15 Jul 2013

A smaller RAMSI in Solomons having an economic impact

7:14 pm on 15 July 2013

As the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, RAMSI, marks 10 years in the country, there are some concerns about the economic impact of the force reducing its presence.

Our correspondent, Dorothy Wickham told Don Wiseman the effects of the smaller force are obvious.

DOROTHY WICKHAM: We are talking to some of the catering businesses, people who work for the RAMSI base, the GBR, that's where the military and the police are based. They'll be downsizing in local staff, as well, so there'll be people losing other jobs when they're actually downsizing in numbers for all the catering, logistics, the support staff that are based up there. And you're talking the real estate market, there won't be as many advisors as originally, so there'll be also a reduction in the number of people renting houses. There's already a fall in the real estate prices as a result of this.

DON WISEMAN: People have paid high prices to buy houses because they were able to rent them out at high prices?

DOROTHY WICKHAM: That's right. And I think as a result of the fact that they're reducing sizes, a lot of people are selling houses now and reducing their rent because they have to now cater for different markets.

DON WISEMAN: I guess it's been a slow 'sinking lid', as far as RAMSI goes, and we know that the heart of the mission is going to be there still for quite some time. People must have a positive feeling about that from a commercial point of view.

DOROTHY WICKHAM: Yeah, I think it's been such a gradual draw-down, unlike what happened in East Timor.There's no obvious sign of a draw-down. People are now used to it after a year of not seeing too many soldiers and police officers on the streets. So people have already gotten used to it. I think, psychologically, as we know, there's not many of them in town, and the police have stepped in to fill in the gaps of the PPF, despite the fact that they have issues with logistics and vehicles. There's always been that complaint with the logistic arm of the local police force. But apart from that, there's always going to be a gap that RAMSI leaves because of the logistic support that they gave to the police force. In terms of the commercial market, I think most of the impact will come with the people employed by RAMSI, the locals. 'Cause I know there's quite a few of them who have already been laid off as a result of the draw-down.

DON WISEMAN: What sort of numbers are we talking about, in terms of those who have already lost their jobs?

DOROTHY WICKHAM: Around about 50 local staff, who are in administration, this is in the offices. You have a public affairs unit, you have a justice support unit. There's a lot of units that employ administrative staff, and they are the ones who have been let off first. I'm not clear as to when the logistics staff at the main RAMSI police station will be released from duty, but there's going to be quite a number.

DON WISEMAN: What prospects are there for other employment for these people? Clearly they've got a range of skills. Are there other opportunities for them?

DOROTHY WICKHAM: As a result of RAMSI's draw-down, AusAID will be increasing its staff to cater for its increased responsibilities that RAMSI will be handing over to the bilateral arrangement between Australia and the Solomon Islands and New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. So I think if these people can be re-hired by AusAID or NZODA, then I think they'll be lucky. But I think most of them, they would prefer to, say, going into their own businesses, instead of being employed by somebody else.