30 September 2010
In 21st century Solomons, village people are cash poor. Unfortunately, this reality has grown over many years, really since the nation's independence in 1978. And it really shouldn't be that way at all since it is they, the villager, who actually own and control the nation's vast mineral, tree, sea and water wealth.
Now that commercial logging is beginning to seriously dry up, government is starting to push the panic button. Its asking itself: Where will it get funds to run the nation—education, medical, salaries, etc.—if its biggest money-spinner no longer generates the necessary cash?
Gold Ridge when it comes on stream will still be at least a year away. The whole mining sector which is just getting on its feet still has a long way to go to imitate the logging industry of the 1990s and 2000s. During those days it furnished government coffers with much of its most needed revenue.
Solomons rural areas with its vast population base—8 out of every 10 islanders—are village based. The Ministry of Finance must be tearing its hair out trying to figure out ways of tapping into this great tax base. Currently most village people are cash poor; they don't have money under their beds, in check accounts at the bank or in their pockets.
So if economic activity could be markedly increased at the village level, then the nation's tax base could be substantially increased and the huge financial hole which the treasury is currently feeling would began to close. Hence, this is the major reason why the present Government and others on the other side of the house are interested, quite interested, in fact, on the idea of Growth Centres.
But the whole idea of starting up a Growth Centre is about bringing the bulk of our people into the 21st Century which is truly one of access to clear, pertinent and accurate information. Once our people are on the receiving end of this kind of information, then economic activity is not far behind.
Do you remember what happened in the early days of our Social Unrest years—1998-2003? Many Honiara families who se husbands were government employees—teachers, doctors, nurses, ministry workers, etc.—found themselves without a salary on payday. Mothers of families didn't just descend into panic but opened up barbeque stalls, became betel nut sellers, hawked donuts, small cakes, etc.
In other words the economy didn't just dry up just because the government wasn't able to pay its workers on time. People simply took up newly created jobs and remained economically creative. In less than five years, for instance, the growing of flowers, preparing funeral wreaths and doing of flower arrangement became a thriving industry.
Government's dilemma of not having enough cash on hand to run the country shouldn't force it into short cuts. Growth Centres at the constituency level is a sure fire way of generating more and more income for those who have traditionally been overlooked. But the real lack at the village level is less about cold, hard cash but the severe lack of up-to-date, pertinent and clear information about the world about them.
To this date, the olos of our country have never been exposed to a constant and clear understanding why it would be in their best interest to allow their land holdings to be used for development. Four years have now passed since the 2006 signings, when Malaita people were informed how beneficial oil palm plantings would be for them. Yet, not a single oil palm has been planted.
Is it a case of the olos not being able to comprehend or is more likely to do with the constant, continuous and consistent information flow which they have lacked for many years now? The Village still remains an information-poor zone and it has hurt us economically.