Australia has promised to build a new high-speed internet cable for Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands after Chinese influence concerns, but questions have been raised about the Government’s decision to pay for it out of the aid allocation in budget.
The body representing Australia’s aid groups has issued the Government a stern warning that the money should not come at the expense of education and health aid programs, Pacific Beat reports.
But its chief executive is also predicting that it is the start of a new trend that will see Australia increasingly promise to fund large infrastructure projects in the Pacific, to counter the Chinese Government’s promises of convention centres, new roads and wharves, which are often paid for by concessional loans.
While final costs for the submarine cable are yet to be settled, Canberra is expected to pay two-thirds of the cost, while PNG and Solomon Islands are expected to foot the remainder of the bill.
The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, told Pacific Beat the cable project’s full costings had not been completed.
But she has confirmed the majority of Australia’s contributions will be aid money.
“We will provide the majority funding for this cable, there will be appropriate financial contribution from PNG and the Solomon Islands governments,” she said.
Marc Purcell, chief executive of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), agreed an internet cable would be beneficial, but he did not want the money to be taken from the current aid budget.
“Deep sea cables can be very useful for the benefit, for development of countries, but the issue is [if it is] new and additional money to resource it, in which case, fine,” he said.
“But if it’s at the expense of cutting existing programs in basic health and education for the people of Solomon Islands and PNG, then that would be wrong.”