Difficult times, difficult decisions, difficult choices
Two articles in the Solomon Star today give rise to my choice of title for this letter
My first reference refers to concerns over the worrying situation in Fiji with rising cases of Covid-19 and the dilemma faced by the Solomon Islands government over the 850 Solomon Islands students, both government and privately sponsored students in all the training institutions in Fiji.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has said the situation in Fiji is extremely worrying for our students, parents, and the Government.
Prime Minister Sogavare in his nationwide address early this week said citizens must not take the situation in Fiji lightly as it records more than 1,000 cases daily with recorded deaths.
However, he said just over 50 of them have graduated and can return home.
The rest he said will remain in Fiji.
The PM said the virus has also infected 22 of our students and dependents.
“Thirteen have now been declared inactive by the Fiji Ministry of Health whilst nine remain active. All 22 cases are asymptomatic,” he said.
Mr.Sogavare said the SI’s High Commission Office in Suva, the Education Attaché and other Solomon Islanders living in Suva have been supportive of our students whilst in isolation.
Prime Minister Sogavare has also said the Oversight Committee has also activated discussions and will inform Cabinet on the situation in Fiji.
“Timing of any repatriation flight for graduating students will be determined by our health team and it will occur when it is safe for our country to repatriate the graduating students,” he said.
PM Sogavare said that given the highly transmissible nature of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, in Fiji, it is not a good time to undertake any repatriation flight from Fiji to Solomon Islands yet.
“If we import delta variant cases into the country – it can spread very quickly and have a devastating effect on our population,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the Government is very cautious and will consider ways to provide support to our graduating and continuing students in Fiji.
Sources PM Press Secretariat and Solomon Star News
It cannot have been an easy decision for the Solomon Islands Government to have made over the repatriation of the students but one that is quite understandable in the present circumstances where there are high numbers of Covid-19 cases continuing in Fiji, including delta variant cases, which are known to spread very rapidly.
The PM has said in the meantime the SI High Commission Office in Suva, the Education Attaché and other Solomon Islanders living in Suva have been supportive of the students whilst in isolation.
It is understood a total of 22 of the students and dependents have been infected by the virus.
13 have now been declared active by the Fiji Ministry of health and 9 remain active.
All 22 cases are asymptomatic,” it has been claimed.
My second reference today refers to a separate story written as an Editorial piece in the Solomon Star, which I will quote in full.
SHOULD GOV’T INVEST IN SEASONAL WORKERS SCHEME?
On the face of it is good news indeed. Australia, which under the John Howard’s Liberal Government had slammed the door shut on the seasonal workers’ scheme a few years ago, is opening up.
Mr. Howard was correct in his reason for the position he took. It would, he said at the time create a brain drain for countries such as Solomon Islands. We see that happening today.
Many university graduates are reportedly signing up to join others in the ever-growing queue to work in Australia or in New Zealand as fruit pickers. They are doing so because there is no employment for them here.
Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja said in a published statement that “the Pacific Labour Scheme provides a two way benefits for Australia and countries in the pacific through remittances and filling shortage of labour in Australia.”
“We know that remittances are important in many countries across the region. We know of the economic hit of COVID. This has been an important part of dealing with very challenging economic times to see those remittances going back into the region.
“So, we get how important it is to our Pacific neighbours,” the Minister said.
Given the importance and the potential economic benefits of the scheme, should government be investing in it?
In other Pacific countries, remittances make an important revenue contribution to the economy.
In 2009, the World Bank reported that remittances from migrant relatives overseas play important roles not only to household welfare but also to the economy of the country, contributing 39 per cent of GDP in 2007, making Tonga the world’s second highest recipient of remittance flows relative to the size of its economy.
Overseas migration has contributed remittances of cash and goods from expatriate Tongans, which has made a considerable impact on Tonga’s economy. Tonga has become increasingly reliant on overseas remittances which contribute significantly to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
In 2007 for example, remittances in Tonga were equivalent to 39 per cent of GDP, making Tonga the world’s second highest recipient of remittance flows relative to the size of its economy (World Bank, 2009; McKenzie and Gibson, 2010).
Given Tonga’s example, should the government be thinking of establishing a mechanism where our workers in the scheme continue to help in nation-building?
Given the shortages of jobs at home local graduates that have volunteered and found employment as seasonal workers did so after making difficult choices to support themselves and their families back home.
It can only have been after much thought that young graduates opted go overseas and pick fruit putting behind them their years of hard study and with a commitment to pay back their parents for the years of payments contributed to their studies.
I do not have enough information on the amount of wages seasonal workers earn, their domestic keep and what might be left over for remittances to their families.
Given the choice I would think, if local job opportunites existed, many seasonal workers would gladly be back home contributing to national building.
I will leave it to others to answer the question posed by the Editorial piece.