TAIWAN, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), has been referred to by local politicians as a friend indeed in thick and thin.
Prime Minister Sogavare in his welcome remarks to Ambassador Luo, January this year, said “I can assure you that the relationship between our two countries can only grow stronger and stronger”.
However, courageous these sentiments may seem, the future of this friendship is likely to come under pressure in this world of globalisation.
There is one thing that is so sweet about Taiwan, and that is the so-called Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
It is these funds that the past and present government and politicians alike, continue to pledge their support towards Taiwan domestically and internationally.
Every year each Member of Parliament is awarded around SBD$7 million under their discretion with not much accountability mechanism in place.
It is these funds that most intended candidates vying for the round house at Vavaya ridge every four years.
It is these funds that most MPs forgot about their mandated roles as legislators and became project managers.
Solomon Islands is one of the strong advocates of Taiwan in the international arena, especially in support of Taiwan to be recognised by the United Nation.
This reciprocal commitment were reaffirmed by Prime Minister Sogavare in his address at the 71st UN General Assembly meeting September 2016, and also by Minister Samuel Manetoali who appealed for the inclusion of Taiwan in global effort to combat climate change at the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Morocco, November 2016.
Whilst the government maybe right about its position on the ‘one-china policy’, its allegiance will come under threat sooner or later and hope it will not dismay Taiwan over a change of passage.
In the long term, if Taiwan wants the UN member countries in Oceania (Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Palau, Nauru, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands) to continue maintain their diplomatic relations and support internationally, Taiwan needs to be more strategic in its relationship with these countries especially how it delivers its aid or it will lose their support in years to come.
Taiwan’s diplomacy of softaid to maintaining this support has become less popular due to its little benefits and more so, the mismanagement and lack of accountability and transparency with its disbursement by the custodians – MPs.
There has been so many critics on the mainstream and social media about the so-called CDF and its little or no tangible benefits in the societies since the introduction of the fund.
Furthermore, there have been reports lately about investigations on the mismanagements of the funds by some MPs and their CDOs.
The funds though given with good intentions by Taiwan have been the source of corruptions in the country.
For instance in most constituencies, MPs have distributed projects like solar panels and OBM and canoes to people who voted for them only and deliberately left out the rest of the constituents.
Surprisingly, for many years these are the kinds of things MPs may called developments.
They spend the CDFs on material stuff that lasts for a short term and none-economical.
CDF should be spent on goods and services that generate economic activities.
The rise of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) as the second largest economy in the world with its geopolitical presence in the Asia Pacific region means it will soon overshadow and influence these tiny economies who rely mainly on imported goods and services.
The rise of China is unstoppable, and its growing force is like a natural phenomenon battering in all borders on the globe.
It spreads its tentacles intelligently and strategically.
China wanted to demonstrate its power in the region and also to clump down on the world ‘unipolar’.
If Taiwan is not careful enough, the PRC or China will soon displace them.
Regionally and especially our next door neighbour, the Republic of Vanuatu, China has invested heavily on commercial, infrastructural and economical diplomatic activities.
For instance, it has built a huge conventional centre in Port Vila, currently building the Prime Minister’s office, building the Korman sports stadium for the Pacific mini games this year, funded the Vanuatu athletes who currently doing training in China in preparation for the Pacific mini games, awarded the bid to upgrade the Bauer field international airport and other airports in the country, building their five star hotel and their new embassy building, which is one of the largest in the country .
In 2006, Fiji’s reaction during the military coup when its regional allies Australia and New Zealand attempted to isolate, it adopted a ‘Look North’ policy where it sought closer cooperation with China and other rising powers like India, UAE and Brazil.
China until today remains a key partner for the Fiji government even though relationships have been mended with the regional partners.
With the shift of voting paradigm and the increased peoples-power and ideological conservatism, the next generation of leaders and voters in the Solomon Islands would opted for a change.
Globalisation has changed the way we behave and interact today and with greater access to ICT and the rapid expansion of social media and advocacy groups, people seem to be more aware and learn from events taking place around them and internationally.
If anything we can learn from the US presidential election in 2016 and recently in France, we can see that ‘populists’ get voted.
Voters screwed by the unfettered global capitalism and the norms of politicking.
People simply want change and when someone from outside politics like Donald Trump, a former business man and TV star and French President Emmanuel Macron, a former banker, spoke to voters directly about issues they faced domestically and ways to resolved them, people supported and voted for them.
No matter how crazy they maybe or lack of experience in politics, they were voted to presidency.
Even though the Solomon Islands has a different system of government, it could happen at the constituency level and also at the formation of government in parliament if we have a strong party system.
People and future leaders would react to the contrary to the formal political establishments.
Even today we see a lot of candidates in parliament came from various backgrounds and with different agendas.
We sometimes question why people vote for a person who may be less educated or has a crazy idea about something.
It is how people perceived change in their society.
The Taiwanese government needs to urgently revisit and re-evaluate this soft aid diplomacy especially in this era.
They need a strategic system of aid than cash handouts.
Since 1984, Taiwan established relations with Solomon Islands and with the millions of dollars handed to the MPs each year, the truth is there had been very little benefits to the lives of the rural people.
Only the lucky ones and their cronies benefited from the funds. Honiara itself have three constituencies who have access to the funds yet it is staggering to see no improvement to the services and infrastructures in the capital.
Turning a blind eye to this issue, or hesitant to pull the trigger for fear of losing support from the elites, will only disqualify yourself from the game in the near future.
By BADDLEY M. SINILAU
· Note: this is my personal view and does not represent the view of my employer