The Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) believes that the country’s increasing population demands that Solomon Islands as a country must invest for economic growth.
SICCI, as peak bodying representing private sector in the Solomon Islands, made this statement following the launch of the 2019 Census Report recently which revealed Solomon Islands’ population at approximately 721, 455. This is an increase of 169, 930 people (30.8%) since the last census in 2009.
This increase represents an average annual growth rate of 2.7% for the period 2009-2019, or an increase of 17,000 per year.
“This population if engaged in meaningful employment has the opportunity to contribute to a population dividend and participate in economic development,” SICCI Board Chairman, Mr. Jay Bartlett, said.
Having said this, SICCI is particularly concerned with the fact that a growing population has forward and backward linkage with other economic dynamics particularly unemployment.
“Now more than ever, economic growth is a necessity, however, with the current state of our economy due to the global pandemic, it will not sufficiently provide for our population’s demands in health, education and infrastructure.
“Our population demographics demands that we must invest for growth,” Mr. Bartlett reiterated.
SICCI also believes the private sector has the potential to enhance economic growth and help address unemployment in Solomon Islands.
To harness the driving force of the private sector, SICCI Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ms. Natalina Hong said Government needs to initiate bold reforms that could create a more enabling business environment and innovative private sector to facilitate more inclusive and sustainable growth in the long run.
“Jobs are scarce for many reasons - inadequate policy making, poor infrastructure, and limited access to finance that narrows employment opportunities. For young people, the mismatch between education, skills and the needs of the labor market is a major hurdle.
“When it comes to possible long-term solutions for unemployment, the private sector, which contributes significantly in providing jobs in Solomon Islands already has the advantage to offer further opportunities in formal skill employment for the fast-growing young population,” Ms. Hong said.
Alphea Hou Tufah, People Manager at Pasifiki HR, a member of SICCI, recognises that with regards to unemployment it is something that increases every year and it is an issue that the Government should seriously address through its policies and plans.
“The private sector can provide employment opportunities but it needs the support of Government to provide more job opportunities.
“A simple example would be if Government can give tax incentives to private businesses, they can create more job opportunities with the money they save from tax and continue to grow the business which contributes positively to the economy.
“Therefore, in my opinion the Private Sector needs the Government to work together to address the issue of unemployment and the private sector cannot address this issue alone,” Mrs. Tufah said.
To achieve growth which in turn will ease the country’s high unemployment rate, there are many new growth sectors that SICCI believe with the right investment can generate positive economic growth and social development for our country.
Chairman, Mr. Bartlett emphasised that there is a large pipeline of infrastructure projects that are planned for investment in the Solomon Islands in the next decade.
He said agriculture has the potential to become Solomon Islands’ most important sector.
“With a large growing domestic population, a rising middle class and urbanisation in many of Asia’s economies there is large opportunity for growth in commodities demand and prices. Solomon Islands is well placed to develop on the back of trade and export to many of these large economies such as China with agricultural products,” he said.
In terms of tourism, Solomon Islands is one if the least visited countries in the world with only around 26 thousand visitors a year, however, its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage should leave this sector high up on the development agenda for Government.
Solomon Islands has existing natural minerals such as Gold, Bauxite and Nickle.
“We also have a large Exclusive Economic Zone with an abundance of Tuna stocks. Fisheries and Mining are also two key sectors that have the scope for further foreign investment,” SICCI Chair, Mr. Bartlett, said.
However, to develop these potential sectors, they will require foreign investment and Solomon Islands need the fundamental building blocks to be in place as a pre-requisite for investment.
Investments in Tourism, Agriculture, Mining or Infrastructure development will first and foremost require access to land in a manner that is transparent and streamlined.
Tourism, Agriculture and Mining developments will most likely occur outside of Urban Centers which sit outside of formal structures of land ownership.
Unlocking land and partnering with our traditional landowners is fundamental to creating sustainable economic growth that will accelerate investment & capital these strategic sectors.
Rather than simply exporting our raw natural resources, Solomon Islands must look for opportunities to add value to these resources within the country as a means of creating additional economic activities – jobs and growth.
In a study commissioned by the SICCI in 2017 called the Private Sector Scan to help identify and understand the key constraints to business; Land, infrastructure and corruption were identified as some of the key issues continuing affecting private sector growth.
SICCI believes that institutionalizing the process is an innovative way to progress this complex, sensitive but fundamental issue.