every area of programming thinks about youth at its core. And often because the people who design programs are old like me, we design programs for people like ourselves. The vast majority of our staff here in the Pacific Islands are going to be nationals of the Pacific Islands –  three-quarters of USAID staff overseas are nationals of the countries in which we work. And so they're incredibly important in bringing local relationships, thinking up local partnerships, really speaking local dialects, knowing what the communities want. But it's really important that even as we hire at USAID, that we hire young people so that we have people as part of our growing teams that can actually inject the perspective of young people and retain those connections. 

So, even if we're talking about programming in disaster resilience, thinking through how our young people are going to be mobilized when a hurricane or a typhoon hits. If we're doing something in climate resistant agriculture, what about young farmers, they are more inclined to really understand the smartphone and be able to use the technology to predict weather. Well maybe they can be the trainers who go out and teach older people in the community how to use phones if there's internet access, and if they're able to access the kind of technology. So really what I've tried to do at USAID is to say, you know, youth are not just the future, they're the present. And too often we think of youth as, down the line there'll be the leaders. No, they're the leaders today. We see this at this university with the way in which students have come together to demand climate action, and climate finance at scale. So, those are my two answers. In terms of specifics, we’ll really see how the portfolio expands, but, again, there's not a single sector of programming that shouldn't involve questions about how to enlist youth, how to reach youth, as a design feature. Thank you.

QUESTION: Madame, my question is, with the opening of the new mission in PNG as well in Fiji today. Critics have been quick to say that the U.S. is ramping up support in the greater Indo-Pacific region because it feels that the American dominance is at risk. How do you respond to such observation? And why should Pacific leaders choose U.S. diplomatic support over Chinese support?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Well, one of the things that is borne out by lots of experience around the world is the recognition that governance and human rights, and economic development go hand in hand. You can have economic development without human rights, but it's almost impossible to have inclusive economic development that reaches broad segments of the population. Wealth almost invariably gets concentrated. So, the model of development that looks simultaneously at youth skills training, job creation, domestic resource mobilization, you know, working with the government, to make it easier to start businesses but also to collect tax revenue. 

Or I was just in Papua New Guinea, helping the government and the energy companies collect revenue for electricity that citizens are using – even a modest amount of revenue regularizes the process, makes the flow of energy more reliable. You have to couple these economic programs with an accountability to the people, to citizens who stand to benefit from development program. 

So we really believe that a development model that values transparency, that ensures that private sector investment is conducted in a manner that benefits broad swaths of the population rather than like a couple of government officials who take a bribe or pay a bribe. That fundamentally is going to be better for the broadest possible group of individuals. So too, when you look off the coast of of Fiji or so many of the Pacific Islands, and you see the importance of the fishing sector – those are your fish, making sure that there is regularization of fishing that illegal fishing doesn't destroy the livelihoods of people who have fished for thousands of years, or whose families have fished for thousands of years. 

So, rules, transparency, a non extractive approach. USAID is coming to give grants, we are not coming to take natural resources away from this region. In fact, we'd like to work with reformers on the ground to see more progress, and ensuring that the tremendous natural bounty be protected and preserved. We give grants, we don't give loans, because what we really want to see is the independence, the economic independence of communities as well as nations. So we think this is a really different model, one that emphasizes human rights, transparency, inclusion, environmental safeguards, and economic independence. And we think it's a better model, and we think it'll benefit more people over time. 

And I think that expanding our presence at a time when there are others pushing a very different model – which is much more about concentrating both political and economic power, which tends to stifle the voices of citizens to hold their leaders accountable, allows officials to do what they believe is right but without checks and balances. We believe that ultimately that model is going to be very counterproductive from the standpoint of sustainable economic development, and what we all kind of crave, which is dignity. The ability to realize our full potential. And so, we are back with greater numbers here than we've had in some time and we will continue to expand our presence, believing that in so doing, as they say, all ships will rise. Fundamentally as this region becomes more prosperous and stable, that is good for humanity. It's good for the United States. More democracy, more stability is a net positive for all nations.

QUESTION: Administrator Power, welcome to Fiji. My question is in regards to cybersecurity, and I know that the cyber threat is an increasing issue in the Pacific and in Fiji, and you recently announced that you have an upcoming signing of MoU with USP. You know, data has been stolen and files have been leaked. Given your experience, how will these assistance benefit Fiji to increase its cybersecurity capacity.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. USAID has made, around the world, very substantial investments both in digital connectivity and its necessary companion, cybersecurity. And I think this is the approach that we would wish to take here, but we have a lot to learn from the needs of the government, from the needs of ordinary citizens, from the needs of the private sector. So for right now, the $20 million initiative will emphasize improving broadband access and connectivity across 12 Pacific Island countries.

You heard from the President of the University that the connectivity across USP campuses is a model for regional cooperation. We think we have a lot to learn from how USP has established that regional footprint and, there is a lot economically that can be gained with more connectivity across markets, more connectivity amongst citizens via the digital sphere. But as a design feature of expanded connectivity, from the very beginning, we have to embed attention to cybersecurity. 

So the details of how we do that will be worked out. But you are absolutely right that this is a growing threat, it is a violation of privacy, it is economically, cyber attacks can be economically devastating. In some cases they can do more damage to livelihoods than even physical violent attacks in conflict. So building out the cyber defenses at the same time digital connectivity gets expanded, is how we would seek to approach the MoU with USP and the work across the Pacific Island countries generally.

QUESTION: Hello, again, Ambassador Power. My question is on the basis of women empowerment through political education, is there any kind of workshop that helps women educate themselves, like a workshop probably, to increase job opportunities, maybe, in rural settlements?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, these are exactly the kinds of ideas that our new Mission Director who was just sworn in today will take on board, just looking to see if she is here, but she's not beside us. But this effort to bring the empowerment agenda to rural areas, the inclusion agenda to rural areas, is what USAID does all over the world. And, again, this is not simply a matter of justice, it is that, it's a matter of fairness for women to have equal opportunity, of course, but it is also a matter of economic impact. The only way that a country like Fiji is going to reach its full economic potential is if women get the education, the skills, the exposures, the confidence, the mentorship to fully participate in the economy and help drive that economic progress. 

So at this point, you know, we'll be working through specifics – certainly, women's empowerment programs or things we've done in certain Pacific islands in the past. But right now, as we grow our investments here, I would also say that similar to my answer earlier about youth, thinking about the inclusion of women in all of our programs at the ground floor is very important. Rather than simply having a set of programs for women's empowerment over here. If we are working with farmers, we will be working with women farmers. If we were talking about disaster resilience, it will be women leaders in many communities who will be providing relief or tending to the vulnerable. And so, again, women's empowerment needs to be a throughline in all of USAID’s investments. 

Thank you.

Administrator Power travels to Papua New Guinea and Fiji


In August, Administrator Samantha Power will travel to Papua New Guinea and Fiji to emphasize the U.S. government's commitment to the region and highlight USAID's efforts in the Pacific Islands to make an enduring, positive impact across the diverse countries where USAID works. 

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