U.N. work in Samoa under the microscope

The United Nation’s (U.N.) work in Samoa went under the microscope this week as the international organisation prepares next year’s agenda for the Pacific region. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T.) joined several other Ministries and civil society organisations met the U.N. agencies working in the country this week to review the achievements of its recent 2018 and 2019 achievements against the goals laid out in the U.N’s Pacific Strategy.

The country's Resident U.N. Coordinator, Simona Marinescu, said while their work is being driven by the regional agenda, it is important that each member state appreciates its specific country-level agenda. 

“It’s a big step forward in the Pacific, moving from a regional framework in which all 14 countries are lumped together into country specific frameworks,” she said.

“This is much clearer and much more simplified and more relevant to people in the room.  There is no point to talk about regional achievements in the Pacific if it is not clear how much that benefited the people of Samoa.”

As well as Samoa, Niue, Tokelau and the Cook Island are undergoing the same process; the U.N office in Fiji is working with the other 10 Pacific nations too.

Following the review, the U.N will submit a 2020 plan for Samoa to M.F.A.T. for their consideration.

The U.N.'s work in Samoa should hopefully be closely aligned with the vision of the Samoa 2040 strategy being devised for next year, Ms. Marinescu said. 

It is one of the areas the Government representatives specifically highlighted in their Thursday high level review of the U.N.

“It was a positive meeting with good feedback received from the room,” Ms. Marinescu said. “We were requested to be more responsive to the priorities of the country and that is something we will look into.”

Plans for the next year of U.N work look bright with three major projects, worth a collective US$8 million.

The Spotlight Initiative on gender based violence ($4 million), social protection work ($3 million) and the Knowledge Society Initiative ($1 million) are all expected to kick off in 2020.

New Zealand is also investing more money into Pacific programmes. Ms. Marinescu said Samoa can expect to see funding going towards four U.N agencies for projects focusing on early childhood development, implementing and reporting on the Convention against Corruption and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It will also be funding the Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (R.E.A.C.H.) programme attempting to improve access to Government services for rural communities. 

“In terms of financing we feel quite comfortable that with all this money,” Ms. Marinescu said.

“We hope we will be able to spend the money. 

“We await formulation of the first draft of the Government strategy, to sit together with Government and see whether we are aligned sufficiently or whether we need to make some adjustments.”

When it comes to aligning priorities and work plans, the U.N “could not ask for more” from the Government of Samoa, she added.

“You can see clarity on the Government side that the U.N is a player that matters and the U.N could be a partner of choice in many areas.

“When we go into the nitty gritty on both sides, some adjustments are required on our side… the U.N needs to listen, then process and come up with a proposal.”

But the Government needs to use the U.N in the “best way possible” by working towards systemic changes in society, Ms. Marinescu said. 

Offering training and funding workshops will not go far enough without policy and legislation in place to maintain efforts to improve society, she believes.

What’s more, sometimes Governments do not realise where their role begins and the U.N’s role ends.

In Samoa, the Government has expressed they want the U.N to work on the youth employment and gender equality agendas. 

“For us, the entire youth agenda and gender equality requires a systemic response,” Ms. Marinescu said.

“First of all, the U.N does not create jobs for youth, it is supposed to enable the environment for youth to be able to secure jobs and have the right skills and seek jobs and be able to advance in their jobs and secure a good income.

“It's always difficult to explain that reducing poverty, integrating youth and ensuring society is gender equal requires lots of layers. 

She said even in those two areas alone there are several ways the system needs to improve before practical improvements like job seeker support and female empowerment exercises can be effective.

“You can take the U.N and use it like you would an N.G.O, and train 200 people in digital skills.

“But unless we create a system in which there is an education programme that takes care of skills development in I.C.T., that we have the [Samoa Qualifications Authority] including software development in their classifications, that it is a profession in Samoa [that stipulates] what kind of education is required for that and what is the salary range, then we have the final certificate recognised by the public sector and private sector, then the system change is not happening.”

Another example she offers is that of domestic violence, a challenge the U.N is committed to facing. 

“Those are things that are deeply rooted into culture, and we would like to be able to contribute to a change that is positive to women and girls and children in general.

“That doesn't happen in a project in a year that is a systemic change.

“Just training some of the N.G.O.s as to how to respond to that will not solve the problem. We need to go deep to the roots… It's the perception of what a woman represents in the family, in the community that we should help improve.” 


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