By Kevin W. Trueman
The most common perception of aid is that it is help given to a person or persons in their time of need and given without the recipient being obligated to pay for the assistance rendered. However, nowadays in the Pacific on a government-to-government basis, you could be forgiven for thinking that nothing is further from the truth. Canberra has now coined the phrase “Aid for Trade”.
Australians and New Zealanders are generally speaking generous people and they want to help Pacific Islanders without looking for reward. This is aid done mainly through their charities and their service clubs and organizations without the razzamatazz and self-glorifying publicity of TV shows that seem to be the present style of government aid agencies that are bent on promoting themselves.
So many of these so called AusAID projects seem to employ large numbers of highly paid staff either on very high salaries or consultancy packages and the majority produce little in return except huge bills for the Australian taxpayer.
In the past, aid projects used to be run by whoever was managing the project and there were no enormous administration overheads. The managers had to be capable competent and persons
of integrity. To be on the safe side, there was usually a six- monthly audit done by a skilled auditor who might have a dozen or more such projects under his wing. Accountability, profitability, transparency and honesty were not just expected but demanded as the norm.
I remember when the former Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam came to power in Australia, and he proceeded to push Papua New Guinea to earlier than expected independence. His explanation to the Australian public was that this would save them a fortune in taxes and that the percentage of profits from Bougainville Copper’s earnings that would be paid to Port Moresby would more than compensate the Australian contribution of funding to PNG.
In addition all of the senior Australian public servants who worked in PNG would be given a “golden hand shake” once they handed in their resignations. A lot of these people had more seniority than many of the senior public servants in Canberra.
What has the result of this been? Maintaining the old colonial administration would have been cheaper for the Australian taxpayer than the present Australian aid programs with the highly paid advisers who pay no tax themselves to Australia or elsewhere. In addition there has been a civil war in Bougainville because the people of Bougainville resented their huge mining revenues going to Port Moresby while they remained in relative squalor.
Whenever we get a Labor government in Australia, the size of the public service sector increases, not usually by increasing the actual number of public servants, but by engaging consultants, recruited through consultancy agencies. This increases the cost to the Australian taxpayer considerably. And makes some people in the know extremely wealthy.
A few days ago Australia’s Prime Minister announced that Australia and New Zealand would establish an education fund for Pacific Islanders of $40 million dollars for tertiary education in New Zealand and
Australia over the next ten years. If the average cost of a degree is $50,000 per year and the average course is four years, it will represent about 200 scholarships or the equivalent of ten scholarships a year. What is embarrassing for Australians is that New Zealanders seem to be paying the bigger share.
The twisting and bullying by the present Australian Labor government on the Pacific Island Forum and the Pacific Islands generally, is detrimental to Australia’s interest. The beneficences are China, Indonesia and India, countries that are all making tremendous inroads into the region.
If Canberra had more dialogue with Australians who were in business and had lived in the Pacific for some time, they would gain a better and more comprehensive understanding of the region and its differences. The Australian government needs to show more respect for the sovereignty of their Pacific neighbours and get back to the genuine friendship that was there once. The present bureaucratic arrogance shown by the government of Australia to her Pacific neighbours only increases the influence of China, Indonesia and India in the region at a geopolitical and economic cost to Australia.
Regional unity and a better and more prosperous state for Australia and her Pacific neighbours will depend on enlightened aid and cooperation by the governments in the region.
Kevin Trueman has had considerable business interests in Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Pacific and South East Asia, in trading, building, shipping, agricultural and pastoral enterprises. He’s currently in business in Vanuatu and lives at Port Vila.