DEAR EDITOR, in once more writing in furthering my concern for the plight of the unemployed youth in the Solomon Islands and, without in any way wanting to be seen as interfering in local and external politics concerning the working of the Solomon Islands Government in its relationship with development partners and foreign governments, I would like to ask what has happened to the proposal to institute Special Economic Zones in selected areas of the country?
Are Special Economic Zones still a feature of the National Development Strategy (NDS) 2016-2035 which was officially launched some two years ago?
When introduced, the NDS presented five broad objectives that were envisaged to contribute towards achieving an overall vision and long term objectives, including poverty alleviation and jobs.
While it might be argued that many young people in the Solomon Islands ought to change their mindset about farming as a source of employment and realize that farming work has the potential to create more income than paid employment in the formal work sector, there is also the fact that rural and customary land needs to be made available for commercial and agricultural development.
The prospect of Special Economic Zones heralded the local belief that jobs would become available and especially when the former Taiwanese Ambassador to the Solomon Islands gave more than a hint of Taiwanese support for the creation of local Special Economic Zones on the model of those created in Taiwan.
It might be recalled that in July 2016, former Prime Minister Manneseh Sogavare announced that his government would soon put in place legislation to guide the establishment of Special Economic Zones.
On that occasion, Hon Sogavare said he had told the visiting Papua New Guinea-based Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy that Chinese investors should be interested in forming partnerships to invest in the SEZs.
Mr Sogavare said the idea was to zone the country into various economic areas so different provinces could enter into activities that would be specifically feasible for their people.
He said the government would use the Public Private Partnership Development Concept when creating the SEZs.
In his National Day speech in July the same year, Ambassdor Victor Yu was quoted as having said:
“As for Taiwan’s development: Taiwan was an agriculture society like Solomon Islands, but we are on a mountainous island with limited arable land and no natural resources. What we have are 23 million people. Over a few decades, Taiwan has fostered its engineering competence, managerial know how, and ingenuity by developing human resources through education.
“By setting up special industrial zones, Taiwan attracted foreign investment and gradually established its own industrial base. Then through more investment in R&D, Taiwan managed to upgrade itself into a knowledge-based high-tech economy of today.
“This is Taiwan’s model of economic development to share with Solomon Islands. I am very glad to see one of the Solomon Islands’ government development strategies is to establish Special Economic Zones to attract foreign investment. This may be the way to Solomon Islands’ economic development. We are earnest to see its fruition.”
It has been noted, I understand by the World Bank that the Solomon Islands is at a critical juncture in its development trajectory.
The very high degree of international engagement in the post-conflict period has been considerably scaled back, in terms of both financial assistance and the supplementation of state capacity.
At the same time, Solomon Islands is likely to embark on a transition from logging to mining as the key driver of growth.
All the foregoing having been said and a NDS in place, I respectfully pose the question what practical and achievable development strategies are in hand which will help Solomon Islands young people acquire paid work in either the agriculture sector or formal work place in both the short and longer term?