SMALL ISLANDS VOICE

Title: Facing up to the tough questions of population control and political improvement
Author: Brian R. Mommsen
Date: Tuesday, 24 June 2003
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Reading Mr. Crocombe's article about foreign investment in the Cook Islands, I have several observations, which I hope will provide 'food for thought' and will spark a deeper understanding as to what is happening here.


First - how do you think the islands of the Pacific became populated in the first place? In an ideal world, people control their population growth to an optimum number and evolve politically to share governance, opportunity and wealth. But islanders are human like the rest of the earth's population and have historically forced out many of their people through over-population and political conflict. Nowadays, nothing has changed! Short sighted and greedy leadership in many island societies has caused a portion of their population to leave.

Second - the arrival of foreign capital and foreign workers are a 'symptom' of the above problems. You cannot cure 'symptoms', you can only get temporary relief! As long as the root causes are left untreated some 'symptoms' will continue to trouble the island population.

Third - there is another source of discontent. I call it the modern day curse
of 'rising expectations'. To illustrate this point, I remember a stay in
Jamaica during the early 1980s, when I questioned some very knowledgeable and thoughtful Jamaicans about why their island had taken a drastic socialist change. They said this was a result of over-population, over-education, and over-expectations. In Jamaica during the '70s there were thousands of students who were encouraged by the island's leadership to get college degrees and industrial trade certificates, as education was the key to their future financial success. But success did not follow. They left the colleges and trade schools to find an island not ready for their services. There was plenty of room for blame - inadequate leadership from politicians and business leaders, a downturn of the world economy (related to oil supply and prices), a decline in bauxite prices (bauxite is a major export of Jamaica), tourism competition from other islands, etc. So there was a great social upheaval that led to the departure of the educated and wealthy, and this further drained the potential of the island.

This issue of 'rising expectations' is very evident today. In our modern day
world of global communication, the youth of the islands are bombarded by
lifestyle images through movies, videos, TV, magazines, and their own
off-island relatives. These images show material successes (nice homes, cars, etc.) as being the world's norm for people who apply themselves.

To summarize: islands that cannot bring themselves to face the tough questions of population control and political improvement cannot expect to be much in control of anything else. Focus on these issues first and everything else will become less of a problem.


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