Solomon Islands, aid worm?

Commentary 

WHEN we talked about independent, it means self-dependent or autonomous to superior countries.

However, for Solomon Islands (SI) it’s contradictory which is dependent instead.

Solomon Islands attained its independence on 7 July 1978 and has now grown 37 years old; thus far, it still relies heavily on external aid.

The aid-dependency habit continuously sprouts and chows the country’s fragile economy.

Breaking out of this dependency cycle had seen successive regimes battling in exertion to reduce it.

Effort not to stop but to reduce aid reliance is not an easy assignment, as it requires government willpower.

I guess Solomon Islands will not be wrapped-off of this cycle (aid-dependency) unless it develops or has exhausted all its natural resources with its external debts recompensed and borrowing from donors reduced.

The Ministry of Finance & Treasury through its Debt Management Unit (DMU) revealed in its 2015 monthly debt report on 30 June 2015 that the government owed debt close to a billion which is SBD$874.78m (total official debt).

This figure includes domestic debt, external debt plus Other Debt Obligations (ODO).

However, with the recent historic repayment made by the DCC government to all its domestic debt, I believe the figure has made a drop.

This has shown government’s commitment in settling its arrears (debts) and keeping the level of debt in the country at a sustainable and affordable level.

Yet, we cannot rule it out here, as this (aid-dependency) is habitual to Solomon Islands with every government being liable to repay sizable dose to its creditors both internal (domestic) and external.

According to United Nation, news release (22ndFebruary 2011), Cephas Lumina, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt revealed that foreign aid accounts for over 60 per cent of the development budget of the Solomon Islands.

It’s recognizable that though millions of dollars propelled into the country from donors, lack of such tangible development desired by Solomon Islanders is visible.

Even if you could asked any illiterate rural dweller, he/she can tell you upfront that thousands and millions of funds which came in the name of rural development or Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF) hardly reaches or is felt by them.

None at all in some locality except, domestic development like distribution of solar panels & lights, roofing irons etc, by Member of Parliament to their constituencies.

Nevertheless, these assistances are just short term improvement.

I think it’s time the PMs need to look beyond their nose and initiate development project that can benefit people in the long run.

Like inject assistance in cocoa production and coconut since many people are rural farmers.

Government needs to provide local farmers with financial support and find way out or market avenues so that they (local farmers) could sell their products into overseas market.

A fine example is Varivao Holdings .Ltd, local enterprise in Isabel Province.

Indigenous business owners should be the government priority.

Assistance and support needs to direct to them in order to bolster their production.

Due to the fact that they contribute to the local economy growth, they deserve such support from the government.

In a recent (13th Dec 2015) radio talkback show with Transparency Solomon International (TSI) on SIBC about the topic “Development and Constituency Development Fund (CDF)” it reveals that each constituency received SBD$6.68million per (this) year which is a big dose of money indeed.

I believe if that sizable amount of money had been utilized for its intended purposes, by now people would see/felt some effective development/changes in their constituency.

But none ensues.

This is the evidence that such funds has been politicized by MPs while taking privilege of it to lure supporters to certify they retain their seats in the round house come another election.

Solomon Politics could be termed as money ploy.

It’s a political chaos when MPs are handling CDF with brink of fruitlessness.

This has raised questions as to why, how and where did the funds (million $$) has been used or do MPs know the intentional purpose of such funds?

Clearly, this reveals exploitation and mismanagement of such funds.

People are handling huge doshes (money) without knowing its envisioned purpose which at the end of the day brings no better change at all or desired development in the country.

Whilst aid is succeeding in contributing to human development, dependency on foreign aid can be more problematic.

This is not, as is sometimes argued, because aid dependency hinders economic development or mobilisation of domestic resources.

But it challenges countries’ ability to design their own development strategies, which is what is needed if development is to really take root in this country (Solomons).

This attitude of (aid) dependency has crushed on a developing country like Solomon Islands by reducing its policy sovereignty, undermining recipient governments’ accountability to their own citizens and making it harder for them to plan their development programmes due to its randomness.

With the unstoppable dependency, I recommend that government needs to put in place such strategies to help reduce or help Solomon Islands loose from the enslavement.

It will be something this country won’t go without unless proper strategies are designed and in place, not to stop but to reduce it.

While it is commendable that such aid assistance is provided to the country, it is just as important to promote self-sustaining economic growth and development.

This is to ensure Solomon Islands are able to come out of the cycle of aid dependency.

It’s a need that Solomon Islands ought to have a human right-based approach to guide the design and implementation of aid projects in the country.

This is to ensure indigenous people are recognized as key actors in their own development, rather than passive recipients of commodities and services.

And also to guarantee the development process is locally owned.

This I assume will help ensure development challenges in the country (SI) to be adequately and fairly addressed and that’s the ultimate rights of the people fully respected in the course.

The country needs to promote the empowerment of local experts, both in government and in civil society.

And reduce the unjustifiably large number of technical advisers most whom are nationals of donor countries currently working in governmental departments in the country as part of aid programmes.

It is the full responsibility of the SI government to ensure direction that aid takes in the country, and, put in place a regulatory environment that warrants a transparent, accountable and people-centered delivery of aid.

Solomon Islands are blessed with abundant natural resources but how to utilize them is an issue.

That is why it’s decisive that measures to attract external investment should be directed to ensuring the country’s resources are used in a sustainable means and that the benefits of investments added to the people, especially the poorest, rather than one-sidedly boost the investors.

As such, Australia is the largest donor in Solomon Islands, providing around seventy per cent of SI aid through its aid program to the country (Solomons).

Since 2003, Australia has, through our bilateral program and the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), restored law and order, rebuilt national institutions and stabilized the economy.

Solomon Islands is ranked 157th out of 187 countries according to the 2014 UN Human Development Index.

Its GDP per capita, among the lowest in the region at US$2000 per capita, has only now recovered to income levels before the Tensions in 1998-2003.

Around 23 per cent of the population lives below the basic needs poverty line.

Solomon Islands remain one of the most aid dependent countries in the world and lags behind other Pacific countries on most development indicators.

With this habitual aid addiction, it stands a question; how long will this country (SI) continue to strive on with this aid enslavement?

By STEPHEN DIISANGO

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