IN his closing remarks at a lunchtime banquet held in his honor in Taipei last week, Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela made an interesting remark. As a matter of fact, it is a phrase in diplomatic parlance I have come across for the first time.
It is this.
“The cordial and friendly tie between our two countries is bound by the principle of leaving no one behind.”
It’s a great statement of intent indeed – the principle of leaving no one behind.
Properly adhered to in spirit and the letter of its intent, it is a good principle. It is good because its intention is inclusive and caring. In broader terms, and fairly applied, it has the potential of making the people of Solomon Islands feel they are not being left behind.
However, the phrase stands to be interpreted in different ways.
In many ways the phrase must have epitomised the intention of Taiwan’s multi-billion dollar aid program to Solomon Islands over the last 40 years. Policymakers in Taipei must have felt that no Solomon Islander should be left behind.
In the context of Solomon Islands, nearly 65 per cent of the nation’s growing and groaning population have been left behind in recent years in terms of their share in Taiwan’s funding – more than $100 million each year.
One assumes that education, health and agriculture are paramount in the funding disbursements, particularly in the rural areas. And the annual funding is more than enough.
In many ways we in the Solomons have not seen evidence of any tangible economic growth from Taiwan’s investment because politicians have changed roles with technocrats. Instead of sticking to being lawmakers, politicians have assumed the role of administering and controlling donor funding for development.
As a result, many in Solomon Islands have been left behind. The funding has become divisive in more ways than one. This is why I have advocated the need for tied aid.
In the current free-for-some aid, only those who voted for winning candidates enjoy the money lavished on us by Taiwan, whose intention, unlike ours, it is that the funds be distributed equally for the benefits of all the people of Solomon Islands, particularly the 85 per cent of the population that live in rural Solomon Islands. This eighty-five per cent is a reservoir of resources waiting to be tapped, waiting to be unleashed given the fair and correct policy mix.
Instead of the free money doing wonders in the rural area, in terms of helping people in engaging in small scale businesses, it had turned many a community into them and us.
In more ways than one, the free money has become a weapon of threat against those who used their democratic rights to vote for the candidate of their choice. It is going to happen again when Solomon Islands go to the poll in February/March next year.
Consequently, thousands of rural people will again feel being left behind unless there is a complete overhaul of the current system of disbursing Taiwan’s aid money.
Sadly only 35 percent of Solomon Islands’ population enjoy Taiwan’s money year in, year out. It would seem this would continue into the medium and longer term unless there is a change in direction, purpose and vision.
Solomon Islands will continue to take the plunge down the tube with little hope for a bright future for the rest of the people of Solomon Islands unless there is a change.
Then and only then will the principle of leaving no one behind will be meaningful to the people of Solomon Islands.