LIRNEasia has won the contract to establish the Pacific ICT Regulatory Resource Center, based at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. This assignment from the World Bank will see M. Aslam Hayat, Senior Policy Fellow, relocate to Suva (actually he should land in Suva today) to establish the center as its founder director.
In line with the axiom that all problems are easy if we can solve the hardest ones, LIRNEasia has been interested in the problems of regulation in micro states. This is where capacity issues are most challenging. Dilini Wijeweera calculated based on benchmarks that Bhutan, a country with a population of 690,000, cannot have a regulatory agency with more than 25-30 people. The developing countries in the Pacific, except two, are smaller than Bhutan. The solution to the problem of effectively regulating with a staff of less than 25 deserves the equivalent of the Nobel in our field.
That is why we bid for the contract to establish and run a regulatory resource center embedded in the University of the South Pacific to support the regulators in the Cook Islands (19,808 population), the Federated States of Micronesia (110,728), Fiji (849,218), Kiribati (98,045), Nauru (10,210), Niue (1,477), Palau (20,457), Papua New Guinea (6,732,159), Marshall Islands (62,041), Samoa (178,846), Solomon Islands (523,170), Tonga (103,976), Tuvalu (9,929), and Vanuatu (239,788).
The Center has two years of funding from the World Bank. During that short start-up period, we must make the Center so useful to the member countries that they will make it their own and be motivated to contribute to its revenues. This is terribly hard. It is one thing to partake of club goods (a subset of public goods that are excludable but are not rivalrous) when offered free, but quite another when a price is put on them. Within the economics perspective, the free-rider problem suggests that there will always be an outlier who will feel like taking the benefits without paying the fees. Within a political science frame, it will be the problem of collective governance that will pose the greatest threat. It is extremely rare for 14 countries to have a successful governance arrangement for anything. But the University of the South Pacific where we will be housed, is a collective enterprise and it works. We hope Pacific IRRC can be as, or more, successful.