BY the time you are reading this commentary, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s delegation would have been on its way home.
It had spent the last eight days in Taiwan meeting the key people in the island’s new administration.
Prior to its departure, the people of Solomon Islands were told the purpose of the visit.
Prime Minister Sogavare was on its way to sign off on a $277 million Taiwan was said to have offered for the construction of our national stadium and related facilities.
According to the official version, the construction of the national stadium was part of the preparation for the 2023 Pacific Games, which Solomon Islands is hosting.
The cost of hosting the Games alone is estimated at up to SBD2 billion.
This translates into annual budgetary allocation of more than SBD300 million over the next six years.
It must start next year if we were to meet the target. Everyone was excited.
In terms of the visit to Taiwan, the expectation was a done deal and details of the funding arrangement would be the first thing to have come out in daily Press Statements Press Secretary Deli Sharon Oso was churning out from Taipei.
For example, like many others particularly in the sporting fraternity, I was expecting to read headlines like, Prime Minister Sogavare has signed a $277 million deal for the construction of the nation’s national stadium.
It did not.
Instead, Taiwan’s foreign minister was quoted in a dispatch that Taiwan was committed to working with Solomon Islands to ensure the successful hosting of the Pacific Games.
It’s flowery diplomatic language I know.
But what does it really mean? Does it mean Taiwan has moved away from its earlier position in terms of the specifics of what is needed? If do, why?
There is such a thing called competitive advantage in diplomacy.
In a layman’s language, competitive edge really is an opportunity for donors to raise their profile over and above others in tangible development.
It’s a golden opportunity which any donor would grab.
The opportunity couldn’t be greater and better for Taiwan to raise its profile.
The fact that Taiwan has been consistently accused of fuelling corruption through its political funding in Solomon Islands is a compelling argument for Taipei to remain consistent with its funding commitment and in some respect fast tract it.
Funding the national stadium is something that brings direct and long term benefits for the people of Solomon Islands.
The apparent change in the language used is quite significant, given the meeting was between the Prime Minister and Taiwan’s Foreign Minister.
It’s not as if this was a meeting between two ordinary ministers.
Or did Taipei hold off because the Prime Minister’s delegation went off to Taiwan without the necessary documentation for the project?
This appears to be a contributing factor as implied in the press statement issued after the meeting between the Prime Minister and Taiwan’s Foreign Minister.
Why am I raising these questions?
The reason is simple.
We the Pacific Games is six years away.
In our minds, six years is a long time. It is not.
Given the magnitude of the project, six years is a very short time when it involves international participation.
From the signing the funding arrangement to implementation could very well take more than half the time.
So in terms of timing, we have little time on our hands. Extra effort is called for to ensure the funding is in place before too long.
Whatever Taipei’s position on the Project, the people of Solomon Islands have the right to know why there appears to be some change.
It is in the interest of the nation that alternative funding source(s) are promptly identified and secured before the rug if pulled under our feet.
By ALFRED SASAKO
(In tune with today’s happenings)