Market Missionaries Flock To The Pacific
“Your 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 servicing. Amen.
At 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.
Only 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.
The 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” economic policies.
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.
The 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.
Last 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 Nauru.
With 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.
In 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.
An 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 line.
The 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 Asian companies.
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.
The 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.
Land 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.
In 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 traditional lands”.
Then, 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.”
Some 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."
There is definitely trouble in paradise. Watch this space.