By Gary Hatigeva
A local beche-de-mer company was responsible for opening up the pathway for what had started the influx of foreign nationals who came as investors, says the Minister for Commerce, Immigration, Labour and Industries.
Minister William Marau revealed this when questioned in Parliament on Monday, over what has been described as the concerning high influx of the increasing number Bangladeshis who are accused of coming into the country in the name of investment, only to venture into the businesses that are reserved for Solomon Islanders.
Leader of the Official Opposition Group and MP for East Malaita, Manasseh Maelanga had questioned why there was a sudden influx of Bangladesh nationals into Solomon Islands and how they are able to be given permission to operate businesses that are meant for locals only.
In his response, Mr Marau explained that it all started with these Bangladesh groups coming through a local company that is heavily involved in the Beche-de-mer business here.
After working a little while, they decided to start their own businesses, which the Minister clarified that no law actually stops them from doing so, but revealed that they themselves have taken matters into their own hands by expanding the scale of influx and business activities.
The Minister further explained that after starting up their own businesses, they started recruiting from their people, most of which were directly from Bangladesh, to work for their newly established businesses or companies.
Marau also clarified that the allowance of Bangladesh people was on the basis that were according to the Act, and that was for them to operate within a 200 square metre, which according to the minister, was straight forward.
But they went ahead to breach the provisions within the act that guides the said matter with the activities they are involved in and the type of operations they have as businesses.
He said the approved licences were according to the laws, with clear criteria and strict guides, and that is for them to operate with the Honiara City Business District (CBD), and again, within no less than 200 square metre of land or property, but added that the foreigners themselves have taken the initiative to operate outside of the said boundaries and different forms of businesses.
Marau agreed that the issue raised is of serious concern to the ministry and as result, the ministry together with the Honiara City Council and the Guadalcanal province have teamed up through the formation of committee that has since been looking into this issue thoroughly.
He said a good number of follow-ups from the committee was held in June and again last month, and this he said, had led to businesses owned and operated by these nationals being closed.
He then explained that the combined team is currently running a monitoring programme on all foreign national owned businesses throughout Honiara as part of the same exercise, to ensure that they are not doing what the other business that were closed, have been doing.
The matter has got many to speak out on an issue said to be within the scope of governments for years now, yet very little or no actions, have been done to deal with it.
Others interviewed after the Question and Answer Session shared that while it is a concern for parliament, the people of this country must also be warned and reminded, as these foreigners are taking advantage of our vulnerabilities and ignorance to strike deals with no balance.
Others say while it is good to have foreigners coming into the country with their creativities and innovations, the authorities should stop giving out the shop businesses status to them and start looking into getting investors for the production and industrial sectors.
“We need such investors to help boost our economy at the same time, create opportunities for employments, because currently, the way things are done, these foreigners would start of after coming in under a different company, and then start bringing in their own employees, who’d be extending the cycle.”
There was also the suggestion for the country through any future government, to look into putting entry requirements for investors or interested businesses, based on figures in terms of money, and this would attract only the genuine investors.
But in his summary statement before ending the Question and Answer Session on this issue, Maelanga stressed that the country needs to look properly into the types of businesses that are there for foreign nationals and which for the locals, with strict measures to protect these avenues.
He said the country also needs to get this issue sorted, whether in this house or the new one, in order to get the right investors into the country, with a thorough assessment on those intending to invest in the country is highly needed.
“Despite whatever the circumstances that our people are faced with, we still need to protect these fronts for them and our future Solomon Islands generations, and therefore, let us stop giving out the retail commercial status to any foreign investor,” the Opposition Leader shared.