Realities of Return: Economics

In the past, “cost to the UK taxpayer” has been used as a reason for denying Chagossians’ their right to return home. Putting a price on justice may seem mean-spirited, but even if you wish to do so the facts indicate the cost to the UK will be incredibly small in relative

The 2011 UK budget as a pie-chart: the cost of resettlement would not even be visible

The 2011 UK budget as a pie-chart: the cost of resettlement would not even be visible

 

terms.  We lay out some facts on the cost of return, sources of funding and a renewed Chagossian economy below.

How much will resettlement cost?

Estimates in the draft resettlement report suggest that resettlement could be accomplished for less than £20 million per year over three years. Even this figure many experts have suggested appears excessively high, and there is confidence costs would be brought down by using local sources of labour and materials.

And whilst 60 million sounds like a lot, let’s put it in the context of Government budgets.

  • The International Development budget, which will be protected by law in the next Parliament, is around 11 billion per year-supporting Chagossian return would be less than 0.002% of this. See here for a visual representation of just what a small proportion this is.

  • The cost of Chagossian return is similarly less than 0.002% of financial cost of Iraq and Afghan wars.

  • According a Telegraph report, the UK Government has spent £60 million on business class flights since 2010.

  • In 2012/ 2013 MPs expenses totalled £98.1 million- almost double what Chagossian return could cost across three years!

Who’s paying?

The cost is then modest, but the full amount is in any case highly unlikely to fall upon UK taxpayers of a variety of reasons.

  • When the US agreed the use of Diego Garcia with the UK in 1966, the UK received a discount of £11 million on the Polaris nuclear

    Instead of WMDs let's restore Chagossians human rights

    Instead of WMDs let’s restore Chagossians human rights

    weapons system, around £200 million in today’s money. This deal expires in 2016 and any extension will likely have an equivalent financial aspect. This could pay for resettlement several times over.

  • European Union Regional Development Funds are highly likely to be available to support the creation of a renewed Chagossian society.

  • Eco-tourism, carefully managed to minimize environmental impact, is just one private industry which is likely to invest in the a resettled Chagossian society. Private sector investment will be another factor which minimizes the public cost of return.

  • If the UK Government makes any significant contribution, it is likely to come from the Department for International Development (DFID) budget. By the next election, this is likely to be protected by law at 0.7% of GDP. On current economic figures, the mandated annual rise alone would be more than enough to support Chagossian return.

    • The DFID budget currently stands at over 11 billion per year- Chagossian return will less than 0.002% of this

    • It is also worth noting British Overseas Territories are already priortised in aid budgets.

How will Chagossians’ make money on the resettled islands?

There’s many possible ways the resourceful and diversely skilled Chagossian population could become engaged in on a renewed Chagossian society. Here are just a few.

  • Working on the US military base. Currently the US airbase employs thousands of support staff it is forced to employ on a temporary basis from Sri Lanka, The Philippines and other South Asian nations. A resettled Chagossian population would be ideally suited to take up some of these roles and provide a secure source of employment.

  • Working for local Government: A resettled Chagossian society will require governance and administration. Chagossians are well placed and suitably skilled to take up these roles.

  • Environmental Monitoring: An independent report into the feasibility of Chagossian return has found that Chagossians’ are “very environmentally conscious” and are “willing to play an active part maintaining the pristine environment of the Chagos Islands including as environmental monitors.”

  • Eco-Tourism: This would complement rather than conflict with an environmental protection role. Green technology could be used to

    Counsin Island-The Seychelles: an eco-tourism success story

    Counsin Island-The Seychelles: an eco-tourism success story

    be construct and sustainably maintain small-scale, high-end tourist facilities. There are of course many other models of tourism and tourism globally is a known long-term growth industry.

    • Home stay tourism is one option, used to great effect in the self-sufficient remote British Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha.

    • Survival tourism’ is further model of tourism which could be utilised in a renewed Chagossian society; under guidance of Chagossian environmental monitors, people would be willing to pay large amounts to spend time in the uninhabited outer Chagos Islands.

    • ‘Dark’ Tourism: A growing trend which people visit places with unique or troubled pasts. The history, geography and culture of Diego Garcia are would be present a genuinely unparalleled appeal, especially with Chagossian guides and historians present.

  • The ‘.io’ domain name: Under their unlovley but official name of the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Chagos Islands have the right to the popular ‘.io’ domain name. It is already popular with a variety of private companies due to its connections with the IT industry and has potential use as a marketable suffix, like Libya’s ‘.ly’. All that holds it back currently are the nasty connotations with a forced deportation. A resettled Chagossian society could rebrand it as an ethical product.

  • Fishing: A small managed fishing project could generate income and provide a sustainable, locally sourced food supply. The US military are already allowed to fish recreationally in and around Diego Garcia. A sustainable, artisan fishing industry could develop with minimal environmental impact. It should additionally be remembered that Diego Garcia is not in the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA) so environmental impact and the need for new regulation would be minimal.

  • Stamps & coins: A traditional source of income for many small island territories, stamps and coins from a resettled Chagos Islands could generate significant income. A range of stamps and coins celebrating return could be especially valuable.BIOT stamp

  • Agriculture: The draft KPMG feasibility report makes plain small-scale agriculture could be environmentally sustainable. Agriculture could also provide income generating opportunities and a sustainable local food source.

  • Local products & handicrafts- Cultural products produced by local communities in remote locations have a unique, marketable value abroad. Examples of this include the high-end honey produced on the Pitcairn Islands. A range of similar products could be produced by returned Chagossian entrepreneurs, perhaps involving the traditional coconut production which was the staple of the island economy in previous generations.

Of course these are just ideas and there is potential for income generation elsewhere. Living in exile the Chagossian people have cultivated a wide and diverse range of skills which could be utilised in a range of industries.