Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Pacific has its very own Greenspan

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

For most people in Our Honolulu, contact with the glamorous South Seas means getting on a plane for Easter Island or buying a Tahitian black pearl grown in Mangareva or the Tuamotus.

But not Wali Osmon. His contacts with the South Seas have become state occasions attended by prime ministers and high chiefs. His visit to Papua New Guinea last week made headlines.

That’s because Wali Osmon is to the South Seas what Alan Greenspan is to the United States, its ultimate economic guru.

In a nice way, he tells South Pacific political and business leaders things they would just as soon not hear. In Port Moresby he warned that "political and economic volatility have eroded confidence in Papua New Guinea."

Osmon can get away with this because he serves a purpose invaluable to the people he talks to. His Bank of Hawaii economic reports are by far the best information anywhere on their islands.

It’s an example of the creative leadership a business here can exert in the Pacific, of which there is far too little. Australia is way ahead of us.

Osmon’s job as a Bank of Hawaii economist is to visit the islands where the bank has branches and affiliates, and to produce reports upon which the bank can base business decisions.

So Osmon is a familiar figure in American Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, (Western) Samoa and the Solomon Islands.

He said two parts of the report are the most popular. One is a listing of major financial and economic indicators, the only up-to-date source of this data in a convenient form.

Even more popular is a Pacific Island fact sheet, the only updated information about all 21 Pacific states, nations, federations, etc. It’s used as a guide by universities in the Pacific.

"We’ve been doing this for seven years," Osmon explained. "The hard message that people in the Pacific forget is that we have to stay in pace with the flow or fall behind.

"The only reason Hawaii is economically powerful (by comparison) is because we are a state of the U.S.

"French Polynesia is more prosperous than the rest of the South Pacific for the same reason. They are part of France."

As Pacific nations look to Hawaii for leadership, he said, Hawaii could benefit by opening neglected markets on islands where we have the advantage of common cultures.

He said it isn’t easy to tell leaders in Papua New Guinea and Fiji that political disturbances, no matter who is to blame, hurt an economy enormously. He also told New Guinea leaders that their new law requiring politicians to be members of a political party is extremely positive.

Osmon said, "When I make my reports, I tell them that I’m a citizen of 15 different places. But no matter what hat I wear, I think Hawaii has a central role to play in the Pacific."

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