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Foreign consultations

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The findings of Dr Cephas Mulina an independent expert on foreign debts and human rights who visited the Solomon Islands recently is quite a revelation.

He found out, among other things, that there is an excess of foreign consultants engaging in the Solomon Islands and that, needs to be reduced.

These foreign or so called international consultants are highly paid for jobs that often yield minimal benefit for the recipient, knowing too well that some of those consultancy documents are shelved, only to gather dust.

Dr Mulina suggested that there should be capacity building to ensure that Solomon Islanders acquire the relevant consultancy skills to do the job rather than perpetuating the dependency syndrome on international consultants that are donor driven.

Let me dwell on a particular consultancy service within the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, as an example.

This was for the “Education Review” which was done last year.

For that Review two local consultants were solicited and this was repeated several times in the given Terms Of Reference(TOR).

In the end, only one local consultant was selected.

There is a Committee (taskforce) established within MEHRD to do the screening in accordance to the requirements of the TOR.

It seemed that the committee was influenced by that so called international consultant and was donor driven.

You can term it a tactical marginalisation of local consultants not to share the financial pie of the Aid money and an out right denial of their ownership of that Review.

That TOR was not honored and an injustice to the local aspiring candidates to have a say in their own education system.

The review of the entire education system is an enormous task that requires time and more than one local consultant.

The intention is to derive at a number of selected options then select what seems to be the education system that meets the needs of individuals and the nation let alone the region and the world or wherever Solomon Islanders decide to make a living.

In fact it requires a team of two to four local consultants to do a decent job, entailing wider consultation with as many stakeholders as possible throughout the country.

That requires a lot of travelling, interviewing, in-dept discussion, holding workshops and time to do some observation.

International consultants rely too much on desktop research which are often inconclusive due to time constraint and lack of contestability from other relevant and reliable sources that are un-cited.

What is missing is empirical knowledge from our people who have been in the system for many years.

There is enough of them around.

If we were to be self-reliant in our consultancy services, we have to start nurturing it now, by involving our local people whenever an opportunity is given.

That Education Review is an example of an opportunity that went begging.

We cannot rely on the so called international consultants for the rest of our life but build our capacity to be international consultants ourselves.

Fiji, Tonga, PNG, Samoa and other regional countries have reached that stage. Solomon Islands is lagging behind.

My insistency to award consultancy services to as many Solomon Islanders is to pave the way for the well educated officials within MEHRD and other Ministries who will be sooner or later join the bandwagon of retirees to continue in contributing to the development of education and other sectors in this country.

Sad to say that SICHE has a reservoir of potential consultants and yet it is not utilized.

Let me warn officials within MEHRD and other Ministries to look beyond their current occupations and have an advanced mind for  future vocations.

I note with interest that the Education National Action Plan 2007 – 2009, that there is mention of the development of a pool of local TA because there is a need for it nationally.

The selection of only one local consultant for the review of the Education System does not give allowance of utilising that pool nor giving the opportunity to be skilled in consultancy services.

My humble advice is that when it comes to the selection of local as well as international consultants MEHRD should have more say in it, rather than giving the Aid donors the latitude to manoeuvre and dictate to us whom they want.

The un-dovetailing of the primary and secondary science syllabi is a case in point where the selection of the two international consultants were done outside, without any input from MEHRD.

There are highly qualified local people who can do a decent job for a much lower salary than paying those two more than one million dollars each per annum.

The University of Waikato’s assessment on quality assurance of the science materials does not speak well of the work done. There are serious recommendations in that assessment.

The primary science materials is published by an Australian Firm and ready to be used in schools.

This is going to be distortion of the knowledge acquisition in the hierarchical order of our students because what should be learnt in secondary is now taught in primary schools.

I think the current crop of officials within MEHRD are well educated, quite knowledgeable and therefore should be vigilant when it comes to the recruitment of foreign consultants.

The bottom line is to involve our local people as many as possible in the designing of our education system in the way the “Education for what?” was designed and conducted though with limited financial assistance.

With the current huge chunk of many poured in by Aid donors and with an increase number of well educated Solomon Islanders, we should be in a position to perform better to help in the advancement of this nation.

In the long run, this should be the trend.

This is for our contemplation.

Lucian Kii
Mount Austin