Saturday, July 16, 2016

Melanesian Spearhead Group: The sick or the strong man of the Pacific?

After almost one decade of existence, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) has shown its potential to become “the strong man of the South Pacific”. It is making the region more economically integrated while sustaining its Melanesian cultural identity.

However, one issue threatens the group’s core interests and imperils the whole MSG project. The United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s (ULMWP) continuing disruptive and destructive practices in the MSG process endanger the group’s unity and integrity.

It was created to represent the voices of overseas Papuans, who may still have Indonesian citizenship and many who have renounced their citizenship. The movement does not represent the almost 4 million people of Papua and West Papua provinces of Indonesia. As a democracy, the people there directly elect their real leaders in a fair and transparent manner.

The ULMWP’s lone agenda of taking territories away from a sovereign country sets a grave precedent.

The MSG may be displaying the symptoms of a sick man. By allowing the ULMWP to hijack the group’s agenda, the MSG is unintentionally sending the wrong message. It is saying that it is okay for other political organizations to join the group and demand a chunk of a country’s territories for themselves.

It is saying that it is fine to betray the Agreed Principles of Cooperation of the MSG: “the principles of respect for each other’s sovereignty”. It is also saying that it is acceptable to alienate a large portion of the Melanesian population in the Pacific.

It is an undeniable demographic and geographic reality that 11 million people of Melanesian ancestry live in the five Indonesian provinces of East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, North Maluku, Papua and West Papua. It is hard to achieve the group’s goal of cultural solidarity and a greater voice for the Melanesian people if the voices of more than half of the Melanesian population are not welcomed, which is precisely the ambition of the ULMWP.

Ambassador Mickey Roy Joy, Vanuatu’s top representative in Brussels, the capital of the EU, recently told the Vanuatu Daily Post that “the MSG has been too politicized by the member leaders and the MSG has tarnished its integrity”.

There are millions of NGOs and non-profit organizations in the world. One thing that these NGOs have in common is their laser-focus on addressing all sorts of issues, including poverty alleviation, women’s rights, human rights, social justice and other matters.

These non-profits, especially the international NGOs, conduct research and advocacy and carry out effective engagement at many international institutions.

In the process, as noted by the Global Policy Forum, they create “public goods” that normally are not produced by the for-profit second sector and fill the gap that may have been left by the government or the first sector.

The ULMWP stands apart from all those public goods creating NGOs. Instead of delivering services or creating public goods useful for the population, the ULMWP’s negative propaganda stirs division among member countries. Its activities encourage other NGOs to exploit the MSG to advance their political agenda, weakening the group’s capacity to deliver on its original mandate.

It is time for the MSG to shift its focus back to what matters: cultural solidarity and development of the Melanesian people.

With an inclusive approach that welcomes the more than half the Melanesian population living in the eastern parts of Indonesia, the MSG can truly engage in initiatives that strengthen the bonds of cultural solidarity among Melanesians.

Last month, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu agreed to a new and more comprehensive trade agreement. Dubbed the MSGTA3, this agreement covers both commodity and trade in services, labor mobility and investment.

By extending this agreement to include all countries that have a significant Melanesian population, for instance, trade and investment among members of the agreement will significantly grow. MSG members largely produce similar exports, which offset the benefits of the free trade agreement. By trading with other countries that produce a variety of goods different from what the members produce, the MSG will gain more extensive trade and investment.

Increased foreign trade will boost the economic growth of MSG members. Residents of Honiara, Port Vila, Port Moresby and the Papua capital of Jayapura will enjoy greater variety of goods and services. Greater international trade will introduce better methods of production and promote efficiency that lowers costs for consumers.

As the market widens for each member, more jobs will be created to cater to new demand for products and services. Increased international trade will also foster good will, mutual understanding and closer cultural connection among all the countries involved.

As the MSG leaders meet in Honiara on Thursday, the choice is stark. Does the MSG want the presence of the ULMWP to unravel the achievements and institutional framework painstakingly built over the years? Does it want to distance itself from a large portion of the Melanesian population?

The stakeholders of MSG, its members, the Melanesian population and the region would be better off if the group refocuses its energy on what really matters: on locking cultural solidarity for all Melanesians; on facilitating the delivery of goods and services affordable to all; and on helping to create jobs and raise prosperity for all Melanesians in the region. 

The writer Sade Bimantara is spokesperson for the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra.


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