Waylaid Dialectic

May 2, 2017

Why I think NZ aid spending on Munda runway was a bad idea

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 12:33 pm

My comments New Zealand aid spending on the Munda Runway in Solomon Islands have been criticised on Solomon Islands Facebook forums and in the media by Solomon Islands politicians.

It’s hard to communicate a complex argument in a radio interview. So, below, in full, are my views about the runway.

Munda runway isn’t a gift from nowhere. NZ spends aid in Solomons in a lot of ways including in education and in helping with governance (to see some of what we do look at the ‘data tidied’ sheet in this spreadsheet). Money that is spent in one way can always be spent on helping in another way. For this reason it is important to make sure any spending brings big enough benefits to make the work worth it. In Munda about NZD$20M has been spent/is being spent on the runway. (It’s hard to know the exact amount as some of the total project cost was devoted to the Noro road. Also more NZ money is still being spent.) According to MFAT, NZ’s total aid budget to Solomons is about NZ$20M/yr. So Munda took the place of a lot of other spending that could have helped people in Solomons in other ways.

If the desired benefit from the Munda work was simply a better domestic runway, NZ$20M is too much. Less could have been spent, and more could have been spent on other areas.

 If the desired benefit from the Munda work was a genuine international airport, with customs and immigration facilities, to help foster tourism in Western Province, the idea is bold and I can see the possible benefits. However, NZ is not supporting such a project. And New Zealand is not funding facilities such as customs and immigration. A lot more work would be required to build these facilities. This would require a real commitment from the Solomons government. I do not think this will happen. I do not think it will happen because the clientelist nature of Solomons politics prevents the Solomons government from focusing on large national development projects in an ongoing manner. SIG currently struggles to maintain Henderson Airport, and it previously failed to fulfil its part of the bargain with NZ on the existing Munda runway work.  It may be the case that campaigning from concerned citizens can force the government to create an international airport in Munda. If this succeeds, and tourism booms in Western Province, I will admit I was wrong.

Rather than funding a true international airport, NZ is funding an alternative runway for international flights to land on if Henderson is ever unusable in an emergency. In theory, this will benefit Solomons because international flights will be able to fly to Honiara carrying less fuel. (International law requires them to carry enough fuel to get to another airport if their primary destination is shut down. At present this usually means Port Vila.) If planes could carry less fuel, in theory, they could charge less for freight and lower airfares, which ought to help with tourism and other development. But, I am not sure that even this will happen. Once again, maintaining an alternative emergency runway to international legal standards in Munda will require serious ongoing input from the Solomons Government. I’m not sure this will happen given how little money it has spent on the work thus far. Even if it does happen, I do not think airfares will fall that much (there are only two providers from Australia – a duopoly, not a competitive market). Also, I think there are other constraints on tourism in Solomons that are more important than international airfares (specifically, domestic airfares, reliable domestic flights and other domestic infrastructure).

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