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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Dec 8, 2000 – Marshall Islands Journal)---The Marshall Islands has opened its first links with the European Union (EU) – ties that are offering the prospect of substantial development aid starting in late 2001.

The RMI’s recent membership in ACP/EU opens the door for at least $1.9 million in development assistance. But, say three Marshalls officials who attended an ACP meeting in Tonga last month, EU funding is not like that coming from the U.S. under the Compact; it is highly competitive and the Marshall Islands will have to perform or the funding will go to other countries in the region.

"The name of the game is performance and accountability," Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Lawrence Edwards said after attending the Tonga meeting. EU membership is opening up a major new source of funding for the RMI, but it is very competitive, he said.

"If you perform, you get the money," said Ministry of Finance’s Carl Hacker.

Dennis Alessio, who joined Edwards and Hacker in Tonga, said the ACP/EU is putting a "strong emphasis on NGOs and the private sector."

Significantly, funding being offered by the EU to its Asia-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) member grouping is aimed at governments, non-governmental organizations and businesses.

In addition to development funding, the RMI’s EU membership allows the country to tap into the European Investment Bank and the Center for Development of Enterprise, Alessio said. EIB has funded some 60 projects in the region, ranging from airport revamps to telecommunication projects to lines of credit for national development banks.

A lot of preparation work must be done by the Marshalls to qualify for ongoing aid in the new 20-year EU funding cycle. A variety of country strategy reports must be produced by early 2001. Both Alessio and Hacker said these tie in with the National Economic and Social Summit scheduled for March, as the EU requires participation of the public in development of the government’s planning documents.

The RMI must designate priority development areas for EU funding. Once this is determined, then projects from NGOs (including schools, churches, etc.) and private sector companies can be submitted in addition to government projects.

According to Hacker, the message from the Tonga meeting was keep the project areas simple and focus on just one or two sectors.

"Samoa, for example, has one large program aimed at improving water delivery in rural areas, and a smaller umbrella program to support NGOs and small business development, both of which are easily managed and have been refunded following a mid-term review," Hacker said.

The Minister of Finance will be the National Authorizing Officer for the EU funds.

Once priority areas are decided, Hacker noted that NGOs will have a much better opportunity for tapping into funding if they work together, since the EU tends to fund large scale projects.

Alessio said one of the very positive aspects of the RMI’s ACP/EU membership is that it allows all groups, not just the government, to be involved. "There’s definitely something for the private sector here," Hacker said.

Edwards agreed, "In the past, the government was the center of all development aid. Now, NGOs, including churches, can get help."

But, Hacker pointed out, "If we are not performing they will take away funding from the RMI and pass it onto someone else.

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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