6 February 2007

auditors with guns

I'm rereading Joseph Stiglitz's Globalization and its discontents.

There are at least two reasons why the IMF should consult widely within a country as it makes its assessments and designs its programs. Those within the country are likely to know more about the economy than the IMF staffers - as I saw so clearly in the case of the United States. And for the programs to be implemented in an effective and sustainable manner, there must be a commitment of the country behind the program, based on a broad consensus.

Stiglitz' advice to the IMF stands equally valid for the Prime Minister of Australia. The Howard policy in the Pacific has been hat imposing crude Washington Consensus one size fits all policies is the direct path to a Pacific paradise. When the Man of Steel talks capacity-building he seems to mean covering the Pacific with Australian auditors and police singing the happy refrain: 'I'm from the Australian government and I'm here to help you.'

The policy is an abject failure. PNG's supreme court quite rightly rejected the idea that Australian police and auditors should be immune to the process of their courts. The Solomon Islands rejected the 'Australian' nominee for prime minister. Nuku'alofa's Chinatown went up in flames. Howard refuses to even think about a guestworker program or rescuing the inhabitants of entire states that may be destroyed by global warming. And then there's Fiji.

The abject failure of Australian policy in Fiji is best captured in a recent post from intelligentsiya:

Yesterday, Chief Intelligentsiya got a call from an Associated Press reporter in Australia who was doing a story on intelligentsiya and freedom of speech in general in Fiji.

He asked if we were afraid the military would get to us. Now, we hope the military doesn’t think we are irritating enough to haul up to Queen Elizabeth Barracks. But we probably think they will detain us, once they find out who we are. But in the meantime, we’ll continue to publish.

Howard's policy is an abject failure because, like much of his politics, it's all about how and never about why. Pacific states lack capacity because they have not, in most cases, developed a broad consensus on what they want to be. Without that, development is going to stay uneven, unstable and unfair. Howard's policy also, just quietly, assumes total Australian dominance in the region, a dominance which China and Taiwan are increasingly eager to challenge. Pacific peoples, quite reasonably, want something more, and no amount of bean counters with guns is going to give it to them.

It's really no surprise that Howard's Pacific misadventure is an inflexible and uninformed policy whose results are uniform failure. All he's really doing is trying to run the Pacific the way he runs Australia, by insisting there's no alternative. He's King Canute in a lae.

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