Tuesday, 8 June 2010 12:01 PM

DDP's NPF Policy - A blooper!

Dear Editor,

I wish to thank Mr Sasako for his reply to my viewpoint on the above issue.

I decided to share my opinion because clearly DDP's initial press statement on the issue was outrightly misleading. By reading the part of the article which mentioned DDP's policy on NPF, any reader would certainly have the view that those who are not formally employed are not yet included in the scheme and that DDP has the solution to salvage them.

This particular statement from the first media article (published in Solomon Star): "DDP intends to open up NPF so that any Solomon Islander who wishes to can save in this important government financial institution" would certainly create the impression to any reader that NPF is not yet "open up" for voluntary membership even if one wishes to. This is what I see as a blooper- no more, no less.

Well, it may have been written to mean something else, but as stated earlier- and I do stand by my point - to an average reader how the above statement is worded is nothing less than being totally misleading. That was the main point of my previous article. It is a typical example of how many political parties and individuals do their campaigning; that is sugar-coating issues (and the obvious) so that voters fall for them.

It was because of the misleading nature of DDP's initial press statement that I believe urged the General Manager of NPF to make another media statement (in Solomon Star) to clarify the matter for us readers.

So since NPF already caters for those who are not formally employed, the task should be to ease access to the scheme for ordinary peoples. As a rural person myself, I can confidently say that the main reason why rural people do not utilise that voluntary membership clause of the NPF Act is because the technicalities involved in becoming a Member of NPF are beyond the simple know-how of rural people.

Being a voluntary member of NPF involves a lot of things, one being that members are required to facilitate the payment of their own financial contributions. Unlike those working in the formal sector who have their own accountants and departments that deal with their membership transactions whenever it is required, voluntary members are required to undertake all transactions on their own and this, believe me, is a very big hassle for any rural person with an average or no level of formal education. Even the withdrawal of funds from the scheme by members who are rural based is a real headache for them. Having assisted a few of my rural wantoks, this process- which may be regarded as straight-forward by educated people who are familiar with the processes - can be very frustrating and hideous for the rural not-so-educated person.

It is not surprising therefore that most rural people who wish to save do not go to NPF but to the banks instead. Believe me, many rural people save their money in the banks, not because it is the best option for them, but because it is the more convenient of saving choices for them. Currently, if they are to make a choice, they would rather save in the banks or not at all. That was the point of discussion when 'saving in banks' was mentioned in my previous letter. It was not mentioned with any intentions to suggest that saving in commercial banks is financially feasible than with NPF. As far as this discussion is concerned, that is a non-issue.

So the question that should be asked as far as the NPF issue is concerned is 'how' access to NPF's voluntary membership can be eased to rural people so that their active participation is encouraged. That is, to create demand for NPF membership and to make the processes simpler and comprehensive for the average educated rural person. For us rural people the answer to the question is obvious; and is mainly because the processes and procedures involved are beyond our limited capability to facilitate them, as alluded to earlier. Any person who is residing in the rural Solomon Islands will fully acknowledge this. It is a fact that is certainly felt and known thus making the 'why' or 'why not' question almost irrelevant and remote for the NPF issue.

That was why the suggestion was made in my previous letter that making rural people who are not formally employed to join NPF scheme can only be effectively achieved by working in collaboration with NPF and for NPF to decentralise its services to the rural areas, a matter which in my humble opinion is easier said than done and therefore should not be stated with oversimplification and understatements, let alone being misleading.

But certainly this is an issue that would attract voters and my reckoning is that it is for this reason that DDP has included the NPF issue as part of their policy proposal. I may well be wrong but Solomon Islands politics is such that, undermining the real significance of it, a party manifesto, at least to a rural dweller like me, is nothing but a paper containing a political wish-list designed to be sold to voters in return for their votes. Without that a manifesto has no first-hand value.

On hindsight, one can come up with all sorts of polices but if they are not voted into parliament they wont be able to implement them. And even if they do get elected, there is still doubt that policies of any particular party will be implemented fully. We have never had a full majority one-party government since independence and with the absence of any legal framework that would regulate the conduct of MPs and political parties I greatly doubt that this would be achieved any time soon. So at the end of the day, it all comes down to whether or not people will be attracted to individuals' or party's policy proposals and therefore vote for them when they go to the polls.

Indeed fish don't come to you. You go after them. But going after them is one thing and whether or not you will be using the right tools and bait to catch any is yet another.

On the other hand, one may argue that a manifesto is not simply a 'to-do' wish-list but an action plan based on identified priorities. Still, for us rural people, at least from where I come from, we do not regard NPF membership as priority, at least for now. Our priorities are increased access to education (increase literacy rate) and social services, reducing unemployment, infrastructure development and so forth. We would rather invest on our children, land and resources than to save in something we are not properly familiar with like NPF.

It is undeniable that one of the major reasons why Solomon Islands does not progress in growth and development is simply that we lack sound policies; policies that are pragmatic and would address the priority needs of the people and the country as a whole. Personally I would categorise DDP's NPF policy as not as high a priority for Solomon Islanders. Rather, I would envisage that if we are really genuinely concerned about people's propensity to save, we should be addressing the loopholes and economic malice surrounding all financial institutions, especially the banking system to ensure that rural people are equal participants and beneficiaries, unlike the situation highlighted by the letter mentioned by Mr. Sasako, from the poor old-man who was literally robbed by the bank's high costs of saving. In my view, addressing NPF alone is not good enough and hence amounts to unsound policy.

And as for me outliving my usefulness, I really don't understand why this discussion should go to that extent, as there is no need to. The point of discussion here is not about me or anybody but about DDP and its policy intentions.

But since Mr Sasako has guessed, I must save his precious time from making anymore presumptuous assertions about my personality and let him know that - well, I am not too sure myself either- he is the Psychic. He may well be true that I have outlived my usefulness, but one thing am sure of is this: I am yet to reach my prime and that I do not have any followers - followers for what? Me no like stand for election! Olketa man like stand up olowe lo elections ia na needim followers - not me.

I have never had a shot in the past so that I can be judged against. But I thank him for being judgmental because that's one thing I know he is fond of. And who knows? I might use him as an infamous role model by ensuring that when I reach his age I would not have to consign myself to the same blunders, save the positive achievements, that he had obligated himself to when he was an MP and national leader. I can then discover whether or not any usefulness is still left in me.

As for now I want to remind you, Mr. Sasako, that my future is your present (current), so please don't gamble with it. You are a national leader, so live up to the tune.

Indeed Isaac Newton asked not just any question, but a relevant one. But for us to understand fully why the apple has fallen at the first place, the laws of gravity alone do not provide a complete answer. The ecological forces of nature resulting in the weakening of the apple then allowing the forces of gravity to take their effect, must also be considered. In other words, the forces of gravity alone do not result in the fall of the apple.

I wish Mr. Sasako (and DDP) the best of luck in the upcoming general elections. I trust that he can make a grand re-entry into Parliament come Election Day.

GOD BLESSEM SOLOMON ISLANDS BLO IUMI!

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

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