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Friday, August 22, 2008

Pacific's high unemployment promotes thriving criminal activities: Australian Report

By Samantha Magick in Sydney

A provocative new report from Australia says high unemployment in many Pacific Island nations means crime is the main source of informal-sector employment in the region.

“Robbery, protection rackets, prostitution, gambling, drug sales and associated arms-dealing and violence are thriving,” write Helen Hughes and Gaurav Sodhi of the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) in their report, ‘The Bipolar Pacific.’

They say this criminal activity has attracted the wrong sort of international interest.

“The Pacific is developing its comparative advantage as a location for international criminal activities such as people-smuggling, drug production and arms trafficking.”

The authors believe the Pacific’s development since independence has been “bipolar”, as countries with strong links to France, New Zealand and the U.S. have “traded political independence for growth.” They write that, in contrast, the more populous Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Nauru and Vanuatu have struggled, and in some cases gone backwards.

Hughes and Sodhi say this discrepancy is reflected in education standards — “the Pacific is sharply divided between islands that are functionally literate and those that remain basically illiterate” — and health, where slow-growing islands continue to see ailments associated with “poor and crowded housing” and “dire” medical services.

The CIS report claims the principal effect of aid to the Pacific has been to “avoid the adoption of policies necessary for growth.”

The ‘Bipolar Pacific’ says seasonal labor migration programs, such as that just announced by the Australian government, are of limited benefit.

“(These schemes will) no doubt benefit the individuals lucky enough to be selected to participate. But even the high guest-worker numbers ...would not help the employment problems of PNG, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.”

They say the solution lies in new land tenure regimes and agricultural policies that increase the productivity of land.”

“The Pacific can only avoid looming economic, social and political crises if its large economies dramatically reform their policies to encourage substantial employment creating growth.”

Otherwise, Hughes and Sodhi warn, “it is only a matter of time before the growing army of unemployed and underemployed turns from restless to violent.”

Source: Pacific Magazine

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