Tuvalu News

PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT

Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i at Manoa


CULTURE, A KEY THAT BINDS TUVALUAN SOCIETY

By Timeon Ioane

HONOLULU, Hawaii (November 23, 1998 - PIDP/CPIS/Ioane)---Culture and tradition have been important in binding Tuvaluan society, says Seve Paeniu, a Tuvaluan who's completing a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

Speaking at a recent noon seminar at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Paeniu says the concept of reciprocity and strong Christian morals have enabled the Tuvaluans to face the challenges of being a developing nation in the modern world.

Paeniu challenges the common view that because of its small size, Tuvalu's (which literally means a cluster of eight) economic development efforts would be constrained.

"Being small can be seen as a constraint," Paeniu says. "But Tuvalu's small size also has advantages. Because everyone knows everyone else, it is difficult for people to corruptly influence others without being known. Things are more transparent in small societies, such as in Tuvalu."

Paeniu says because of their environment, Tuvaluans have been conditioned to live within their means.

This mentality, Paeniu says, has helped Tuvaluans cope with the problems of their country's lack of natural resources and isolation.

Paeniu says other than its people, another mostly untapped resource for Tuvalu is its EEZ--exclusive economic zone.

The country has begun to exploit its vast EEZ by licensing distant water fishing nations to fish in its zone.

Meanwhile, the dire predictions of some outside observers that Tuvalu could not possibly survive economically because it's an "artificial" creation, have proven false.

In fact, Paeniu presented statistics from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank for 1980 to 1993 which show that of all the island nations in the Pacific, Tuvalu was the only country to have a growth rate of six percent, well above its population growth rate and inflation. Some island nations, however, have negative growth rates for the same period.

Paeniu says Tuvalu has managed to maintain this growth rate because of prudent economic policies by the government.

Another encouraging development for Tuvalu is the increasing value of the Tuvalu Trust Fund.

Paeniu says the fund was set up in 1987 with an initial investment of $27 million (Australian) from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom as an income earner for Tuvalu.

Some of the profit from the fund is withdrawn to help balance the Tuvalu recurrent budget while the remainder is ploughed back into investments, which are mainly overseas bonds and stocks.

The Tuvalu Trust Fund has now grown to almost $70 million (Australian).

Paeniu says Tuvaluans should maintain their very strong Polynesian culture because it has bound them throughout their history.

Culture, Paeniu says, need not be a constraint to modernization and economic prosperity.


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