by Jan Logie
Last Week I was on the annual Pacific Mission. This event is used to build understanding and networks between Pacific countries and New Zealand.
It is my understanding that traditionally this Mission used to have a development focus but that this has changed significantly with this Government.
On this Mission we went to Tonga, Niue and New Caledonia.
Minister McCully has coined a phrase (which I initially thought had been developed by their detractors) to create a frame for all our development work; NZ Inc. I assume this means everything we’re involved in should carry the stamp of NZ or provide an opportunity for our business to grow.
This is very controversial as traditional development theory and development ethics holds domestic and foreign affair interests should be kept out of development work. Often the priorities and needs of local communities get lost when donor countries interests get entwined in the process. But I was on this Mission to learn so this is what I learnt:
What’s NZ Inc look like?
I assume we can extrapolate out the delegation to the people the Government would like to see involved more in the Pacific. The delegation consisted of 53 representatives from New Zealand – the Minister, 5 MPs including myself the only woman, five officials, 6 trust & board representatives with business expertise, 5 business council representatives, 2 diplomats from foreign Missions,12 business people, 3 NGOs, 4 NZ Inc Agencies ( as noted by the Minister)like NZ Police, defence Force, and 10 media representatives.
Further to this rather heavily weighted business delegation, it was also perhaps not surprisingly heavy with Palangi and men; by my count excluding media there were 7 Māori or Pacifica people and 7 women. All of the businesses were represented by white men as were the NZ Inc Agencies.
NZ Inc looked like a traditional colonial beast to my sensitive eyes.
In Tonga we met with the Government and leader of the opposition and opened the NZ Inc sponsored solar power plant, where the Govt had contracted Meridian Power to deliver. Both Governments and I’d imagine Meridian are keen to promote this initiative throughout the Pacific.
We also went to see the upgrade of the power supply to villages on Tongatapu. We were met there by NZ staff who explained the project and NZ training provided to the Tongan lines staff that will enable them to get work in NZ once they’ve qualified.
The solar project seemed to have wide spread support in the local communities and will bring significant economic, environmental and social benefits. The power lines will also reduce wastage by up to 30% which has to be positive. They had even taken on a young woman to train. I’m not sure training people up to then go to New Zealand to get work is necessarily the best thing for Tonga but…
NZ Inc looked progressive and Green.
Then we went to Tonga Forest Products Site which will be providing the power poles for the power lines and are looking at significantly expanding forestry as an income source for the people of Tonga. We were again shown around by two New Zealanders who seemed to be running the project.
Again this project seems to be set on a NZ Govt./business plan model and there are terrible stories from the aftermath of when forestry was all the thing in development in the 90s in the Cook Islands, where the country is now carrying a resource that is sucking up their precious water resources. I didn’t see enough to truly assess this though.
We attended the opening of the Scenic Hotel (NZ hotel Chain) Tonga and in Niue we went to the extension celebration of the (stunning) Matavai hotel that New Zealand in which has invested $10.1 million and has been project managed by Mark Blumsky.
I have to admit I was completely charmed by both Tonga and Niue and part of me would love to persuade off of you haven’t been already to go but the Niuean locals were not at all sure about the upscale resort out on the edge of the island. The Tongan people weren’t saying anything to me against the New Zealand owned hotel. Our Government’s belief is these hotels will create jobs and increase the economic independence of both countries. This sounds fine in theory except tourism is notoriously difficult in a development context. It often results in enclave economies which benefit only the few people directly employed or, if not so restricted, can contribute to driving up the local economy so local people can no longer afford the basics – see Queenstown as an example of this. This impact is exacerbated when the profits go off shore. And this isn’t even mentioning the issues around cultural sustainability as systems and norms get changed to attract more tourists.
Neither of these projects seemed to have systems in place to involve local people and work through those potential problems.
NZ Inc in these cases seemed to me to be about creating profit and more holiday destinations for New Zealanders.
Business and Development
I spoke to several of our NZ Inc business people over the week and they were very keen to expand their activities into the Pacific – especially New Caledonia as it will potentially give them access to the EU. I will save my rave about trade undermining indigenous rights until another time.
They were quite keen on the new development process that meant they didn’t have to spend so much time developing proposals for smaller sized projects. They were not supportive though of the model that encourages Aid agencies, Business and NZ Inc to work together. They did not think this would be economically viable for them as they need to be able to include scoping work in their charge.
One business leader talked to me about the need to just be able to get on with the job and how aid agencies were just do-gooders slowing everything down. They also talked about the frustration of situations when they have to deliver on local requests without the ability to correct them.
So it also seems old imperialism is the face of NZ Inc.
I think this Government thinks involving business is innovative but actually it’s not. Trade and migration has always been core to our relationship with the Pacific. Initially we took their raw products and made a profit off them and now we sell more back to them at higher costs. We bring in Pacific labour when it suits our needs and then turn our backs on them when the labour market changes. We factor the remittances Pacific people send back home in our aid equations while ignoring the hardship experienced here.
The Core of NZ Inc is the trickle-down theory of development which we have seen again and again does not work.
Development is supposed to short circuit these power inequalities, promote human rights, protect the environment and alleviate poverty.