Majority of our people live in the rural area [85%], where there is no hunger, but subsistence affluence. They own houses and have the type of freedom, peace, sharing and caring that the government should build upon and improve. These people get food from their garden and forest, fish from the sea and feed themselves. A lifestyle often denied by national leaders for their own benefit and forgets about after being elected. This lifestyle and village resilience that is now looking after the people must be acknowledged as the biggest safety help to our efforts to deal with corona virus. Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) believes that this is the real strength that Solomon Islands has and the reason to value it, protect it and merge it into any stimulus package or development plan for Solomon Islands.
But there are some serious concerns that rural farmers who account for over 80% of the country’s population are likely not to benefit from the so-called Stimulus Package.
This sense of discouragement came following the revelation that the fund allocated for small businesses must sought endorsement from the Members of Parliament (MP) for each of the 50 constituencies.
Thus, subjecting constituents of the common culture in Solomon Islands that only voters of the MP have the chance to receive support from what goes through scrutiny of the MPs.
Meaning that only minority of the population (applicants who voted the MP) within the constituency will benefit from the stimulus package.
Each MP earlier received more than $800,000 this year in the name of covid-19 to assist their constituencies, which probably will benefit only the MPs’ voters.
However, TSI see it as totally unfair, not only as citizens but as a rural farmer contributing daily to micro-economic activities of Solomon Islands.
Rural farmers supply both consumable goods in the local market and contribute to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country during these hard times, by continuing to produce exportable commodities such as copra, cocoa, kava and most importantly taking care of their own food security.
The intention behind the economic stimulus package was to help keep the national economy afloat and increasing production for import substitution at this period of global disaster stemmed from the covid-19 pandemic, until such time the situation gets back to normal.
Hence, the process of having your proposal endorsed by the MP does not fall in line with the initial intention that gave birth to the idea of the economic stimulus package, since approval will go only for those who were close friends, cronies or relatives of the MP as now experienced by many.
This is what is being experience in Solomon Islands with the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) over the years and obviously is the case with this current stimulus package
This not only further discriminating constituents from the benefits acquired from the MP’s discretion but leave behind a huge manpower and resource-rich land that should have been engaged to support the economy in the near future.
As a result, some communities and wards within the constituency probably will totally be left out of the stimulus package, since funding will go only to where MP’s voters resides.
Nearly all MPs elected into parliament were voted by minority in their constituency, since the majority was split to the losing candidates, therefore denying the big population of rural farmers who need support from this stimulus package through the RCDF practice is not justice.
TSI disagrees with MPs who continue to practice the culture of voters only in every means of assistance channeled through MPs from taxpayers’ money.
TSI commend those few MPs who endorsed all proposals from their constituents regardless of who they vote in the 2019 National General Election, and reiterate the call for all MPs to do the same to their constituents, who had apply for the stimulus package or any project requiring approval from them whether they vote you or not.
TSI further calls for a transparent process for all applications to be merit-based, instead of depending on MPs to approve it.
Also, the $184.76 million allocated for the stimulus package should focus on winners and not losers and sectors that have thrived during this pandemic.
Sectors like tourism probably not necessary at this time where travel restrictions are in force many countries, resulting in the scale-down or total shut down of many tourism businesses, including Solomon Islands.
Heavily dependent economies on Tourism like Fiji and Vanuatu in the pacific are devastated by the impacts of the virus pandemic on their economy, thus realise the need to invest more in sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry.
The situation tells us that our village is where we run for safety when there is an outbreak of another epidemic, so we must go back to build our rural economy by investing more in farming and supporting their production by building infrastructures such as abattoirs etc..
Therefore, any form of assistance the government intended to support the businesses during this time of the covid-19 pandemic then it has to be the rural farmers who should get a huge portion of the pie. For SICCI’s survey showed how small the business sector is.
TSI reiterated that transparency, openness and integrity must not only be maintained but ramped up. Safeguards against corruption and misconduct must never be weakened or disregarded; otherwise decisions are made that are not in the public interest. If we accept the crisis as a reason to reject transparency and accountability, it will inevitably lead to corruption.