[24th February 2012: Majuro, Marshall Islands] "We have much to share and learn in return."This was the impression of the Cook Islands' Director of International Affairs and former Budget & Economic Policy Manager, Ms Dallas Young, currently in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, on a Peer Review of Development Coordination.
Ms Young says she was honoured to be selected by the Government of the Marshall Islands to be part of the team to review their processes of budgeting, planning and development partner assistance.
"There are a lot of things that I think we can share government to government," said Ms Young. "I'm quite excited about being involved in this exercise and being supported by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat."
Ms Young added: "Nothing's perfect in any of the governments of the Pacific I think. My expectation of this exercise is to share some of the good work that we've been doing in the Cook Islands over the last few years and see whether it is possible to easily translate this to other island settings.
"We've come up with some new initiatives, especially in the budget area that I can share with the Marshall Islands, but I also look forward to learning from them as well."
Ms Young added that she also looked forward to learning from other Peer Review members, including Mr Colin Tavi from Vanuatu who has significant experience with monitoring and evaluation of aid efforts.
"Vanuatu has an actual dedicated unit for monitoring and evaluating outcomes and development effectiveness. This is something we don't have in the Cook Islands, so it's also been quite interesting for me to learn from him, so I can take these experiences back to the Cook Islands."
The Peer Review team also includes monitoring and evaluation expert from the United Nations System in Suva, Mr Mosese Qasenivalu.
"I would recommend this exercise to every other Pacific island and to other public sector professionals passionate about systematic improvements to development systems," said Ms Young. "For the Marshall Islands, they are just about to develop their national development plan, so I think it's very timely that they've asked the countries in the region to come and help them to review their processes to strengthen them."
Development coordination in the Marshall Islands is becoming an increasing area of attention, with the primary donor, the United States of America providing at least $57 million annually until 2023.
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Marshall Islands is derived mainly from payments made by the United States under the terms of the Compact of Free Association (COFA). COFA defines the relationship that each of three sovereign states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, have entered into as associated states with the United States.
Direct U.S. aid accounts for approximately 61.3% of the Marshall Islands' annual budget.
"As the Marshall Islands approaches 2023, they need to be looking at how they can effectively channel donor partner support, increasing sustainable private sector-led growth, and reducing recurrent expenditure where possible," remarked Ms Young.
"There are things that we have done in the Cook Islands, such as economic and fiscal forecasting, and how we take on medium-term budgeting frameworks, that I think I'll be able to share with those here and add value at that end.
"We currently have an aid management unit in the Ministry of Finance, and with the move to budget support across the region, countries want to be more in control of the money that they receive. I think generally Finance is the place where there are a lot of strong systems for public financial management and accountability to channel and process development assistance."
The Peer Review in the Marshall Islands concludes this week, following consultations with ministers and officials in central planning and financial management agencies and key service delivery agencies (e.g. education and health), representatives of key development partners, representatives of non-government organisations and the private sector, among others. Their advice will be sent to the Government of the Marshall Islands and development partners for consideration and reported to Pacific Islands Forum Leaders at their annual meeting this year.
Other Pacific island nations Nauru and Kiribati were the first to undergo Peer Reviews in 2010, followed by Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Niue in 2011, with positive early gains reported by countries.
Peer Reviews are an initiative under the 2009 Cairns Compact for Strengthening Development Coordination (Forum Compact), which is a commitment by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders to support the implementation of Pacific Plan priorities, providing the principles and processes for coordinated delivery.
The ultimate purpose of the Peer Review process is to assist peer review host countries to improve the planning, budgeting and delivery of development programmes, consequently improving development outcomes and accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).