1 April 2016
From the High Commissioner's Desk : Stability, Growth and Human Development
Whenever people ask me what Australia’s doing in Solomon Islands, I ask them a question in return: “Would you like the short answer, the long answer, or the two minute answer?”
The short answer is simply, “A lot”. While the long answer would take up every page in the Solomon Star, and more. So today I’d like to share with readers my two-minute answer to the question, “What’s Australia doing in Solomon Islands?”
First and foremost, there’s RAMSI. Recognised globally as a successful regional intervention, RAMSI restored law and order in Solomon Islands, helped rebuild the core institutions of the country and is now focussed on improving the capabilities of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
Of course, RAMSI has been an expensive exercise and Australia has borne 95 per cent of the cost – now well over two billion Australian dollars. That’s much more than the entire GDP of Solomon Islands. But it’s a cost that Australia was willing to bear, because we recognised that one of our closest neighbours needed help.
Beyond RAMSI, Australia’s aid program in Solomon Islands remains our third largest in the world, at A$92 million (roughly S$550 million) per year. It has three main objectives: promoting stability, economic growth and human development.
We help promote stability by providing assistance to the courts and justice sector; and by supporting central government agencies like the Ministry of Finance and Treasury (MoFT). That involves everything from funding MoFT’s impressive new building to providing patrol boats for the police and helping to recruit, train and retain magistrates.
Our big new frontier is economic growth. As we all know, the best way to improve the lives of Solomon Islanders is to grow the economy. But that isn’t easy. The economy took a big hit two years ago with the closure of the Gold Ridge mine; and now some of the biggest investors and job-creators are warning that their future in the country isn’t guaranteed, either. Clearly it would be a disaster if Solomon Islands lost another big employer when there are already not enough jobs.
But we’re trying to be optimistic and look for opportunities for more growth and jobs. So we recently helped organise a visit to Solomon Islands by Carnival Cruises, who were excited by what they saw and have plans to increase the number of cruise ships visiting the Hapi Isles. We’re continuing to fund road maintenance through the NTF. We’re improving rural livelihoods through the Rural Development Program and assistance to cocoa growers. And under its Australian-funded management, we’ve seen Solomon Water improve rapidly over the past few years. We’re even providing funding to help the World Bank with the Tina River hydro project.
On top of all these activities to help underwrite the economy, we’re planning to increase our investments in economic growth in the coming years, particularly in infrastructure, tourism, agriculture and shipping.
Finally, there’s our work on human development. We provide a large proportion of the health and education budgets – giving the government the cash it needs to run schools and clinics, while helping to build Solomon Islands’ health and education systems from the inside. One of our proudest achievements has been the improvement in access to medicine for all Solomon Islanders in recent years, which has been made possible with Australian funding and which we know has saved thousands of lives.
And I should give a special mention to our scholarship program, under which almost a thousand Solomon Islanders have been able to study in Australia or elsewhere in the Pacific. We’ll be offering up to 30 new scholarships for 2017, and applications are now open.
So that’s the two-minute version of what we’re doing in Solomon Islands. Every single Solomon Islander benefits from Australia’s assistance in some way. Over time, I hope that Solomon Islands will become stronger, more resilient and less dependent on Australia’s help. But until that day comes, we’ll continue to invest in a better future for the people of Solomon Islands.