RAMSI "costly and disproportionate" - academic
A Lowy Institute report says Australia's assistance in RAMSI was costly and disproportionate, and there are lessons to be learnt from the 10-year assistance mission.
A Lowy Insitute report says despite some impressive achievements, Australia's decade-long assistance in Solomon Islands is a costly and disproportionate investment.
Launched in 2003, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, or RAMSI, was instigated to restore law and order and reconstitute a shattered economy.
The report's author and Melanesia program director, Jenny Hayward-Jones, says the US$2.4 billion contribution by Australia was too high a price to pay for restoring stability in a small country.
She told Mary Baines RAMSI should show Australian governments the importance of knowing how much to spend and when to leave.
JENNY HAYWARD-JONES: The country was effectively broken before 2003, and it now has a functioning government system and a functioning economy, which is really largely thanks to the efforts by Australia, New Zealand and every other Pacific Island country that participated in RAMSI. But $2.6 billion in real terms was a lot of taxpayers' money from Australia. And the almost $1.5 billion of that spent by the Australian federal police is quite a high price to pay for restoring stability in a country of just half a million people.
MARY BAINES: Solomon Islands still seems to struggle to stand on its own feet and is heavily reliant on foreign aid. You pointed out in the report, following the recent flash floods, we saw that as a good example of them relying on foreign aid. So why is this the case?
JHJ: Over the decade of RAMSI assistance, Solomon Islands became the second most aid-dependent country in the world. It went from being somewhere way down the scale to being the second. I guess that was inevitable given the scale of RAMSI assistance and the dramatic spend by Australia and also of course Australia's spending helped other donors coming as well, because RAMSI established the stability for other donors to contribute as well. But it does mean that it's now a bit more difficult for Solomon Islands to stand on its own two feet and yes, certainly the floods in April, the shocking floods, show that external assistance is still very important to Solomon Islands and they will still be looking to donors for some time in the future.
MB: So do you think the decade-long stay was necessary?
JHJ: It's difficult to say when exactly that exit should have happened, maybe it did happen at the right time. But the point I have shown in my paper is that without an effective exit strategy or a consistent means of measuring impact, and then making hard political decisions about when that impact is achieved and when it is basically safe to leave it to Solomon Islands to get on with running their own country, it certainly was a difficult one to plan.
MB: You've identified lessons of RAMSI that you think should be absorbed by the Abbott government in terms of foreign and trade and aid policies. What are those lessons?
JHJ: The key lessons really are that getting multiple government agencies to work together is a good objective, and it certainly has been successful in Solomon Islands. But telling them to work together and getting them to practically work together are different things. It's important to set very clear objectives and expectations and make operating systems as consistent as possible. We've certainly learnt that it is very productive to work with New Zealand and the region to achieve objectives that are important to the region. We've realised that deploying Australians to frontline positions in certainly the government of Solomon Islands, and this approach has been tried elsewhere, to make sure we build the capacity of local officials rather than set up a system of dependence on foreigners. It is also important to recognise that imposing reforms on other countries really only works if there is strong political ownership. It's not clear that even most of the reforms introduced by RAMSI will endure without strong political support from Solomon Islands in the future.
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