Well-being of Pacific Islanders must be part and parcel of infrastructure ‘step-up’

04 Jun, 2019

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) has welcomed the Australian Government’s engagement with the Pacific in the early days of office but has reiterated that achieving health, education and long-term development outcomes must drive infrastructure investments.

ACFID CEO, Marc Purcell said:

“By making the Solomon Islands his first overseas trip, the Prime Minister is sending a very strong signal that our Pacific neighbours are of critical importance. This continuing commitment is very welcome.”

In a joint statement, Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and Prime Minister, Manesseh Sogavare said a new ten-year $250m grant financing for infrastructure in the Solomon Islands would support “key national and economic infrastructure and will complement the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.”

Commenting on the announcement, Purcell said:

“This renewed focus is welcome, but if we fund infrastructure only for the sake of winning friends and strategic influence we risk missing the point on fulfilling a country’s long-term development and prosperity. Australian-funded infrastructure must serve the interests of ordinary Solomon Islanders.

“Only a third of Solomon Islanders have access to basic sanitation, so infrastructure for clean water and sewage must be a priority. For those investments to be effective, we must include complementary, accompanying programs, such as hygiene education in schools. We need the whole package.

“Australia paying for new Government offices in Honiara has been proposed, but isn’t going to sit well with the Australian taxpayer or ordinary Solomon Islanders if basic sanitation, healthcare and a good education are sidelined. As infrastructure is prioritised across the Pacific as part of the ‘step-up’, the Australian Government must ensure community development is at its heart.”

ACFID understands that the grants will be funded from within the existing aid envelope for the Solomon Islands, but will not involve cuts to health, education and governance programs. According to the latest statistics from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia already spends 40% of its aid program to the Solomon Islands on infrastructure and trade, and 27% on health and education. The additional $25m per year would likely make infrastructure and trade over 50% of the program.

However, at this stage, it is unclear where the funding will be drawn from and if existing infrastructure projects in the Solomon Islands will be re-badged to align with the new initiative.

Purcell concluded:

“We will be following this closely and have sought further details from the Australian Government on how it will operate.”

ENDS

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For further information, contact Tim Watkin at [email protected] or on 0401 721 064.