03 July 2012
Melanesia is a region of many opportunities and great potential for wealth attainment. Endowed with natural resources, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia also have the populations to benefit from economies of scale in terms of productivity and demand. They can benefit from higher production and bigger markets thereby providing more opportunities for economic expansion and achievement of higher living standards. This is a natural comparative advantage for countries of Melanesia which provides a perpetual opportunity for sustained development for many generations to come. Consequently, despite the abysmal achievements so far, a promising future lies ahead for all citizens of Melanesia. This is not just superficial theorizing but a realistic aspiration empirically premised. Melanesia will be a region of opportunity and prosperity accompanied by stability and lasting peace.
While current development performance may suggest a different picture about Melanesia, one can be referred to historical examples elsewhere in the world where great nations now have come of age following years of internal conflicts. The US was only able to achieve some measure of sustained peace and prosperity after 200 years of nation-building. And this is how Melanesia should be viewed. Current developments are either consequences or externalities of nation-building that will eventually yield peace and prosperity.
Symptomatic of heterogeneous regions and nations, unity requires many years of co-existence. In Melanesia, independence was only achieved in the 70s and the goal of nation-building is still an-going national pre-occupation. This process is taking longer to generate the expected outcomes – peace and unity, basically because the disparities spawned by the colonial governments prior to independence had become deeply entrenched that investments to bridge these inequalities needed to be bigger and sustained, requirements which are currently beyond the capacities of States in Melanesia to deliver. But this is a transitory shortcoming and not an underlying problem. With time and continued concerted efforts, States in Melanesia will be able to have the requisite capacities both in terms of resources and technical expertise to be able to afford sustained investments in peace-building and therefore achieve peace and unity. With peace, States in Melanesia will definitely forge ahead with economic development much more gainfully.
So yes there are many issues to be addressed now in order to pave the way for economic prosperity but as earlier alluded these are accompaniments of nation-building which will become resolved overtime as the benefits of nation-building permeates societal relationships. Strong, intelligent and good leadership is pivotal and investment in building leadership must be expanded. So too are governance institutions. It is extremely essential that governance across all nations in Melanesia is improved significantly to provide good government for economic development. The assurance of good governance is the most important fundamental that must be corrected in order to pave the way for achievement of sustained peace and economic prosperity.
History shows that increased enlightenment is a key requirement for achievement of good governments. It follows that States in Melanesia must increase investment in education at all levels and ensure all citizens, especially the youth and economically active, have access to quality education.
By now there must be an increased consciousness created by on-going political instabilities that governance systems inherited from colonial ancestors are not working. States in Melanesia must seriously look at their own systems and take necessary steps to bring about revolutionary political reforms to simplify their governance systems and establish arrangements that are more relevant to the home context. Although reforms are underway, the pace is slow and scope too narrow to cause any significant impact.These reforms must be re-energized and broadly re-based by increasing the effort and including all governance sectors.
One other requirement that can expand the opportunities Melanesia already has is inherent in deeper integration. States in Melanesia must not hesitate to deepen their integration through the MSG framework beyond what they currently have. The possibility of establishing a Melanesia Parliament with representatives appointed by the members and a common central bank are the next steps towards deeper integration that will bring greater gains for each member. This will add to gains made in the MSG Trade Agreement when it becomes fully operational and comprehensive enough to cover services including labour mobility. At the same time the need to pool development financing within Melanesia by integrating superannuation funds and development banks will, with sound management, create sufficient capital for all members to invest in development-supporting infrastructure such as education, health, transport and technology. In doing so, States of Melanesia will become more self-reliant and minimize aid-dependency. It is disappointing to note that there have been commentaries made about the potential for inefficiencies to foster under an integration regime that pools these fund-creating institutions together by eminent institutions which seemed to be self-serving on closer analysis. On the contrary, supply will create its own demand and with bigger populations and larger economic bases, this will be achievable with increased efficiency given the reduced transaction costs involved with credit extension by the resultant apex Fund.
Therefore perceptions about failed states and dis-repaired economies are backward looking and attempt to undermine the potential of Melanesia to construct a great future for its citizens. The call is made for Melanesia to arise and seize the opportunities at its disposal, translate these to realities and embark on achieving an economic miracle to bring about more employment and generate higher standards of living. Let’s rise above mediocrity and embrace higher standards of doing things. Let go of the old habits of accepting substandard service and products and aim for the best. Let’s embark on instilling national pride by promoting cleanliness and beauty in our villages, towns, suburbs, and capitals. Let’s shun and despise corruption and respect law and order. Teach our children our traditional values of humility, respect and caring which for long have dignified us as a race. Above all let’s fear God for in him our future is secured.
The time has come. Let’s be bold, clever and courageous to shape that future we aspire – a future of peace, security and enduring prosperity for Melanesia.
Mr. Peter Forau
Former Director General, MSG Secretariat
21 Sept 2011 - 31 December 2015