Islanders send out SOS to Sage of Omaha Warren Buffett
Billionaire Buffett asked to revive the poorly performing, and remote, Pitcairn economy
They call him the Sage of Omaha. But how would Warren Buffett feel about the prospect of being known as the Sage of Adamstown?
Residents of the Pitcairn Islands, one of the world's smallest and most isolated nations, have asked America's best-known investor to cast an expert eye over their increasingly shaky finances.
Mr Buffet has been asked to develop a business plan that will rescue the economy of Pitcairn, a three-square-mile island roughly halfway between New Zealand and Chile, from a severe downturn which has left many of its 60-odd residents living in poverty.
He has been invited to headline the Second International Bounty-Pitcairn Conference in Los Angeles in August. Delegates will include four islanders and a former British commissioner of the Pitcairn government, Leslie Jaques.
Organiser Herbert Ford, director of the Pitcairn Islands Study Center at Pacific Union College in Napa Valley, north of San Francisco, said the invitation was extended because Mr Buffet "has a philanthropic heart". "We believe he will see something special in this invitation to one of the world's richest people to help one of the smallest and poorest places in the world," he told the AFP news agency.
"We are not asking for his money... we're asking for something more valuable, his proven business acumen. With the gift of his business knowledge, we believe the Pitcairners can make a bright future for themselves. It's like rather than giving a hungry man a fish, teaching him how to fish so he'll never be hungry again."
The global downturn has hurt tourist traffic to Pitcairn, which once underpinned roughly 80 percent of its economy. And sales of the island's signature export – a luxury honey sold in Fortnum & Mason and other high-end stores – have also proven vulnerable to consumer purse tightening. Changes in Pacific Ocean sea lanes have also dented the number of commercial ships docking temporarily (and paying landing fees) in Adamstown, the island's capital, while the onward march of the internet has hurt sales of colourful postage stamps which have historically contributed to public finances.
For all the belt-tightening, residents have become well used to hardship during their modern history, which began when Pitcairn was settled in 1789 by mutineers from the British naval ship the Bounty, who had famously set their captain, William Bligh, adrift in the South Pacific.
Life on the small and isolated island can be highly claustrophobic. The population peaked at around 250 in the 1930s, but has since declined as younger residents have emigrated, largely to New Zealand. There are currently only seven children in the community.
Recent years have also seen Pitcairn at the centre of a damaging sex abuse scandal. After a series of trials that began in 2004, a total of nine local men were convicted of dozens of counts of sexually abusing – and in some cases gang-raping – children as young as seven. Six received jail terms. In 2010, the local Mayor, Michael Warren, was charged with possessing child pornography after 1,000 pornographic photos and videos of underage children were found on his two laptops. The case has yet to reach court.
Despite the charges, Mr Warren – a senior figure in the locally-powerful Seventh Day Adventist Church who, like many residents, can trace his ancestry back to the original Bounty mutineers – was convincingly re-elected as Mayor shortly after his arrest.
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