Taxpayers should be extremely concerned that egregiously high salaries are paid to aid-funded advisers, not because they are earning more than the Prime Minister but because the aid is being wasted. Capacity building has not merely failed to get Pacific islands to grow, but is responsible for their lack of development.
Some of these advisers do a reasonable enough job, though many do too little to earn any salaries. Many of the useful ones, for example, in finance departments, are not advisers at all. They manage budgets and expenditures. The islands have thus avoided the inflation and excessive borrowing of previous decades. But countries cannot develop unless their own nationals learn by doing. Nationals may initially make more mistakes than advisers, but only by actually doing a job without someone looking over their shoulder can a cadre of public servants be created. Yet 30 years after independence, key public service posts throughout the islands are held by expatriates. Solomon Islanders welcomed the pacifying functions of the Regional Mission to the Solomons, but they now seethe with resentment because they have no role in their own country. There is also almost no indigenous private sector in the Pacific. Australian expatriates dominate large business and the professions and Chinatowns handle the luxury trade that caters for them. In Fiji, which relied least on expatriates, they are flocking back. They are now Chinese rather than Australians.
Most of the Pacific graduates trained in Australia do not seem to be working in the Pacific. They resent advisers in positions they could fill that are being paid salaries they can earn only by working abroad. They find jobs in international organisations or the Middle East. In Papua New Guinea particularly, stratospheric expatriate salaries are justified by the personal danger arising from the violent crime that has grown steadily despite 30 years of advice.
Progress is inverse to the number of advisers. There are relatively few advisers in Samoa, which pulled itself together in the 1990s to achieve a decade of low but steady growth. Advisers are most numerous in the Solomon Islands and PNG where standards of living for more than 80% of the population remain at bare subsistence level. Women work in the gardens struggling to get some cash crops to the market. Boys and men hang around smoking ganja and drinking beer. There are no jobs. There is no running water or electricity. Women give birth in the bush. Literacy is estimated to be 25%, principally in urban areas. The more enterprising lads drift to towns where there are also no jobs. Crime is the realistic alternative. In Port Moresby and Lae, expatriate triads run gangs of Raskol that manage the breaking-and-entering, gambling, prostitution and illegal immigration. They probably earn more than the Prime Minister of China.
Capacity building runs in tandem with the UN Millennium Development Goals that have been adopted by AusAID. Capitalist development pursued by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, up to a point even Indonesia, China and India – where there is not an expatriate in sight – has been abandoned. The Millennium Development Goals reject rigorous education, hard work, savings and investment that lead to improvements in living standards, for the socialist objectives of abolishing hunger (which the Pacific has never experienced), postmodern education that has empowered Pacific children but not taught them to read, write or count and minimal health targets that are clearly not going to be achieved. Tragically, a demographic transition to lower population growth is being achieved in PNG by the high death rates of the HIV-AIDS epidemic.
As Peter Bauer saw in the 1950s in Africa, aid supports elites who live comfortable lives while most of their peoples remain in poverty. The Pacific elites send their children to international schools or to boarding schools in Australia. Expatriates support golf and tennis clubs, cafes and restaurants. Locals are encouraged to steal to keep up with these Joneses.
Pacific islands have rich agricultural land and forests, marine resources and minerals. Their beauty is legendary so they are ideal for tourism. The Pacific has received more aid per capita than any other region in the world.
Barnaby Joyce may not be across the development literature but he can smell a rat. Australian aid to the Pacific indeed has been an example of transferring funds from low-income earners in Australia to high-income Pacific elites.
Emeritus professor Helen Hughes is a Senior Fellow of The Centre for Independent Studies. She is completing a book on how aid has failed the Pacific.