nonsense spreads to Pacific beliefs like the plague bubonic/ speaking tongues
parallel to concrete jungle mumbo.”
(Reverse Resistance, by King Kapisi)
Samoan hiphop artist King Kapisi slams colonialism and missionary beliefs on his
Savage Thoughts CD. Another kind of missionary has been active in the Pacific
for many years. Like their predecessors they claim that they alone follow the
true path, and that there is no alternative to their vision. Their articles of
faith include reform programmes, privatisation, and public sector downsizing.
Salvation will be achieved through embracing the cash economy, attracting
foreign investment, greater integration into the global economy and debt
this month’s regional consultation on globalisation debt and trade in Nadave,
Fiji, organised by Pacific Island NGOs, participants identified three priority
concerns – economic reforms, the power and role of transnational corporations
and free trade. We heard of fightbacks against water privatisation in Fiji and
the environmental and social devastation caused by mining and logging in Papua
New Guinea (PNG), Bougainville, and the Solomon Islands. There were tales of
deals struck between foreign investors and governments behind the backs of
traditional landowners. We discussed how Coca Cola-nisation has devalued
traditional diets, values and societies. We shared strategies for raising
awareness and mobilising communities in the Pacific.
Sadly, while many international peoples’ gatherings on globalisation have
boasted the name “Asia Pacific”, there has been little acknowledgement of the
existence of the Pacific and its peoples in such fora. Pacific struggles for
economic justice and self-determination are often eclipsed by issues about Asia,
Europe, Africa and the Americas.
A joint church/NGO submission to Fiji’s 1999 national
budget asked “are we trying to make
Fiji into something it was
never meant to be – a poor copy of large nations, reliant on an economic model
in which we will always be dependent or losers? In our current system some may
profit but most are excluded or exploited. We believe that this system is not
made for us”. Many at Nadave echoed this sentiment.
PNG, Fiji and the Solomons belong to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Samoa,
Tonga and Vanuatu have applied to join. Yet Pacific island nations are under
pressure to restructure and open their economies.
Asian Development Bank (ADB), whose board of governors met recently in Honolulu,
operates in 12 Pacific Island member countries. Since 1995 it has promoted a
familiar package of reforms, including privatisation, downsizing the public
sector, cutting government expenditure, and “more open and growth-orientated”
Predictably, the ADB speaks of consulting more widely with “civil society” and
working to “strengthen the interface and collaboration” between Pacific member
governments and NGOs/civil society groups. Its March 2001 report, “A Pacific
Strategy for the New Millennium” states that “wider NGO involvement and
consequent stronger ownership of Pacific developing member country governments’
development strategies and reform agenda has become a priority.” It emphasises
“poverty reduction” and “good governance”. It will tailor its activities towards
“country-specific strategies” in the Pacific. The buzzwords might have changed.
But the economic fundamentals which underpin its programme remain unchallenged.
Pacific peoples have little or no input into the development of macroeconomic
policies affecting them, promoted with little empirical or independent research
on whether or not they are appropriate or desirable for the recipient country.
Pacific Islands Forum (formerly the South Pacific Forum) represents 14 Pacific
Island governments (Australia and New Zealand are also members). It plays a key
political role in getting assent and commitment on economic, financial and trade
policy measures. Forum leaders, ministers, and officials have increasingly
focussed on promoting the economic agenda already pushed by World Bank/IMF
structural adjustment programmes, ADB loan conditionalities, the WTO and APEC.
Donor countries like
Australia and New Zealand
frequently link future aid commitments to undertakings by governments to further
pursue economic reforms. Increasingly bilateral aid consists of “technical
assistance” to implement new policies.
Previous preferential trade arrangements, like the Lome agreement between the
European Union and the Africa Caribbean and Pacific (EU-ACP) states have been
replaced with new frameworks aimed at liberalising trade and investment in
Pacific countries. Last year’s Cotonou Agreement, the successor to Lome, listed
the objectives of economic and trade cooperation: “to promote smooth and gradual
integration of ACP economies into the world economy; to enhance production,
supply and trading capacities; to create new trade dynamics and foster
investment; to ensure full conformity with WTO provisions.” In reality, few
Pacific countries enjoy preferential access to Europe’s markets.
July, Forum economic ministers pledged “we will, to the extent practicable,
implement domestic measures consistent with WTO and APEC principles and
obligations, and cooperate in responding to and taking advantage of multilateral
trade developments.” A regional free trade agreement is currently being
negotiated among Pacific island states, although its exact nature is not yet
known. A draft text should be presented to the Pacific Island Forum Trade
Ministers Meeting in June, and Forum Leaders in August, at their meeting in
the Cold War’s end, the Pacific’s strategic importance lessened. Aid flows
started to diminish. Bilateral aid programmes had always reflected donor
countries’ political and economic interests. In many cases, 70-90% of official
aid to the Pacific has returned to donor countries like Australia, Japan and New
Zealand, in the form of education services, consultants, technical services and
the provision of materials for infrastructure projects, while creating lucrative
investment opportunities and new markets for goods and services.
the Solomon Islands, New Zealand government aid part-funded a programme to
reduce the public sector by 7-10%. Since 1997, New Zealand has supported the ADB
Comprehensive Reform Program in
Vanuatu, which includes
significant cuts to the size of the public sector (an estimated 25-30%
reduction), the introduction of value-added tax, and tariff cuts. Social
services spending cuts and the introduction of user-pays have seen the decline
of health services, especially in rural areas, and imposed barriers to the
affordability of education. Unemployment, especially for youth, has worsened as
the private sector in Pacific Island countries cannot absorb the available
labour. Public sector “rightsizing” has been accompanied by a sudden increase in
the numbers of consultants. New Zealand and Australia have provided assistance
in the establishment of a Privatisation Commission in PNG and its work in
preparing state-owned assets for privatisation.
export-oriented, exploitative model of development has become entrenched in
parts of the Pacific. The US-administered Northern Marianas Islands became
best-known for its sweatshops employing low-waged women migrant workers
producing popular clothing for duty-free export to the US market. Much of Fiji’s
textile clothing and footwear export industry is based on tax holidays for
overseas investors, labour market deregulation and wages well below the poverty
Solomons and PNG are relatively “resource rich” in minerals and forestry, yet
local communities derive little or no benefit from investment in these sectors.
Logging in the Solomons and PNG has been environmentally destructive and created
few local jobs, with raw logs being exported for processing offshore. In 1993,
Pacific Island countries received US $126 million from a resource worth US $2
billion annually – tuna fishing – an industry dominated by a handful of US and
Forced dependency on imports has had dire consequences for small Pacific Island
farmers, unable to compete with lower priced products from overseas. While
Pacific nations are told to export more to earn more foreign exchange and repay
debts, commodity prices on world markets continue to plummet, and the floods of
imports of overseas goods and services continue unabated.
communal ownership of land, the existence of the subsistence economy (some 85%
of people are engaged in the subsistence economy in PNG, 80% in Vanuatu and the
Solomons, and 55% in the Federated States of Micronesia) and strong
communitarian values are celebrated as strengths against the onslaught of
corporate globalisation by its critics in the Pacific. To the market’s true
believers, however, these obstacles must be overcome in order to entrench the
cash economy and attract foreign investment.
is the issue where opposing values of Pacific societies and corporate
globalisation most obviously collide. In
Melanesia, 97% of land is
communally-owned. The people of Bougainville shut down the massive CRA/RTZ
Panguna copper mine in 1989 after over two decades of environmental degradation,
appalling health problems and the trampling of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights.
Kanak communities have razed tourist developments to the ground in New
Caledonia. The Freeport gold and copper mine in West Papua has destroyed the
lands and rivers of the local Amungme, Dani, Moni and Kamoro peoples, and
remains a potent symbol of the relationship between transnational corporate
greed and Indonesia’s colonial occupation of the territory.
PNG land is seen as “my life, my bank, my everything”. In 1995, popular
opposition including mass protests by students, churches, and NGOs against a
World Bank-driven programme to register customary title defeated the
government’s proposed Land Mobilisation Bill designed to attract foreign
investment. One local commentator described this “as little more than a scheme
to ready the legal system and population for massive expropriation of
this March, PNG Defence Force soldiers rebelled against plans to restructure the
PNGDF, but made explicit links between their situation and the structural
adjustment programmes imposed by the IMF, World Bank and the ADB. Army Captain
Stanley Benny said: “Their foreign ideas have completely destroyed the nation.
The World Bank, the IMF and Australian influences – have denuded the nation’s
vast resources under the guise of assistance.” Troops urged that World Bank and
IMF advisors, as well as Australian military advisors, be expelled from the
country. Students and Unions also protested the economic reforms. A joint trade
union/NGO statement read: “The soldiers’ struggle here is part of the people’s
global fight against the wanwol gavman” (global government). The Morauta
Government is cutting back the public sector and introducing privatisation of
public assets such as Air Niugini and Telikom PNG, in return for US$200 million
in soft loans from the international financial institutions.”
Pacific leaders are openly sceptical about the global free market economy. At
January’s Pacific Island Conference of Leaders, Niue’s Prime Minister Sani
Lakatani and Cook Islands Prime Minister Dr. Terepai Maoate strongly criticised
globalisation. Lakatani said. "Small island nations are vulnerable and are
practically of no consequence when it comes to combating the adverse effects of
globalization and what is emerging is a new order of colonialism. The uneven
distribution of wealth and power points to the potential loss of sovereignty by
national governments as the control of their respective economies become more
subject to global forces such as multinational companies and the pressures of
the select global brotherhood."
is definitely trouble in paradise. Watch this space.