Huge problem needing immediate attention

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DEAR EDITOR, the seemingly intractable problem of youth unemployment in the Solomon Islands must be resolved quickly and by all means possible.

Next year the Solomon Islands will have a general election and whichever political party or coalition of parties forms the new administration one of the greatest challenges for the government, as I see it, will be to effectively address the seemingly intractable problem of youth unemployment, but how?

The Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, is one of the latest to say that the issue of youth unemployment in the Solomon Islands is a potential time bomb.

An editorial piece in the Solomon Star following the successful Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival gave a similar stark warning.

Writing in the Solomon Times on Line publication in 2014, I said:

“The seemingly intractable problems associated with youth unemployment in Honiara and the resulting evidence of increased substance abuse, including the growing and use of marijuana, the consumption of kwaso (home brew), incidences of anti-social behaviour and criminal acts have featured significantly in Editorial columns of the local press and in other articles this past week.

“Honiara isn’t alone in facing the problems highlighted and, indeed, it can be said many of the Pacific states face the same, if not more serious, issues arising from the respective nation’s ability to manage development and provide for the rapidly growing population. The Solomon Islands is no exception.

“The various schemes implemented by the government, such as the rapid employment scheme and the offshore, seasonal work offered to young people engaged in fruit harvesting simply isn’t enough to meet the needs and expectations of the growing numbers of school drop outs and idle youth flooding into the national capital from the provinces.

“I am not alone in describing the current situation as a security challenge akin to a ticking time bomb, although I likened the situation of the unemployed youth in 2009 to a tinder box. (See my letter to the Pacific Islands Report entitled, ‘Idle Solomons Youth a Tinder Box’, published on 10 December 2009)”.

In the same article I suggested that the then SIG re-examine the findings and projected solutions to youth unemployment in the excellent report styled, ‘The State of Pacific Youth – 2005’ written under the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF Pacific) and funded by the New Zealand’s International Aid and Development Agency (NZAID.

My recommendation, if followed, might not have proved helpful for in the subsequent report of the same name in released in 2011 the conclusion was that nothing much had changed and youth unemployment continued to be a substantial challenge in Pacific countries.

In the last few days the Prime Minister, the Hon. Rick Hou, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Senator Marise Payne, on a Labour Mobility Scheme

The idea of the scheme will possible provide Solomon Islanders with the opportunity to gain valuable skills and income while assisting businesses in rural and regional Australia.

A similar kind of scheme already exists with New Zealand allowing for Solomon Islanders to participate in fruit harvesting.

While greatly appreciative of the help offered by Australia, New Zealand and all the other players, locally, including [email protected], few have been taken to scale to address the demand that exists.

The successor to the ‘State of Pacific Youth’ reports that I have referred to has been the development of a Pacific Youth Development Framework 2014-2023. This is said to be a coordinated approach to youth-centred development in the Pacific, prepared by the Social Development Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in Suva, Fiji.

Having read through the lengthy Framework over the last couple of days and studied the contents carefully, and without wishing to be critical, I very much hope the development guidance offered will help to ease the growing and worrying state of youth unemployment in Solomon Islands and in the neighbouring Pacific region.

When I consider the continuing widening gap between the country’s population and its ability to economically sustain its people with a recurring declining economy prompt-up by substantial donor aid and a continuing inadequate education system, I do concern myself greatly for the job prospects of the burgeoning Solomon Islands youth.

As an outsider one might legitimately pose the question of me as to why I care.

I can give several reasons apart from having an ongoing interest in the welfare, health and livelihoods of the people of the Solomon Islands.

When I left school, now many years ago, I too faced the long-term prospect of unemployment in Britain, but my situation was resolved by being conscripted into National Service in 1959.

After the Second World War (1939-45), the young men of Britain were called upon to meet new challenges in a rapidly changing world.

National Service, a standardized form of peacetime conscription was introduced in 1947 for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 30 to undertake 2 years of military service.

National Service gave me the means of overseas travel, opportunities for further education and led to employment after finishing my military engagement.

I have a very much more personal reason, however, for concerning myself about the numbers of unemployed young people in the Solomon Islands.

In 1998, when serving as the Commissioner of Police in the Solomon Islands I accurately provided the intelligence to forecast the early occurrences which was to lead to the tragedy of the ethnic tension years.

My report and advice, including help for the local police force, and then weakened substantially by years of neglect by successive governments, went unheeded at home and regionally.

What followed was an unprecedented ethnic tension from 1999 resulting in armed conflict with militia groups and ultimately resulted in the late intervention of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in 2003.

In the intervening period from 1999 to 2003, the dreadful and tragic ethnic trouble caused serious economic, social and political disruptions and loss of lives and property.

The conflict also negated the programme of important structural reforms that had been initiated by the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change Government (SIAC) in 1997.

The strife consequently used up valuable resources that would have otherwise have gone to improving basic service delivery, education and educational reform.

Taking many years to get the economy back on track to its pre-ethnic crisis helped to rob the youth of potential job opportunities.

A National Youth Policy was unveiled in 2000 in order to promote youth development but it appeared to fail in meeting it’s outlined key strategic challenges, perhaps because of funding shortages or the economic and political weaknesses that lingered after the onset of the ethnic tension.

In 2018, I see, with few exceptions today’s young people are floundering. They are uncertain about what they want to do with their lives. They need a structured opportunity that will allow them to feel needed and capable and, above all, they need paying jobs.

It will be for the Solomon Islands Government to try and provide the work opportunities the youth of the country greatly and urgently need.

I truly hope to see such happen before the predicted social consequences that have been foreseen really do occur.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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