Regional Environment programme overwhelmed by growth

The region’s leading environmental organisation is overwhelmed with work and lacks the resources to perform all the tasks its members request of it, the Director General, Leota Kosi Latu, said.

In his Annual Report to the members this week, the head of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (S.P.R.E.P.) said the organisation’s growth, interest from new partners and demands from members is a huge challenge.

“It’s a matter of balancing, because you know members expect us to do everything but you have got to be resourced adequately to respond to that,” Leota said.

S.P.R.E.P is nearing the end of its 29th Annual Meeting this week.

Leota said the growth, especially from increased interest in partners is positive, but needs planning.

“There is an enormous focus on the Pacific region at the moment, so there is a new dynamic in the operating context of S.P.R.E.P,” he said.

“It creates opportunities for the region, but at the same time it does create challenges. 

“And as I said, the ultimate impact of all of that on the Secretariat is that it puts a lot of pressure and extra work for which we are not resourced to do.”

Last year, the organisation published 41 technical reports, 15 of which were national natural resource and environment legislation reviews for member countries.

Its Annual Report states the organisation’s financial performance is improving, with net surplus recorded for the last three years.

It has US$139,740 in the bank in 2018, up a considerably from just $5,123 in 2017.

“The challenge remains for the Secretariat to ensure collective effort by members and executive management to continue to rebuild total reserves,” the report states.

“Based on an increasing portfolio for S.P.R.E.P. which almost doubled to a budget of US$29 million for 2018 and $33 million for 2019, it further reaffirms the need to build a strong and financially sustainable position for the Secretariat.”

But members have been slow to pay their contributions, and some contributions are even too low to fully resource the expectations on S.P.R.E.P the report states.

“The impact of the voluntary nature of payment for Member contributions continues to provide uncertainty in the core funding for S.P.R.EP.”

For core funding, S.P.R.E.P.’s budget outside of project grants, relies on member contributions. 

At its last meeting in 2017, a proposal to increase contributions by 20 per cent was approved. But since then just Australia, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Palau, Samoa and Tuvalu have formalised spending more, and France has agreed to contribute five percent more than it used to.

Last year, S.P.R.E.P. spent US$3.6 million, down from $3.7 million in 2017, and recorded a net surplus of $154,273, down from 2017’s $445,982. 

The big difference comes from a drop in income, and in spite of a four per cent drop in expenses.

Member contributions were down 15 per cent, and other income dropped by $65,303. 

Foreign Exchange losses also dented the organisation's bottom line in 2017 and 2018, from US$15,245 to $39,388.

With all the extra attention on the region, the executive and staff of the organisation are being asked to travel more and work harder, which currently they don’t have the resources to do, Leota said.

He has raised the issue with members in his annual report presentation, and hopes they will alter their expectations of their programme.

“I have to make choices as director general of S.P.R.E.P, it’s not an easy thing,” he said.

“For example I have been asked by French Polynesia to come and speak at a parliamentary session on Monday next week. It was hard for me to say no because they said the president wants you to come.

“As much as I would like to accommodate everything I cannot do that,” he said.

“I have conveyed that to them in my annual report, I want them to know so that their expectations are not unrealistic.

“I will have to make choices, I have to prioritise and make sure I can do this within our mandate, within our priorities, but also within our existing resources.”

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