Dear Editor,

The Direct Development Party (DDP) has recently launched its policy manifesto and one of its main goals is to "open up NPF" for people who are not formally employed. Alfred Sasako, a trustee of DDP revealed this in his media publication. However, Anthony Makabo, General Manager of NPF clarified in another letter that this provision is already covered under the current NPF Act. Unsurprisingly, Sasako replied to this and tried to make some cover for DPP.

I read with interest the letters by Mr. Alfred Sasako and Mr. Anthony Makabo the General Manager of the National Provident Fund on the above matter and would like to share my personal opinion on the issue.

First of all, Sasako's first letter which touched on the issue of NPF membership as part of DDP's manifesto amused me. Reading the letter, two things come to mind. Firstly, I was of the view that little or no effort was undertaken by DDP to examine existing legislation in regards to voluntary membership of NPF before finalizing their manifesto. Secondly, Mr. Sasako may have misquoted himself in the letter. These words which Mr. Sasako himself said and wrote says it all: "So far...NPF only benefits those who are in paid employment. But what about those who work but are not formally employed? Can they be included under the NPF scheme?... DDP intends to open up NPF so that any Solomon Islander who wishes to can save in this important government financial institution".

This statement clearly shows that DDP is of the view that the NPF scheme is not inclusive of people who are non-formally employed, which is not true, as Makabo has clarified in his letter. As Makabo stated, the NPF Act's voluntary provision already includes "those who work but are not formally employed". Thus, NPF is already "open up" and does not need DDP to do it for them. Should they have undertaken proper research of the NPF scheme and its membership requirements DPP would have known better that the particular area of their manifesto is already taken care of and should not be included, let alone published in the media as one of their priorities.

And if DDP understands this issue "perfectly" as Sasako described in his second letter, then they should avoid making misleading statements. The above quoted words would tell any reader that DPP is of the view that people who are not formally employed are not included in the NPF scheme as it is "not open" for them, which is not true at all.

I am raising this concern because I think this blooper by DDP is a typical illustration of what many political parties and intending candidates will be or are now doing to win votes in the up coming election; that is the political sugar-coating of somewhat non-pragmatic and unfeasible policy proposals, or in this case lack of proper assessment of people's needs and priorities. Many people and parties will come up with sugary and mouth-watering manifestos and plans to convince voters. Many of these policy proposals may not be feasible and pragmatic given our current circumstances. And history has proven that most are formulated only to attract political support to win elections. On top of that, making drastic changes to our current system is easier said than done as how it is being 'simplified' by many of the political parties' manifestations. So I only hope that people are not going to be hypnotised by the sugar-coated vocabulary of party and individual manifestos.

Mr. Sasako's second letter, in his reply to Makabo has made clarifications on the position of DDP in the issue of NPF membership. His assertion that the NPF issue is but one of the many questions addressed in their manifesto is understandable. But I think the fact that they have chosen to highlight that particular issue in the media as an example of their various policy questions is a clear demonstration of the vitality of the issue in their policy platform. I am not surprised though for it is an attractive one, with potential of gaining the favour of thousands of rural Solomon Islanders.

As stated in the second letter, the issue for DDP on NPF is mainly on "why most rural Solomon Islanders have not joined the NPF scheme" regardless of the voluntary membership provision already in place. In my opinion, this issue is not an economical one but one that is normative, raising questions on the how rural people value NPF membership as a means of social security as opposed to saving in banks, as well as how convenient this scheme can be for them should they become members. Many rural people already generate substantive incomes enough for them to be voluntary members. But they would rather save their money in the banks instead, where it is more convenient, than to go to NPF to open an account. The technicalities involving NPF membership is almost beyond practicality for rural dwellers. Unless DDP collaborates with NPF so that its services are decentralised to rural areas, this proposal will remain an item in our economic wish-list for some time.

In relation to asking the right questions, I believe in the case of NPF the question is not very much on asking "why" or "why not" alone. This is because answering the "why" question alone would only lead to actions that would result only in 'means' and not 'ends'. For instance, in answering why or why not rural people do not join NPF on voluntary basis, one might come up with a range of normative results which at the end of the day may not be action-oriented or are too aspirational to be useful course for action. So I believe that answering the questions of "why" or "why not" alone, in the case of NPF is not enough. It will only lead to further questions than answers.

Instead we should be asking both the "why" and the "how" questions. The reason as to why people do not join NPF or why nothing has been done about the issue will give us valuable information. But having such information alone is not enough. What the people in rural areas need is action and it is only when the question of "how" is being asked that things can be action-oriented and be prescriptive. So asking the question of "why" alone will not be enough to effectively address the issue of under-utilisation of NPF's voluntary membership provision. It is not enough to the extent that asking it (why) alone would be the same as asking the wrong question.

Apparently, I am quite impressed by DDP's proposed rural economic unit (REU) market model. For Solomon Islands to be economically independent we have to expand or broaden our economic base and in Solomon Islands there is no better way of doing that than to decentralise development initiatives to the rural areas. But I think the proposal is not something "new and radical". Such units already exist in many communities, or at least at where I come from. The only task required is to have them properly organised and coordinated, which at the end of the day is really a process of capacity building and strengthening of existing local socio-economic and political structures and institutions. This approach is not new, let alone radical. It has been around in discussions of development and politics of Solomon Islands for many years.

On hindsight, turning constituencies into rural economic units is just another means of boosting rural development through community governance, proactive economic participation, sustainability and participatory democracy, which are the common vocabulary of most if not all of the other parties contesting the upcoming national general elections. Thus, it is yet another of the tentacles of the "bottom-up approach" to development policy of the GCCG and CNURA- nothing new and radical. The language may seem different but the ideology is the same. It is just sugar-coated.

Having said all the above, I would like to wish DDP and its members the best of luck in the upcoming elections. Hope you will be able to implement your policy proposals should any of your candidates are voted into parliament.