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17 June 2014

My Column in last Friday’s paper on what vocal Malaitans really want in terms of development drew quite a following.

As expected, the social media network, Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII) led the pack in attacking me personally and in some postings, threats were made against me.

Of course no one expects anything less nor constructive from a network that’s administered by individuals with little or no media background at all. So the tirades were and still are expected. There was one repentant soul who came back to apologise to me personally for all he had said against me in his postings. May God bless his soul.

In this private view, I wish to continue the question that I had raised in last Friday’s commentary. I raised the question, “What do we really want, vocal Malaitans? In this article, I wish to delve in particular into why Malaita as a resource-rich Province has been devoid of any meaningful development prior to and since independence thirty-six years ago.

Opinions vary. And it depends on who one talks to.

But before I can go into this, let me recap by saying that Malaita, as a Province or even before that baptism took place, was always regarded by successive governments, donors, some investors and employers alike as the labour bowel of Solomon Islands. Their view is to keep Malaita that way so that there is a ready supply of labour force for all industries, sectors and so on.

It all started during the dark days of the Blackbirding Days in the 1800s when hundreds of Solomon Islanders were forcibly taken to work in various plantations throughout the South Pacific and in Australia’s State of Queensland.

Evidence of the spread and distribution of Solomon Islands nationals and indeed from Malaita forcibly taken can be seen in Pacific Island nations such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga today.

One of Australia’s National Rugby League legends, Mel Maninga, is a descendant of one of the Solomon Islanders taken during that time. In Samoa, just outside its international airport is a forgotten community of Solomon Islands’ descendants.

Outside Fiji’s capital of Suva, is a large community of Solomon Islands’ descendants, called Wailoku. Until recently, their fate is the same as in other countries in the Pacific. 

And in the Queensland’s mid-north city of Mackay Solomon Islands descendants are everywhere.

Locally, one is bound to bump into a Malaitan in any shops in Chinatown, in Government offices and indeed in the private sector offices in Honiara. Visit any plantations in the country and you are sure as the sun rises in the morning to meet a Malaitan working there.

You have to ask yourself, why is this? Why are Malaitans being the backbone of the national economy and yet their own province lags far behind every other province in development, service delivery and so on?

Here is what many young Malaitans, including those so-called university educated elite don’t know or choose not to know.

The reason(s) are pretty obvious to an observing eye. It is this. No one, least of all employers and indeed the national government want real development taking place on Malaita.

Their fear is that the moment Malaita gets meaningful development going, the national economy would suffer. Malaitans would go back to Malaita in droves to develop their own province, leaving a vacuum in the national economy in terms of sustaining revenue level and filling thousands of jobs that would be left vacant.

So members of the FSII ought to think twice in attacking and falsely accusing individuals and entities who go out of their way to induce interest in investing on Malaita.

Much of the contributions from last week was much to the delight of those who will do anything and everything block development on Malaita. Who suffers in the end? Who continues to lag behind in development? Who will feed the Province’s population that’s growing at 2.5 per cent per annum?

The criticisms and false accusations against one company that had plucked the courage against all advice in investing in Malaita is uncalled for, irresponsible and a wrong signal to any international investor(s) who might be considering putting their money there?

All I can conclude is to thank the likes of Benjamin Afuga and his FSII administrators for chasing investors and potential investors away from Malaita. I hope that your 9, 000 talking contributors stop talking and start doing something good to replace the income rural folks in East Fataleka have been receiving since Evita Solomon Ltd began its agricultural land plantation development there.

As one East Fataleka landowner said to me at the weekend, if FSII has the alternative, they should bring it on. Otherwise, stop talking. It is just that simple.

By Alfred Sasako