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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (December 15, 2000 – Marshall Islands Journal)---Former Tuvalu Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu has some good advice for the Marshall Islands in a detailed report issued earlier this month: "Our Destiny in Our Hands."

The report, written in close consultation with the government and people of the RMI, is about "sustainable development." His message is if the Marshall Islands wants to reduce its dependency on U.S. aid, improve the quality of life for all Marshallese, and not wreck the fragile environment – yes, it can be done. But, he says, national and local elected leaders, the public service and the general public need to change their attitudes and refocus the goals of the Marshall Islands with real participation of all parts of the community – not just government leaders – to accomplish this Herculean task of shifting development paths.

Why sustainable development?

Paeniu says that conventional development approaches in the RMI since the late 1970s aimed at high rates of economic growth have not benefited the majority of the population. Moreover, he says, "development was something governments did for or to the people. It was basically the ‘top-down’ development approach, and still is in present day Marshall Islands." The lack of people participation is a major cause "of the failures of development…to improve the lives of the majority of the Marshallese people," he says.

Sustainable development is about development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," Paeniu said. It has now become the focus for improving the quality of life for the people because only a minority of the local population benefited from earlier development.

But sustainable development won’t happen by itself. It will "need innovative approaches and changes away from the traditional failing economic policy measures," he says. The saying – "you cannot be normal and expect abnormal results" – is the challenge to the leaders and people of the Marshall Islands, he says.

There are two key points that Paeniu continually returns to:

· The urgent need for people to participate in development planning and decision-making.

· The need to link development and the environment from the outset, to develop a capacity to "anticipate and prevent" rather than having to go back to "react and cure" problems.

The government of the Marshall Islands will not be able to effectively implement sustainable development if it continues to leave out the people, especially in the identification of needs, project planning and implementation," Paeniu says. "What is development after all? If the principal goal for development is to create sustainable improvements in the quality of life for all citizens, then obviously the ‘people’ must be the center of development."

Paeniu includes numerous practical recommendations ranging from national budget preparation and an aid management office to decentralization and operations of the public service and individual ministries.

Paeniu says that it will take the strong commitment of everyone in the Marshall Islands to successfully launch the RMI on the sustainable development path.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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