Saturday, 16 February 2008 10:56 AM

The Cost of the "Wantok System"

The wantok system has often been described as a 'safety net' and for a country like the Solomon Islands where there are no social service schemes, this may be true.

To those who do not know, the wantok system stems from the word 'one talk', which could be loosely defined as those speaking the same language.

In Solomon Islands, there are close to 220 different languages spoken and those that speak the same language, or 'one talk', traditionally 'look out' for each other.

The wantok system could be seen as an unwritten social contract, between those that speak the same language, to assist each other in times of need. This ranges from little things such as assistance in school fees to favors that border corruption, such as offering a job or contract to a person or persons because they are a 'wantok'.

Many commentators have written about the cost it has to the overall economy, Henry Toley on the other hand, represents those on the ground that face up to the harsh reality of such a system.

"It is very difficult...I am a gardener and even with my very small salary, I am expected to pay for school fees of wantoks that are unemployed," said Mr. Toley. "Not only that, I also pay for food in a house full of wantoks, it is very difficult"

Mr. Toley represents a growing number of low income urban residents finding it hard to survive because of the high dependence of wantoks.

In Honiara where the population has almost doubled in the past ten years, many from the rural areas have come to the capital seeking out jobs.

Unfortunately, with the high unemployment rate and the slow pace of job creation, people like Mr. Toley will continue to act as a 'safety net'.

"I think the system is making us very poor, and we will continue to be poor if we encourage it," said Mr. Toley when asked about his thoughts on the wantok system.

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