TSI today issued a statement on its position on the 161 towers now currently built by the government through a PRC loan. Read their views in detail below:
Transparency Solomon Islands-TCSI’ STAND ON TOWERS
Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) fully supports the views expressed by the Telecommunications of Solomon Islands with regard to borrowing money to build the 161 towers in the rural areas.
Connectivity is important with our rural communities, TSI agrees. But TSI here reflects back to when the undersea cable project was discussed. At that time we hear many prominent business entities as well as some eminent members of our community that with this facility business will grow and people will become economically active. We have not seen that happening either for the majority of our population. It has not made a difference and I suppose we could blame it on Covid-19. It would be easiest. Telecommunication remains as expensive and even more expensive than before then.
Transparency Solomon Islands questions the sense in such a project becoming a priority when people’s copra production, seaweed production, milled timber production etc. has not been picked up to the market outlets and buyers for the last six months.
Transparency Solomon Islands carried out its civic awareness program in the Shortland (October/November) where a number of producers, business owners are not happy with their produce still sitting down in the villages. More than six months of farmers produce has not been uploaded to market outlets/buyers who are Honiara based. They were concerned about the decision of the Executive Government (from their perspective) removing the franchise shipping arrangement they had with a private business entity and transfer it to the ship bought on behalf of the Constituency, a ship that does not have the capacity to load all their produce, to market outlets and bring their cargo for their small businesses in the community. Currently the constituency ship for Shortlands they say only pick up produce and deliver cargo to those who politically support the member of parliament for the constituency. From their point of view there is enough cargo and business for another operator to service their economic and social needs.
Based on this real experiences of producers and in relation to these 161 towers, is the Executive Government telling the people of the rural area that their produce will now be delivered under these 161 towers, sucked up into cyberspace to the overseas buyers and payment for their produce done via these towers? These would be good only for by-passing the many layers of agents/buyers that actually rob producers of what should be paid to them. The market chains that have been created for seaweed and timber etc. actually robs rural people of what they should really be paid. The Executive Government does nothing in informing people about the buying price for their resources and setting standards to ensure they receive the maximum benefit from their hard work. They even raise the option of a trade agreement across the border with PNG and a number of possibilities to support their production. As it is they are finding it difficult to earn enough to pay for their children’s school fees and other basic services. They are also confused and do not understand why certain business entities that certifies their produce, decides to de-certify their produce because they were not able to reach the volume they are asked to produce. The re-certification process costs a lot of money and the timeframe too long they said. In the meantime, they are unable to find market for their rejected production. The businesses that were supported by the Economic Stimulus Package suffer because of unavailability of regular shipping, shipping with the capacity to lift their volume of produce and good appropriate economic infrastructures.
They also raise the issue of border crossers from PNG raping their sea resources and asking for the Border Security facility to go up as soon as possible before they lose all and the list goes on. Is the Executive Government telling the people that with the 161 towers the people in the rural area would now be able to send their produce (physical) to market outlets? It just does not make any sense and no wonder why there is cynicism when it comes to the current Executive Governments plans, plans that do not touch base with what the citizens of this country need.
Shouldn’t this Executive Government be borrowing funds to build better wharves and other economic support infrastructure that facilitates more of our people including women and youth to participate in economic development. Economic infrastructures that would allow them to stay in their land and discover their own economic potential than coming to squatter in Honiara, Gizo etc. Decentralisation and building provincial centres for the businessmen and women of Solomon Islands and keep Chinese businesses to Honiara. Chinese businesspeople are needed in Solomon Islands but they should be restricted to Honiara where they have taken over and government protect provincial centres for Solomon Islander businesses. There is an abundant of intelligence and a wealth of innovative options coming out of these rural people than we have in the political appointees of the DCGA led Executive Government.
Some of the infrastructures Transparency Solomon Islands sees around the country, due to sea level rise are getting to becoming a table in the sea and not fit for purpose. Some are located in the village of former Members of Parliament, on islands and not on the mainland where the produce is. People in the rural area move around with their produce using outboard motors, navigating reefs, as a last resort to get to markets to enable them to pay their children’s school fees and meet their community obligations. Shouldn’t the government be replacing the delipidated beacons and providing more beacons to make their journey in waters that they are unfamiliar with safe? Yes, to encourage this way of going about getting their produce to market outlet and getting their cargo back to community is not a good thing and not safe but it is happening now in the absence of regular shipping service and making their travel safe would be better. Many have also lost their lives using this mode of transport. The decisions that this Executive Government makes commits Solomon Islands and people to debt traps, decisions that are done with no consultation with the supposedly beneficiaries. The country is still paying the Exim Bank loan for the lost properties during the ethnic tension that is mired with corruption. From document that TSI sighted the loan is more than $66 million. It is important that the Executive Government verifies that this is in Solomon dollars and not USA dollars. Very little of this money will be spent in the country. Most will be spent in China, and there will be no way of Solomon Islands knowing if indeed this is how much this project truly costs, or we are loaning for the rise of another millionaire in China.
Transparency Solomon Islands, totally disagrees with borrowing money from China for these towers. If it must borrow money then borrow it to build infrastructure and provide services that would actually support, facilitate, and turn people’s produce into money. Do not commit people and country to something that is not of a priority to those who put you in power.
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