Slashing DSIP/PSIPs to NO Reserve Seats – Why is James Marape so bold?

PC: business glitz.com

The Prime Minister James Marape boldly declared that there will be NO reserve seats for women under his watch, which means there will be no reserve seats come 2022. This follows slashing the DSIP/PSIP funds. He is not afraid of firing PNC MPs from his government, who were his colleagues, for 10 years or more. Apart from Pangu Pati’s 28 MPs, the second largest party that voted him as PM on 30 May 2019 was the 22 PNC MPs. In a coalition government like PNG’s, keeping party happy is integral for survival of the government.  Marape is content on violating this rule, by firing the second largest party that he was part of for more than 10 years. 

Why is James Marape so bold?

First Possible Explanation

There are two potential explanations. First, PMJM is as safe as any PM can be – the chance that there will be another vote of no confidence is non-plausible.  James Marape is secured from 30 May 2019 to November 2020, before he is exposed to vote of no confidence. After November 2020, the 18 months grace period expires, where a vote of no confidence is allowed. However, this gap lasts for less than less than 7 months. After the 7 months are over, the parliament enters the next phase of grace period. Twelve (12) months starting in July 2020, the government cannot be removed. 

What succeeding governments (prime ministers) have done is to adjourn the parliament so the next sitting can fall well within the remaining 12 months before elections (between July 2021 and July 2022), which makes it impossible to change the government via vote of no confidence. And this could be a possible explanation for James Marape’s boldness. He is as safe as any PM in a fluid environment as PNG can be. The adjournment will require a simple majority. All Marape needs is to keep the coalition numbers slightly above the combined opposition and PNC numbers, to stop the adjournment. James Marape may not adjourn the parliament, and there may be no attempt to challenge him 12 months from now. But it does give anyone in position such as Marape’s confidence to take bold decisions. 

Second Possible Explanation

It is possible that Marape is taking bold choices as a matter of policy choice. DISP/PSIP had to be slashed. Except for a few successful cases, these funds were the most wasteful portion of the budget (not public servants pay that government likes to use as a case for public wastage).   By 2013, PNG’s 89 districts MPs – open electorates – were entitled to K10 million each, Local Level Governments were allocated K500, 000 and the Governors’ were entitled to K5 million per district multiplied by the number of open electorates. A total of K1, 490 million was spent for these programs every year from 2013 onwards under a combined Services Improvement Program (SIP). The provincial component alone was K445 million each year, which was more than the amount that the provinces receive through functional grants (K398 million in 2013) (Howe et al., 2014).Functional grants are non-discretionary, which means the MPs cannot spend it at their discretion. The discretionary funds far exceeded the non-discretionary funds by 2013. When these discretionary funds began in 1984 as Electoral Development Funds, the discretionary funds were in equal proportion to the non-discretionary components. (Read full report here/ for a comprehensive discussion on discretionary funds see Dr Ketan’s work here)

IT HAD TO GO! At one point, whilst writing a piece for ANU’s Development Policy Blog in 2018, I remember pausing for a minute, and thinking to myself – DSIP/PSIP will never be slashed, given the significant role it plays in maintaining the ruling coalitions intact. I’m not sure these funds would have been slashed under another PM. Peter O’Neill temporarily reduced it in 2018, but given his habit of using this funds to manipulate MPs, he would have increased it again. Marape did what many analysts thought was not going to happen anytime soon.

What about the Reserve Seats?

The lack of women representation in PNG parliament is not a new debate, which is often attributed to an “unequal playing field of politics with undemocratic processes and embedded traditional norms that hinder women from representation in parliament”

(See this linkfor more). Women are disadvantaged for all host of reasons, ranging from financial difficulties, to volatile environment during election, and the cultural preferences for male leadership in PNG societies. 

As this study documents, “only 1.4 percent of women are elected out of 319 local level governments and 6,190 wards in the country. Compared to the last national election, three women were elected to Parliament (2012 -2017), and women represented 10 percent of elected officials at the LLGs and wards (2008 – 2013) (Department of Provincial and Local Level Government Affairs, 2018). This data clearly shows that we are not improving the number of women in leadership at all levels of government” (See this linkfor more). Woods (2018) recently published a blog that showed that women who “subsequently contest” elections do not necessarily lead to improved chances that they will win. 

The solution that was advocated for years has been therefore, to have temporary special measures (TSMs) where reserve seats are created for only women candidates to contest, in addition to the rights to contest the 111 seats nationwide. Because it is temporary, it can be abolished after, lets say, three terms – 15 years. The idea is that, by giving creating reserve seats in the 22 provincial seats, women will then perform, and over 15 years change the male preference attitude in PNG.

Is (TSM) Reserve Seats favourable in PNG?

I don’t mind having reserve seats for women, but what I do not agree is that the argument that the reasons why women do not win is because of an unequal playing filed (financial constraints, security etc.) or even male preference society. 

(For all womenfolk who follow Academia_Nomad, give me the grace to make my argument – I have the utmost respect for you all).

 The financial constraints, security concerns, etc. is NOT EXCLUSIVELY and female constraint! With the exception of incumbent candidates in recent years who amassed wealth as MPs to spend during elections, the lack of financial resources affects all candidates – male and female. There is no concrete study that suggests that females are financially more disadvantaged. If that is the case, even more male candidates are financially more disadvantaged, as statistically, more male candidates contest, than female candidates. So if you were to randomly select candidates, it is highly probable that you’ll end up with more “poor” male candidates. 

Security? Almost all election related deaths recorded in 2017 elections were males. If women were killed, again, statistically, it is way less than male numbers (Read the 2017 Election Report here). If violence prevented females from campaigning in a certain location, it prevented hundreds of male candidates from doing the same. Violence does not discriminate. It affects every body, regardless of gender. If location A is Uncle Pablo Eachobar’s stronghold, both Aunt Angela and Uncle Dwyne are equally not allowed to campaign freely. 

The emphasis on unequal playing filed and patriarchy takes the debate away from the real cause for election problems in PNG: lawlessness. There is a general breakdown in law and order across the breath and length of this country. It finds it finest expression during elections. You can have reserve seats, and after 20 years, abolish it, and women will still face security issues, if lawlessness is not dealt with. Security concerns, and other causes for unequal playing fields are not the “factors”, they are “symptoms.” You do not solve a crisis by addressing the symptoms. The government must first address lawlessness and create equal economic opportunities – for everybody.

The case often use by proponents of reserve seats is Rwanda. In 2003, Rwanda had 24 women MPs out of 80 MPs. Now 68% are females (see here). There are two fallacies here: first, you cannot use Rwanda, at least not yet. The logic of reserve seats is not necessarily the mere increase of women reps, which will always increase if you create reserve seats. But whether the increase of women MPs do actually lead to increased impact on policy – whether they are influencing policy decisions. Research on Rwanda’s case shows that increase in women MPs did not translate into increase women influence on matters of policy – the party leaders, who are male, dictate policy (we can go into the circus of male dominance of party leadership as the reason for lack of influence on policy etc. but the point is increase in female MPs does not necessarily lead to greater influence on policy). So if there is less impact on policy, how then are the people supposed to change their minds and vote female candidates after the 15 or 30 years expire? 

A more substantive reason why Rwanda should not be used (not yet) is: Rwanda is still in the experimentation phase. You can make a case for successful TSM if Rwanda had abolished reserve seats after years of practicing it, and the people voted another 68% women candidates because they were impressed with women over the TSM era. That is not the case. They are still in the TSM phase. What happens if Rwanda abolishes the TSM, and the people are not impressed, and the women number fall? Furthermore, Rwanda already increasing female representations after return to normalcy following the genocide. By the time they introduced reserve seats, they already had more than 20 women MPs out of the 80 MPs elected. This means they would still have continued to vote at least 20 women MPs on average if there were no reserve seats. It also means that if they vote more women after TSM is removed, it may be a natural trend. They were already voting 20+ female MP, remember?

So does Marape’s decision make sense? I would say yes. He must concentrate on creating equal economic opportunities, for all genders, and address law and order. These are the structural impediments to the PNG citizens’ Constitutional rights to free and fair elections, as candidates as well as voters.

Before I end, and be bashed for my position, I must say I have the utmost respect for female candidates, and advocates. Some of the smartest people I know are females, and that is why I think there should be increased representation. But I must respectfully state what I think, and that is what I attempted to do.

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Sam Basil the Political Entrepreneur: Four party leadership, six party memberships, two new parties

PC: EMTV

Sam Basil is officially the first MP to assume leadership of three political parties with no parliamentary leadership, and at least one new party. Furthermore, since entering politics, Basil has associated himself as a member of at six political parties, initiated two new political parties, moved from government to opposition after failing to changing the latter. In the political market of PNG, Basil has that entrepreneurial spirit only tech nerds in Silicon Valley have. 

Sam Basil the Political Entrepreneur: Four party leadership, six party memberships, two new partiesSam Basil is officially the first MP to assume leadership of two political parties with no parliamentary leadership, and at least one new party. Furthermore, since entering politics, Basil has associated himself as a member of six political parties, initiated two new political parties, and moved from government to opposition after failing to changing the latter. In the political market of PNG, Basil has that entrepreneurial spirit only tech nerds in Silicon Valley have.

Basil entered politics first as a People’s Progress Party endorsed candidate, led by Sir J, and won the 2007 national elections for Wau-Bulolo Open. He subsequently switched sides in 2011 to PNG Party led by Belden Namah, where he briefly served as Minister for National Planning after the unconstitutional removal of Somare in 2011. He won again in 2012 under the PNG Party banner. Serving as PNG Party MP and deputy opposition leader is about the longest time he has ever been associated with any party. After that he has been party shopping across the 44 political party market of PNG.

In 2014 he left PNG Party to become the party leader of Pangu Pati, a party that didn’t have parliamentary leader at the time. This move had widespread support in Morobe and other parts of PNG. Pangu Pati has a historical place in PNG, and the fact that Sam Basil had been consistent voice of reason, and a voice against corruption and mismanagement, many saw this move as a force for change. Some of them candudates he endorsed for the 2017 elections were equally popular figures, including Bryan Kramer. Morobe Province, one of the bases that Pangu Pati had first established branches in the lead up to independence took ownership again, and voted 8 Pangu MPs. In neighbouring Madang Bryan Kramer won, one in Oro and another in Goilala. Reputable individuals like Robert Agarobe and Sir Mekere Mourata joined them later on. Pangu was now back in a big way.Then in August of 2017, after failing to initially form the alternate government, Basil announced his party’s move to the government side. This is probably where Sam Basil lost the revered status that he cultivated over a decade. He was the embodiment of anti-O’Neill, anti-PNC sentiments. I would even argue that the reason why Pangu did well in 2017 was because of Sam Basil’s ability to personalise the anti-O’Neill/PNC sentiments which was shared by many people. All the incumbent MPs who lost their seats in Morobe in 2017 were either O’Neill’s PNC MPs or those who were supportive of O’Neill in the 2012 – 2017 term. It was an indication of Basil’s effective campaign against O’Neill, and the people of Morobe again rallying behind the old Pangu brand.

His reason for switching sides to O’Neill led coalition? He said he did not want his new MPs to be deprived of DSIP/PSIP. There were claims that the O’Neill government has a habit of rewarding MPs with the SIP funds for supporting the government, and disciplining them for criticising the government by withholding or delaying the payments. Basil, Namah, and Juffa have been the most vocal against this injustice. But 2017 was different: the opposition had a very huge presence – 46 MPs. It would have been a foolish thing if O’Neill had to continue this ‘discipline.’ Basil led about 14 MPs to the government. Other like Bryan Kramer and Sir Mek protested this move and remained in the opposition.

In May of 2019, Sam Basil broke away from Pangu Pati, and joined Melanesian Alliance, taking all Pangu Pati MPs except one, Ginson Soanu, the governor for Morobe who refused to leave Pangu. This was Sam Basil’s fourth switch between parties (PPP, PNG Party, Pangu Pati and Melanesian Alliance). This was also the second time Sam Basil moved to a party without a MP (MA did not have any MP in parliament, just like Pangu Pati, in 2014 when Basil made his move). This was also the second time Sam Basil assumed party leadership of another party without leadership.

During the MP movements that led to change of the PM, 6 Melanesian Alliance MPs (former Pangu Pati MPs) left MA and moved back to Pangu Pati – eventually joined by 22 others from different parties, among them was Marape and 14 MPs who followed him. Marape was elected as PM when O’Neill resigned on 30 May 2019.Also during this period when MPs were switching sides, Sam Basil was said to form a new party, Our Party. He was/would have been the default party leader of Our Party. That would make it the 3rd time Sam Basil was the leader of a political party, and his first for a party he formed. However, Basil remained as MA leader with the remnants of Pangu Pati defectors.

Yesterday (5 Nov 2019) Radio NZ reported Basil forming a new party, United Labour Party. This will be the second party he forms, and second time he assumes leadership of the party he formed. But in total, this would be Sam Basil’s 4th leadership of a party – Pangu Pati, MA, Our Party & United Labour Party. He was deputy party leader for PNG party if you wanna count that as well.

In his party hopping journey he has proven this one thing beyond doubt: Basil has no policy conviction. You join a party because you identify with the policies, values, and ideologies. Basil has been to different parties, with different policies. He’s been to coalitions that had different policies (PNC has free education as a policy, Pangu has subsidized – despite the differences he led Pangu over to join PNC).

We don’t know what Basil stands for… if he ever became the PM, which policies would he implement: PPP? PNG Party? Pangu Pati? Our Party? Melanesian Alliance? United Labour Party? By believing all, he believes in nothing.

Sam Basil is not alone in this. Almost all MPs in the current parliament have been guilty of at least one of this: switched parties, switched sides in parliament, assumed leadership of another/new political parties, broke away and formed new parties, and for those who have not done so yet (if there is any), they will be guilty of one before 2022 national elections. In May 2019, Open MP for Sohe MP of Oro Province switched sides 5 times in three weeks. So Basil is not alone. However, the case of Basil is unique to the extend that he has done everything known under the sun except for the PM position. And if he does conquer that one day, which policies will he implement?

PS: in one of his posts, Bryan Kramer claimed that the reason Basil switched from opposition to government in 2017 was so that he could become the prime minister one day. Basil confided in Kramer (back in the good days) that prime minister in PNG is changed within the government ranks. He was correct in that, except this time it was Marape’s season. If this is true, we can conclude that the entrepreneur spirit of Basil has one goal: PM post.

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Conversation with Founding Fathers: Part One

Yesterday (01/11/2019) I had over 3 hours long conversation with the one of the advisors of the Constitutional Planning Committee who were the architects behind the Constitution of PNG. It was for a book I am working on, exploring the reasons behind the resilience of PNG democracy. To be clear, this guy, Ted (Edward) Wolfers is not, though I think he should be, called the Founding Fathers of the Nation, because he was engaged as consultant by the CPC… however as you read through you will realize that there is no denying the passion he had, and still when he talks about this nation. I will leave out the discussions we had that relates to the book, but there were interesting stories, and insights he shared that as a PNGean I never knew nor appreciated.

He arrived in PNG in 1967 as a researcher for a US foundation called Institute of Current World Affairs. He was to research and write about PNG culture, language, people etc., which was what the organization did in colonial countries. His quickly understood what others at the time didn’t: that PNG societies were very efficient, in their own traditional ways. He recounted how, for instance, PNG tribes had a differing but quite developed arithmetic system. When he went over to Canada & US, he presented at the universities on the arithmetic systems of PNG. The same applied to telling seasons, wind directions and negotiation (he travelled with Keremas on a canoe to Pom once back in the day).

He then went on to teach at what has become known as ADCOL (Pacific Leadership Princint). Back then, only 2 Papua New Guineans had cars – John Kaputin & Palaus Matane 😂. In the afternoons he would walk down the road with his 30-40 students, and white people would drive past with amusements. They would offer to pick him but not his students. He would of course refuse it. In those days clubs were segregated. Natives were not allowed into whites only clubs, so one day he followed his Chimbu friend to a natives club. All the angras and other natives were so surprised to see him they bought him beer. He walked away having had 14 bottles too many.

This race dynamics irritated him, and he wrote the seminal book “Race Relations & Colonial Rule In PNG.” It was criticized by the colonizers but guys like Ron Crocombe supported him. The newly established UPNG heard about it, requested for a copy and had external examiners evaluate it. It was considered good enough for a PhD. He was given PhD in Political Science. The first PhD from the University of Papua New Guinea. 

He then returned to Australia to teach at a university and one day got a call to come work with the Constitutional Planning Committee. 

He speaks with fondness of his role at CPC. The team travelled the breath & length of PNG. He said “France colonies’ constitutions were written in Parish, other English colonies’ constitutions were negotiated over the table, PNG constitution was written with the consent of the people.” I asked him questions like: did the people understand the questions you asked? He said “Yes.” They simplified the questions to a basic level and translated it for the people to understand. The people wanted Ombudsman Commission, the people wanted Provincial Governments, so is most of the provisions of the constitution (not all CPC recommendations were adopted though).

He told a story of one of their trips. He told Sir Mattaiba Yuwi (not sure I got the spelling of the first name correct) that they were now going to consult with the people about the role of Ombudsman Commission. Sir Yuwi replied: “why do we need another Bushman? I have a lot of them in my village!” He misunderstood Ombudsman for Bushman. From then on the CPC gave him the nickname Bushman. 😂.

I asked him questions about National Goals & Direction Principles. He said the idea came from a Catholic Priest, who told Momis that the Constitution should have Social Goals, not just institutions. But CPC didn’t know how to fit it into the Constitution. Then they looked at Indian Constitution, it had something called National Goals & Directive Principles. They renamed the Social Goals as National Goals & Directive Principles. He said NGDPs was not the idea of one particular man, so is every provision of the constitution. It was all a group thing.

He ended by saying…” ask yourself questions like ‘how do I explain why PNG is now one of the longest unbroken constitutional democracies of the post WWII countries in the world… so far you young academics have been asking ‘what is wrong with this… what is wrong with that etc.” He said he walked out of Hubert Murray on September 16, 1975, thinking “I may not return. Troubled whether PNG would survive.” He said we take it for granted. Many countries succumbed to chaos and dictatorship after independence.

When the first vote of no confidence was initiated in 1980, he was worried. Rightly so because it was during such times that dictators either established themselves, not willing to release power, or took over by force. He thinks Somare’s greatest achievement was accepting defeat in the VoNC. And the first to do so. This came as a surprise to me, as Somare is know for more ‘important’ achievements. But you have to understand it from the context of other post-independent colonies where leaders refused to relinquish power.

Towards the end I asked “why you?” I put it to him that he was first asked by the PNG government to assist because of a lack of expertise at the disposal of the government. It was my assumption. He paused and thought for a while, then in a low voice replied “No. It was because they trusted me. And I never took that trust for granted.”

He ended up marrying a Kerema beauty, and even bought bride price.

Note: hope you enjoyed reading. I need help to interview other founding figures… if you have connections with the other remaining CPC members, or to our Founding Fathers I would like to chat with them. I will keep the more substantive details for my project but share conversations like this on this page. 

And, if you haven’t liked this page yet, you should do it now! You read it to the people end, why log out without liking it? 😊

PC: Gabriel Cherokee . This photo was taken earlier this year, 2019.

Bougainville Referendum: What About Financial Independence?

Bougainville Referendum: What About Financial Independence?

Earlier this month (October 8), the Lowly Institute published an article titled “Bougainville Referendum and Beyond” where it states that majority (3/4) of the 300, 000 people prefer independence, come 23 November 2019 (Bohabe, 2019) – see link to the article below. The Prime Minister’s James Marape prefers Bougainville remains an autonomous region of PNG, but will respect the will of the Bougainville people. Whether voting for independence or autonomy is the easy part. What lies ahead is more challenging. The main challenge is for Bougainville to raise enough internal revenue to sustain an independent Bougainville.

So how much is need to run an independent Bougainville?

According to University of NSW Professor Standish Chand (Chand, 2018), it is estimated that Bougainville will need three times the budget Bougainville has now as an autonomous region to run an independent Bougainville. This calculation is based on population-weight average of neighbouring Melanesian countries of Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. 

The total budget for Bougainville in 2016, the year for which data is available, is K286 million (USD 84.6 million). Three times this amount is K858 million. In the same year, revenues collected internally from all sources, including company tax, custom duties and 70% of value added tax, was K23. 2 million. Majority of the budget was funded from outside Bougainville, including a recurrent grant of K41.3 million from the national government (PNG). Read Standish Chand’s article for more on the economic challenge/opportunities – link provided below.

The good news is, fiscal autonomy is not a pre-requisite for independence, that is, Bougainville does not need to demonstrate that it can raise K858 million annually in a sustainable manner to be able to vote for, and become independent as per the Bougainville Peace Agreement. However, as we have experienced in PNG after 1975, if your are not economically independent, political independence does not mean much.

Where would Bougainville raise the revenues needed?

There is no question the abundant resources Bougainville is endowed with. Panguna mine was almost solely responsible for the internal component of PNG’s budget after independence, and it is expected by many to play the same role for Bougainville. However, reopening Panguna won’t be that easy for several reasons. Beyond some of the unresolved issues that contributed to the crisis, it would take US$4-6 billion in construction costs, and if started now, would be ready by 2025 (see Bohane’s 2019, link provided below). It is a mine of staggering US$58 billion worth, from a potential 5.3 million metrics tonnes of copper, and 19.3 million ounces of gold.

Other sources of revenue:

There are more sustainable sources, such as cocoa and fisheries, which, if they consider manufacturing, may provide much needed jobs and benefit more from value added taxes. The National Fisheries Authority reported in 2018 that the fisheries sector in PNG employs about 40, 000 people. Setting up canned tuna manufacturing sector in Bougainville would help with employment. Minning an other extractive sectors, for all its worth, are ‘enclave.’ They MOSTLY employ highly qualified skilled workers, because of the nature of the activities, and with almost a generation of Bougainvilleans’ education disrupted by the civil war, they will become spectators in their own land. Mines will only pay taxes, and nothing beyond. Manufacturing sector, as in cannery, requires massive low skilled labour. Bougainville will benefit more via employment, and and wealth will be more distributed in a manufacturing sector more than mining.

Also in 2018, NFA paid a dividend of K60 million to the government. Estimates shows that Bougainville’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is about 30% of the total PNG EEZ. For lack of better formula, let’s assume that 30% of the tuna cught within PNG waters is caught within Bougainville’s EEZ. Calculate 30% of the K60 million (or so) NFA collects in taxes, licenses, rents etc. and give to Bougainville. That would be K18 million. 

Concluding opinion….

I hope Bougainville votes for greater autonomy, and there are numerous cases in the Pacific, which shows it works very well. Take New Zealand and the Pacific Islands for instance: Tokelau is a dependent territory of NZ, and the Cook Islands and Niue are two associated states. In a similar arrangement, Bougainville can use its vast resources to develop itself, and exercise extensive autonomy than it currently has. 

In the future, PNG should consider a federation, as in Australia and elsewhere, where each state is autonomous, but part of a greater whole. States make their own laws, raise their own revenues, have pride in their states (remember QLD Maroons vs NSW Blues?)… We could easily have such arrangement with Southern, Momase, NGI and Highlands regions. One thing is for sure, PNG is a land of 1000 tribes, and a preferable governing option is greater autonomy in a federal arrangement. 

Finally, whatever Bougainville decides, let’s help them. They are our own. God Bless PNG.

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Articles that I referred to in this piece can be accessed here:

For article by (Bohabe, 2019):

https://www.lowyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/Bohane_The%20Bougainville%20referendum%20and%20beyond.pdf).

For article by (Chand, 2018):

http://www.abg.gov.pg/uploads/documents/Financing_for_fiscal_autonomy-_Fiscal_Self-reliance_in_Bougainville_.pdf

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The Unchained Dragon Roams the Pacific: Part Two

PART TWO: CHINA, AUSTRALIA, USA, PNG – implications of Solomon Islands Decision to Recognize CHINA.

This is part two of three parts series analysing the decision by Solomon Islands to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan after 36 years and recognizing China. This part focuses on the potential implications for Solomon Island’s decision, drawing on experiences in the Pacific region, specifically PNG. To read the analysis on why Solomon Islands switched to China, go to the following sites:

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CHINA

Let’s begin with China. What are the benefits of Solomon Islands switching allegiance to China? As Solomon Islands was assessing its relationship with Taiwan, China promised a $US500 million (AUD $730 million) financial aid by Beijing, far surpassing the financial support offered by Taiwan, according to ABC. Taiwan on the other hand, promised $8.5 million for the Solomon Islands for the period 2019 to 2020. This is just 1.7% of what China promised (Taiwan would get 59 times more money from China than that which was promised by Taiwan). Furthermore, $500 is half of Solomon Islands GDP. China is committing to give Solomon Islands funds that constitute half its GDP, which stood at $1. 3 billion in 2017.

This $500 million money is part of the Belt & Road Initiative. By 2027, China will have spent between $1.2 – $1.3 trillion to about 152 countries. China is moving big. Solomon Islands not the first, countries which recognized Taiwan in the past are switching alliances. Read more about BRI on Part One – see link above.

The downside to this is that, these funds are actually loans (low-interest loans) that Solomon Islands will have to repay. What happens if Solomon does not repay? Read what happened to Sri Lanka in the Part One. It already started. Solomon Island has been pressured to switch to China, this is just the beginning.

Chinese officials released this statement: “China highly commends the decision of the Solomon Islands’ government to recognize the one-China principle and sever the so-called ‘diplomatic ties’ with the Taiwan authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said (ABC).

AUSTRALIA

Second, lets look at Australia’s response: Australia is involved in what kids on the streets of Port Moresby call “catchim late bus.” When Scott Morrison visited Solomon Islands this year, it was 10 years after Kevin Rudd visited in 2008. A lot can happen in 10 years – Chinese has stepped up before Australia though of stepping up. Morrison was set to announce a $250m grants program for the Solomon Islands and an easier path for islanders to get work in Australia. This amount is half of Chinese $500 million promised by China.

The good news for Solomon Islands is, $250 million from Australia is a grant – it does not have to repay. This is an infrastructure program that will last for over 10 years. In addition, Australia commits $2.7m over three years to help islanders considering work opportunities in Australia to cover their upfront costs such as passports.

Why is this a “late-bus’? Well, Australia has never been interested in directly assisting in building infrastructures in the Pacific. Whenever Australia got involved, it was through multilateral assistance: contributing to ADB, World Bank etc infrastructure programs. Now with Chinese investments in the infrastructure sector, Australia is now taking a more direct approach.

USA

What about the US? The first bad news is that the planned meeting between US Vice-President Mike Pence and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare later this month has been cancelled after Washington said it was “disappointed” by the Pacific nation cutting diplomatic ties with Taipei to recognise Beijing, according to South China Post. It is not clear how much in monetary terms US spends on Solomon Islands. According to the U.S. State Department, Us intervenes “in improving regional stability, promoting democracy and human rights, combating trafficking in persons, responding to climate change, increasing trade, and promoting sustainable economic development”. 

Some in the US are calling for the government to stop assisting Solomon Islands. US Senator, Sen. Marco Rubio, has taken to Twitter to say these words:

“I will begin exploring ways to cut off ties with Solomon Islands including potentially ending financial assistance and restricting access to U.S. dollars and banking.”

US entrusts Australia to take care of the Pacific.

PNG CASE STUDY

NOW, what does all these mean for Solomon Islands? Will US suspend its help to Solomon Islands? What will Australia do?

Let’s see how they responded to PNG: PNG had diplomatic ties with China since independence, except Bill Skates brief affair with love Taiwan in the late 1990s. Since then, China has been increasing its presence gradually in PNG. Since mid-2018, BRI had 3 main projects in PNG:

1. $3.5 million road projects, using Chinese companies to work on road projects
2. $330 million agricultural park where PNG government signed 99-year land-use rights transfer for 400 hectares in Eastern Highlands in May 2018
3. $32 million water supply in Goroka – feasibility studies in 2017, which will also include turbines to provide electricity.

According to China Morning Post, PNG owes China $1.9 billion in “concessional loans.” According to 2018 PNG National Budget, PNG’s debt to China is about $588 million and compromises about 23.7% of PNG’s total external debt.

Other thing that is of interest is that Huawei was contracted to build underwater cables connecting 14 maritime cables. Huawei is a Chinese company.

So what was the response of Australia & US? APEC 2018 has brought all the powers interested in PNG to PNG. PNGeans will remember what happened next for some time. Mike Pence accused China of debt-book diplomacy, and warned the small Pacific Island countries. Australia, NZ and Japan were right behind US. China stressed its mutual benefit arrangements and “no hidden agendas” assistance to the Pacific (Chinese officials stormed the APEC building to get hold of relevant PNG officials).

But at the END OF THE DAY, Australia, NZ, Japan & US signed the Electrification Partnership with PNG with the aims to provide power to 70 per cent of the country’s population by 2030. Currently, only 13 per cent of PNG’s population has reliable access to electricity. All these would cost a total of US$1.7 billion. Australia would begin by investing Australian $25 million in the first year.

Furthermore, in response to Huawei presence in PNG, Australia has started building the internet cable linking Port Moresby to Sydney. When completed this year, it will provide one of the fastest internet speed in the region.

So what is the message: After protesting and reprimanding, the Western countries will come around to investing in the Pacific. They cannot stand by and watch China take over the Pacific.

Should the Pacific Islands therefore embrace China, in the hope of getting the West involved? That’s a bad idea. When these countries are trapped in debt, Australia & US, NZ & Japan will not repay the debt. The little island countries will.

Thread with care.

The final part will look at what will happened to countries that already recognized China, and see where Solomon Islands is headed now.

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The Unchained Dragon Roams the Pacific: Part ONE

Chinese dragon symbol.

Part ONE: Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), Debtbook Diplomacy, Solomon Islands

This is the first of three part articles which will analyze Chinese presence in the Pacific. This week, Solomon Islands switched allegiance from Taiwan China, reducing the number of countries supporting Taiwan in the Pacific from 6 to 5. But Solomons is not the first country to do so. Countries supporting Taiwan has been decreasing. Last year, El Salvador in Central America, Burkina Faso in West Africa and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean did the same. These series of articles will analyze the motivations for such switches, the implications (+&-), and potential response from the West and their allies. The analysis will also cover PNG. All these switches can be tied to a Chinese initiative called the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

Belt & Road Initiative (BRI)

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also referred to as the New Silk Road is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments, which intends to include 152 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. This initiative was started in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Belt component covers road infrastructure that China intends to build from China across Asia to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It roughly follows the trade route that medieval businessmen in caravans used to trade with China, coming from Africa and the Middle East through Asia to China. Under the Han Dynasty of 206 BC to 220 AD, a flourishing trade emerged along these same routes, until the Christian Crusaders and Mongols disrupted it.

The Road component covers maritime trading routes linking the maritime trading ports from China, to Southeast Asia, to the Middle East and Africa. It is the most ambitious infrastructure project ever attempted in by mankind, and China intends to pay for it all… we’ll through loans that recipient countries have to repay.

So who funds these roads and maritime infrastructures?

CHINA!

China uses it’s own money. China gives what it claims as “low interest loans” for countries participating in the BRI to built these infrastructures as opposed to aid grants. China intends to give billions of dollars to about 152 countries that are planned to be included in this network, but here is the catch 22, it’s given as a loan that these countries have to repay. By May of 2019, China had already spent $200 billion, and Morgan Stanley estimates that China will spend $1.2 – $1.3 trillion by 2027.
To date, 60 countries, which account for two-thirds of the world’s population have either signed up to the BRI project or have shown interest.

Why are countries interested in BRI?

Developing countries are drawn towards these infrastructure loans for two reasons: first, it goes to build infrastructures which small poor countries cannot build themselves. And second, the flexible, less transparent nature of Chinese loans appeal to countries where transparency and accountability is weak. Loans from Western countries and institutions come with strong accountability and transparency mechanisms.

Debt book diplomacy

There are many who think BRI is just another initiative of the Chinese government to extend its geostrategic position in the world. This thinking is now called debt-book diplomacy. Basically, China is accused of giving “low interest loans” to poor countries who do not have the capacity to repay, and when these countries default on their repayments, China chancels the debts and takes over strategic locations in these countries as a payment for the debt. For instance, Sri Lanka got $13 billion to build Hambantota Port. By 2018 Sri Lanka’s revenues was $14 billion. With these revenues it could not repay it’s $13 billion loans, so they asked China to reschedule the repayment, but China insisted on long term lease of the port for 99 years in exchange for the forgiveness of the debt. Now, China is into its second year of owning the port, 98 years to go before Sri Lanka gets it back.

When China is not taking over ports like in Sri Lanka, it goes for other geopolitical advantages such as trapping Solomon Islands to drop its diplomatic relations with Taiwan and formally switch to China with promises of constituency funding.

Now that you have an understanding of why nations would prefer Chinese funds, and the debates surrounding it, let’s look at why Solomon Islands decided to break its 36-year recognition of Taiwan to recognize to accept Chinese position.

Solomon Islands Choose China

There are only 17 countries left in the world that recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation, and 6 of those nations are in the Pacific. Among the six nations in the Pacific, Solomon Island is the largest with a population of 660, 000. Now that Solomon Islands has broken diplomatic relations with Taiwan to recognize China, there are only 5 countries left in the Pacific, which recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation.

Basically, Mainland China and Taiwan issue goes back to 1949 when, after a Civil War, the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) fled to Taiwan, and the Chinese Communist Party took control of the mainland. For years after that these two parties claimed to be legitimate rulers of both Taiwan and Mainland China. Taiwan has over the years scaled down this claim and instead decided to position itself as an independent nation. China on the other hand, regards Taiwan as part of Mainland China.

To be able to access these BRI funds, Solomon Islands had to choose China over Taiwan. This is despite the fact that Taiwan promised $8.5 million dollars for the Solomon Islands for the period 2019 to 2020. $8.5 million was less than the amount China would give. How much China promises/promised is unclear, but Chinese officials promised to bankroll funds for Solomon Islands if the Pacific Island country switched allegiance.

A taskforce was set up to assess the Solomon Island-Taiwan relationship in April after Sogovare returned as the PM. Their recommendation was for Solomon Islands to switch to China. The parliament and cabinet voted to recognize China, ending their 36 years diplomatic relationship with Taiwan which started in 1983.

Solomon Islands is not the only country that switched to recognizing China, last year, El Salvador in Central America, Burkina Faso in West Africa and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean switched allegiance to Beijing.

Did Solomon Islands make the right decision? What are the possible implications? These will be covered in the next article, drawing on PNG and other countries experiences in dealing with China.

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Salasia Camp: Australia’s 50 Year Old Refugee Processing Centre in Manus

A less common known fact is that the Lombrum detention center built in 2015 is not the first Australian refugee-processing center; the first one was built 50 years ago! 

“Australia’s first refugee camp on Manu still stands, forgotten in time…. A handful of rusty, corrugated iron houses on bare concrete slab…” writes Stephen Armbruster of SBS. This Camp is the home of third generation West Papuans, who were sent there by the Australians in the 1960s. They fled Indonesian occupation of West Papua in 1962.

Among the first refugees were two West Papuans named Clemens Runawery and Willem Zonggonau. Their story is interesting. They were forced off the plane headed for New York and sent to Manus. These two men were on their way to the United Nations in 1969 to report that Indonesia got about 100 West Papuans and coerced then under gun point in a locked room to vote in favour of Indonesians control of West Papua. This event is know as Act of Free Choice which West Papuans to this day claim is not legitimate. It is not legitimate because the Dutch granted them independence in 1961, so there was no need for a referendum (Act of Free Choice) in 1962, and even those chosen were not “free” to vote. They were intimated. Had they got to the UN, they would have reported these facts.

Australia knew of these facts, but refused to acknowledge it. The 1960s were the heydays of the Cold War, where the world was practically divided between the Communists led by Russians and the Chinese, and the Democratic nations led by US. Indonesia was among the last frontiers of communist advancement towards the Pacific. They were supported by the West to resist communism. It was in the best interest of Australia (and her patron the United States) to keep Indonesia happy. Australia did not want to have to deal with repercussions from the Indonesians.

But why sent the West Papuans to Manus?

Well Australian leaders though that if they kept the West Papuans in the then Territory of Papua and New Guinea mainland, they would influence Papua New Guineans to assist their cause, and also cross the artificial boarder to fight the Indonesians. Many of the first-generation refugees were either fleeing for safety, or were active rebels from the group Operasi Papua Meradeka (OPM). OPM was a rebel group fighting against the Indonesians. 

What was PNG’s response to the first West Papuans in Salasia?

A young political activist and member of the second House of Assembly, after hearing of the news that West Papuans were placed in camps next to police stations, said that this act …

“could be compared with Second World War when Jews were placed in concentration camps.” (Quoted by Stephen Armbruster of SBS, 2017)

This young leader’s name is Michael Somare. He is now the retired former Governor of ESP and former Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare. 

What is Australia doing now for the West Papuan refugees in Salasia and West Papua in general?

After independence of Papua New Guinea, Australia claimed that West Papuans in Salasia are PNG’s case to deal with. They stopped supporting West Papuans in Salasia. This seems to be a re-emerging Australian strategy: send refugees to Manus, and leave it to PNG to deal with the mess.

On West Papuan case in general, Australia maintains its 1960s position that West Papua is Indonesian territory. Back then it was the communism threat. Now its Australian mining company Rio Tinto’s Freeport Mining in West Papua. Australia recognizes Indonesia’s control of West Papua partly because Rio Tinto operates in West Papua. Australia also exports mostly agricultural products to Indonesia, beef been one of the largest exports. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, and Australia courts this lucrative market, exporting halal beef.

Australia’s Aid to Indonesia is only second to that given to PNG (at other times exceeds that given to PNG). And Australia trains and gives military equipment, which some argue, Indonesians use on West Papuans. Despite this unethical use, Australia continues to support Indonesia Military. 

What is PNG doing about West Papuans?

This is where I let you write your own story. What are you doing about it? What am I doing about it? I hope we write a story that our children and grand children will read and be proud of our contribution in defense of humanity, and our Melanesian brothers, and for some of you, your relatives.