Friday, 14 August 2009 3:41 PM

US Pacific Partnership

This week, the local media prominently featured humanitarian activities of the US Navy in Honiara, Guadalcanal and Malaita Provinces. The visit reflects the 64-year historical war time connection between the US and Solomon Islands in the name of democracy and freedom. The infrequent humanitarian assistance, particularly, medical help provided during the current visit and in any other past visits should be appreciated by those who were lucky to be serviced by visiting Navy personnel.
But there is one striking issue which I'd like our leaders and public to think about. That is on the SUSTAINABILITY of such assistance after the visitors pack up and left our shores. Such infrequent events, as usual, will attract so much public and media attention and when it's over, Solomon Islanders will once again return to square one while waiting for another four or more years to receive similar services.
I assume the current visit in the pretext of humanitarian civic assistance is executed for America's strategic interests to tell others that the cash strapped pacific region is their territory. I have no problems with that assumption if that is the objective of the mission.
But what I think is appropriate to sustain and make the partnership meaningful is for the US to boost its presence in the Solomons in the years ahead. I suggest our political leaders, especially, the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs talk to Barak Obama through appropriate communication channels to seek US sponsorship for medical scholarships similar to the present SI-Cuba arrangement.
Perhaps, this could be one simple way to enhance and make the US-SI partnership more meaningful, especially, to the younger generation of Solomon Islanders, whose knowledge of our WWII historical connection with the US is fading as history grows older and older.
I believe future Solomon Islands medical doctors and nurses studying under US medical scholarships will always feel proud to talk about such US assistance to their kids.
The US can also help build nine hospitals in our nine provinces and name them after some US soldiers who fought here during WWII. It can be done by revisiting the Solomons with boat loads of building materials and deploying Navy personnel to suitably identified sites to build the hospitals. Doing things this way is much more practical than channeling money through Aid Agencies which bulk of the funds are at risk of sinking into the pockets of consultants and even worse when money is channeled through our own government.
The US War Monument at Skyline in Honiara will continue to remind us of the WWII history, but nine well -equipped provincial hospitals with a US plaque at the entrance that serves a sick Solomon Islander will be highly valued and remembered for a long time in future.
Helping Solomon Islands develop its medical sector and sustaining it with finances to a point where the country is financially self reliant is more meaningful than talking about WWII which left a lot of mess on Guadalcanal, Shortland Islands and the Iron Bottom Sound.
In June this year, two fishermen lost their hands and legs when trying to make home-made fishing explosives with materials extracted from Unexploded World War 2 bombs near Alligator Creek, East Honiara. Who brought the bombs here?
While Police continue to arrest and warn people about the dangers of tampering with these deadly explosives, their continuous existence in certain parts of our country will not stop people because they wrongly think the explosives are an easy fishing method.
Again, the PM and his Foreign Affairs Minister should remind President Obama of risks involved and the need for cleaning the WWII battle grounds of these deadly explosives. We can learn a lesson from what happened in Vietnam and Cambodia about the risks posed by unexploded WWII bombs to human lives. Perhaps, the PM and Foreign Minister can write a request, place it in a bottle and send it on board the USS Mustin for delivery at the White House.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of George Kalo and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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