“I AM the eldest in the family and I feel a sense of responsibility to make something of my life so that I can be able to support my family.”
The sentiment shared by Mike Toni from Veramogho village in South Guadalcanal is not far from what most Solomon Islanders are also thinking of when hoping to get into the Labor Mobility Scheme.
The Labor Mobility Scheme is an objective of Pacific Island political leaders to increase access for Pacific Island country workers to Australia and New Zealand.
With this employment opportunity in higher economies, Solomon Islanders are looking into this scheme as an opportunity to improve their living standards and productivity.
But the process to get into the system is not as rosy as it sounds.
“I have been here since last week trying to get a passport,” says Toni.
Most of those trying to get into the Labor Mobility Scheme are those trying to get a passport for the first time.
The process to acquire a passport is one that is not easy.
With the influx of people seeking new passports, the passport section is now trying to cope with the high demand.
“I submitted my documents in May this year. Because I reside in Auki, I have to go back to the province while waiting for the process to complete.
“I arrived last week with the hope that my passport will be ready for collection but this was not the case,” another passport applicant said.
“The reason given was that the system was down since then, which was why I am not able to get my passport yet,” he added.
Meanwhile Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Riley Mesepitu says the system for passports has been down since May.
“Work to fix this issue has to be done remotely from a company in Malaysia.
“They were not able to get it done till recently. So unfortunately, we have to start the process again for some whose names were lost from the system.
“However, they should be in the priority list,” Mesepitu says.
Edmond Wasi comes from Malaita province and was not able to get through the process yet, let alone the first stage.
“I reside at Burnscreek with relatives. I am the second last child in a family of seven.
“My parents are in Malaita. I went to school mostly in Malaita.
“I finished school at form 6 and went on to do plumbing at a vocational school at Henderson.
“I did my practical session at the National Referral Hospital and when the call for applicants into the Labor Mobility Scheme came out I decided to try my luck,” Wasi says.
Talks of nepotism and corruption seemed to be rife among those congregating in front of the Commerce Ministry’s gates.
Claims were made that security and government officers are bribing applicants to pay extra to get their application through above the rest.
The allegations did not go unnoticed by the Ministry.
“We have lodged an investigation into the claims and currently we are on it to see if the allegations are true,” the Commerce PS says.
He says this is gross misconduct by his staff if this is true.
“Applicants should not be paying any fees to the staff.
“All fees for the passport including a fee for fast service should all be paid to the IRD unit and not directly to any staff here,” Mesepitu says.
However, he says because of the high number of passport applicants, even for the fast fee service will not work.
He says applicants should report any staff trying to seek payments from them to push their applications forward.
The Ministry of Commerce has since made an announcement that the passport ‘fast fee’ service is suspended for the time being.
The Ministry says applicants should only be paying $1000 for their passport.
“Spending a whole week here just to even fill in the form to get a passport is not good enough.
“The process needs to be reviewed so that it is a win-win situation for all,” an applicant says.
He says as applicants under the labor mobility scheme, it is a sacrifice they are willing to take for the sake of their children.
“There is a saying that for you to enjoy tomorrow you have to sweat today,” he added.
For Mike Toni, most days spent in front of the Commerce office are without food.
He resides at Henderson and usually only has his bus fare in his pocket.
“I was a nursing student at the Solomon Islands National University (SINU). I did my Diploma in Nursing studies but was not able to complete my education because I did not have the money to pay for my tuition,” Toni says.
He says the only hope he has now is to get into the Labor Mobility Scheme so that he can be able to support his parents and siblings in the village as well as himself.
For Ambrose Wasi he also shared the same sentiments.
“My aim to find employment under the Labor Mobility Scheme is so that I can support my family and myself,” he said.
Both Wasi and Toni are in their early 20s and are keeping their fingers crossed to be selected for the Labor Mobility Scheme
The other applicant used to work for the European Union. He says now, it is quite difficult for him to secure formal employment.
“I fully commend the government for this initiative. However, these setbacks in the processes are the frustrating part for us,” he says.
Applications for the Labor Mobility Scheme closed on Friday 20 August 2021. It is believed that about 7000 to 8000 Solomon Islanders have submitted their applications.
Australia has since decided to double the number of Pacific workers in their country.
An additional 12,500 Pacific workers are expected to take up jobs between now and March 2022 in agriculture, aged care, accommodation and hospitality.
The Australian High Commissioner in Solomon Islands, Dr Lachlan Strahn tweeted that at the rate in which workers are being deployed, by the end of the year, there will be 2,500 Solomon Island workers in Australia.