Dear Editor – The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) has been established for some time and has made headway in a lot of areas.
In the area of trade for example, it has facilitated tariff free trade between the four MSG member nations for a lot of goods.
This means certain goods can now be imported by any company, citizens or residents of a MSG country from another MSG member nation without the usual duty being imposed.
Despite facilitating progress in a lot of areas, I believe there are other matters which I believe the MSG can still make a difference.
One of the matters which I believe the MSG could consider, and one I believe which could make a positive impact on the lives of citizens of MSG nations is through the free movement of people.
In my opinion I do not think we have anything to fear from the citizens of the other MSG nations.
There is no history of terrorism in Fiji, PNG, Vanuatu or Solomon Islands and I am confident we will not see it in our islands any time soon.
Therefore one cannot say that we should restrict movement for citizens between the MSG countries for fear of easing access for terrorists.
If anything it would make travel convenient for our citizens who may be interested in holidaying or even doing business in the other MSG nations.
Whilst general travel for MSG citizens is an area that could be looked into, the more pressing issue concerns students visa.
Recently Alfred Sasako touched on this when he raised the plight of five Solomon Islands students who had difficulty obtaining study visas to enable them to return for studies in Fiji.
We also learnt through the media that some Divine World University students from Solomon Islands were advised by the University to defer their studies to 2016 because their visas were not processed in time.
Solomon students also returned from PNG because they did not have the correct visa to enter the country.
I believe it will be a recurring issue because Visa processing, in this case, for students, is a statutory requirement which must be adhered to according to the laws of those countries.
Since humans handle the processing of students’ visas, whether in the country of origin or the country receiving the students, and as humans, they are bound to make some errors at one time which may result in the delay of processing the visas.
In order avoid the hassles, a visa free environment would be the option but unfortunately it is a requirement that cannot be circumvented unless exceptions are made by the countries affected.
I believe this is where the MSG can play a part in resolving this issue between its member countries.
At the moment Solomon Islands’ students travel to study in PNG, Vanuatu and Fiji. Students from Fiji also study in Vanuatu and vice versa.
In recent years PNG students have been studying in Fiji and lesser extend the other way round.
Solomon Islands will welcome more MSG students in the future as it solidifies its reputation and becomes more known in the region.
Therefore I am urging the DCC government to put the item of students visa for discussion when Solomon Islands hosts the MSG meeting this year.
The idea is to have visa free entry for MSG students studying in any of the MSG countries.
This will ensure that students have the freedom to travel to study in other MSG countries without the hassles currently experienced each academic year.
The flow of MSG students between each MSG country is not significant, therefore I do not believe it will it will have any negative impact on the annual revenue of each country.
If the MSG could do something pragmatic to have an immediate impact on the lives of its citizens, this is one of them.