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Monday, November 23, 2009

Pure People Power!

J. Roughan
24 November 2009

Solomon citizens know that the next few months is a great time to flex political muscle, have their member pay stricter attention to constituents and press them to pass legislation the typical citizen needs. Five to six months from now--probably early June 2010--the whole of parliament  will be forced to do what it hates doing. Each and every member must return to his own village dominated sector, listen to the angry voter voice and then, convince them that the member deserves another four years in power in spite of doing practically nothing for them since 2006. Believe me this is going to be quite difficult thing to accomplish in this up-coming election.
First of all each and every parliamentarian going into the 2010 election faces an up hill battle. If past elections are a guide, the rate of parliamentarians not returning is on average about 44%. The 1993 and 2001 elections were even worse! The failure rate of a member getting back to the Big House on the Hill was well over half. In the 2001 elections, for instance, more than 6 out of every 10 parliamentarian failed in  their re-election bids. Fortunately for many members in the 2006 election, the failure rate fell slightly to a 'normal' 44%. Such a 'normal' rejection rate, by world standards, is quite large compared to other nations worldwide.
But what should worry most parliamentarians is government's poor showing when it comes to serving people in the basics of everyday life. Once again SIDT's July Report Card presented the government with a failure mark given by thousands of people. Over a 20 year period, through 8 different governments, Solomon citizens have been failed by the very institutions which are suppose to help them.  Eight Report Cards have given the governments of the day marks below 60%, not just once or twice but 8 times in a row!
It's a poor defense for a parliamentarian to claim that he isn't in government or was only a backbencher.  His claims that he was unable to influence the poor service delivery in medical attention, schooling and resource management are weak. In voter eyes, however, the whole of parliament is laid open to the charge that citizens' needs come a distant second to those holding high political positions.
The Parliamentary Entitlements Committee's granting members a $50,000 end of term entitlement to spouses plus other perks looks and is so crass. Our national economy has been in serious disarray since the world wide financial tsunami. Every nation in the world has struggled to get  its economic life back in balance, out of the red and once again functioning. Not so us! A parliamentary select committee decrees a give away program worth millions while thousands of our own people scrape by on less than $2.00 a day shows a complete lack of understanding of people's pain.   
Another useless defense for SIG's constantly and continuously to grandly announce that government has been hard at work passing new bills. Solomon citizens are more than aware that the government has been working through a 'legislative boom' with almost 20 bills becoming law over these past few months. Such a useless statistic, however, means little to a population when they look at the mediocre medical attention they experience on an almost daily basis. 
Solomon citizens are much more interested in what practical steps government will take to right the many short comings its own Special Committee of Parliament found in its month long study of No. 9's on going problems. A strong, official reaction with teeth will prove helpful to members' quest to be re-elected. If the select committee's report is set aside to gather dust, then members will suffer greatly at the polling both next year.
Members currently find that their old stand-by, the Rural Constituency Development Fund which they have placed so much hope in for next year's election, brings less and less clout among voters. A much better bet for the parliamentarian is to insure that normal social services of medical, education and social well fare work better and better for all.  
Unfortunately, Solomons people power does have only a limited time frame but the next few months is certainly one of its most powerful periods of action. Election time comes first for people power but the next few months leading up to the national polls comes a close second!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Didn't we see this film back in 1993?

J. Roughan
19 November 2009
Exactly one week ago today, and again in the same place--Lawson Tama, Honiara's citizens witnessed a re-run of the same old 1993 film of a footfall riot and other football riots that happened during the 1990s. Of course the Mother of All Youth Cyclones hit us in November 1989 which also came about in connection with a failed football game when our team lost a match in Fiji.
Few who witnessed the 1989 youth riot could forget the pictures of dozens of youth jumping from the Mataniko River bridge to escape police tear gas. During that episode, more than 5,000 young people caused more than $150,000 damage to stores, shops and business premises. Last week's rampage, fortunately, was mild in comparison--a shop or two looted and the football office complex burnt to the ground.
But this our most recent riot could have turned quite ugly had it not been for quick police action and most youth refusing to join in with the looting and riotous behavior of a small minority. In early April 2006, unfortunately, that didn't happen. During the days of 20 & 21 April 2006, Honiara experienced a complete breakdown in civic life when a mob went wild and torched almost the whole of China Town. That part of town was almost completely destroyed.
The strange thing about all these riots--youth cyclone, mob rule, mass stealing--authorities had warnings that something was going to happen, that preventive action should have taken place. A famous English juror, Lord Acton, gave us an important history lesson, a lesson we as a nation seem to forget. He stated: 'Those who refuse to listen to history, are soon forced to repeat it!'
In other words, how many times must we live through riots before we prepare ourselves for them. Last Saturday's football riot was not a rare  exception, not something unusual but was as predictable as rain over a mountain. Anytime Malaita, Honiara and Guale take to the football pitch, things other than football too often happen. As sure as God made little green apples, many followers of the above mentioned teams have other things on their mind than a thrilling football match.
Unfortunately, a communication link between the football organizers, the police protection unit and Lawson Tama authorities broke down. Things like that do happen! But it didn't take long for some of our youthful opportunists to seize the chance to take out their frustrations and do a little looting on the side. The police's quick action by rounding up a dozen or so possible trouble makers and sending them off to a room at Rove and later a court date is already in the cards.
But closing the barn door after the horse has bolted is just not enough. Not every football game results in a riot. Far from it! I have never heard of a football riot taking place when Isabel, or Choiseiul or Temotu were matched up to contest a game. Rarely does a riot start if Guale, or Malaita or Honiara are playing Central or Renbel. Football riot chances double and even triple, however, when the Honiara, Guale and Malaita play against each other.
Lord Acton's warning above automatically comes into play when certain teams are pitched against each other on the football field. Since we already know who they are its timely that the authorities--police, Lawsom Tama, National Football Association--double their presence, place riot shields at the ready and easily accessed and all stones, rocks and loose sticks around the football pitch cleaned away and out of sight and use.
May I make a suggestion? Before a major game takes place at Lawson Tama, make a thorough cleaning--employ one of Honiara's schools--to scour the whole of Lawson Tama especially along the hill down from FAA to make it impossible for rioters to access their favorite ammunition--stones, rocks and sticks.  We don't need to see another re-run of the 1993 or 2009 film again!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

No. 9 under the microscope!

J. Roughan
13 November 2009

For more than a month now Parliament's Special Committee has been paying close attention to the medical services of our National Referral Hospital, affectionately named No. 9. This parliamentary committee chaired by the Hon. Peter Boyers must be commended on its month long study, probing and questioning of our doctors, nurses, medical staff and many others connected with No. 9's medical outreach.
SIBC's daily coverage, TV 1's nightly programs and the print media's high lighting of the Special Committee's work must also get special mention as offering the nation a worthwhile public service. It's rare when the whole media sector--radio, TV and print--has harnessed its energies to pull together an information packet for the worth of the whole nation. Would that the story they are telling was a positive one, full of great promise and hope!
Now, after the Special Committee's public review, no one can be under any illusion or doubt. Our one and only medical establishment currently works far below its proper level needed by the nation. Make no mistake about it, No. 9 could not handle a major airplane accident out at Henderson. Nor could it adequately respond to a major road crash. God forbid, if an overloaded market truck returning to its home village in East Guale would collide with a fuel-filled tanker. Then, tens of causalities, badly burnt bodies, could not be properly taken care of at our National Referral Hospital.
Parliament's Special Committee has made a strong start. It uncovered profound weaknesses in the medical system, laid bare the severe inadequacies of some health units within the hospital complex and most telling, makes it clear the full meaning of the financial cuts which the nation's primary hospital has suffered over past years. These financial cuts are one of the main contributing factors in No. 9's overall failure, a failure to provide adequate medical service to the general public.
Members, fortunately, have recently returned to parliament to hold sessions. Of course, parliament's current work sessions have much more to do than simply study and put their minds together to fix this problem. It has tons of tough things to take on board, craft strong legislation on political integrity and especially getting the national economy up and humming as in the recent past.
But no legislation or economic stimulus package overrides the dire necessity of re-establishing the National Referral Hospital's return to health once again. To paraphrase SIBC's short jingle: 'Without a strong No. 9, all else is nothing!'
Of course No. 9 needs more money, better financing and stronger funding but that's only half the story. Even if parliament would order tons and tons of more cash tomorrow morning many hospital problems wouldn't disappear at all. It would be a like painting over a piece of rotten timber . . . once the paint dries the rot quickly shows up again but in worse condition.
Parliament's Special Committee has done its job. It thoroughly inspected the National Referral Hospital and has uncovered its serious and potentially dangerous weaknesses.  But now what is needed is a select committee, not parliamentarians nor dominated by medical doctors or PSs, but a committee made up of community people who would bring two things to the problem: they must have a great stake in the proper working of the national hospital and secondly, have a proven track record of getting things done, fixed and moving under pressure.
No. 9 needs a bunch of do-ers, talkers need not apply! Appoint a health Czar who would be given the authority to knock heads, shout out loud but make things happen. Of course the Czar and his/her committee must have a strong budget to be able to throw around its weight, get toilet doors fixed up immediately, order x-ray machine spare parts yesterday and do the hundred and one things that must be done to get our No.9 up and running for the whole of the nation. Time is not on our side!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ballot Box has strength. Use it to fight corruption!

J. Roughan
6 November 2009
Politicians greatest fear is, not the law, but the ballot box! Every four years each and every one of them must face Solomons citizens and win  enough votes to remain in office or to secure a place in parliament. There is no way around this requirement. Either the politician gets enough people's vote or he finds himself sitting on the outside looking in.
The Ballot Box, then, is the vital key in fighting corruption, reducing sleaze and shaking the political system clear of incompetents, misfits and losers. Why is it then that in next week's seminar on understanding and fighting the nation's corruption cancer not a word is mentioned about Solomons citizens, their Ballot Box power and how this tremendous untapped gift could be harnessed to fight corruption in its many guises.
Next week the second seminar on anti-corruption takes place at FFA's Conference Centre. Its preliminary papers, distributed a week before the seminar, outline the gist and direction of the talks scheduled for Monday and Tuesday next week. However, not a single mention is made of the most important persons in the whole anti-corruption campaign, the nation's voters. 
Solomon Islands citizens have continuously, constantly and consistently voiced out their distaste of the venal, corrupt and disappointing politician. Over a 22 year period of seven national elections 1984-2006, the Solomon Islanders voter has dismissed 44% (on average) of candidates seeking to return to parliament. Even more telling, however, is that in each election fewer and fewer winning candidates gain 50% or more of the popular vote. In the 2006 election, for instance, only 3 winning candidates were able to attract 50% or more of the vote. The other 47 members scored either in the low 40% or worse still, 30% or less.
However, the Solomons voter could be a powerful ally in the fight against the cancer corruption and best served if there were such a thing as a Recall Law and secondly, a dismantling of the first past the post election system which currently dominates our politics.
What a difference it would make, then, especially in the corruption fight, if there was Recall legislation. A Recall Law gives voters power to call for fresh elections if and when their member, after some months in office, proves to be corrupt, quite incompetent or just a poor performer for  people's interests. As said in the beginning paragraph above, the single thing a politician fears above all else is having to face the electorate to gain back his seat. A Recall Law would make it legal for the voters in a constituency to dismiss their member before the four year period for gross incompetence in office and vote in a new person.
Many nations have Recall legislation on their law books and with a number of safe guards in place to protect from frivolous use of this law would be a great way of keeping members' 'feet to the fire'. A politician would then be forced over the four years in power to keep looking over his shoulder to make sure he is performing well rather than as it is today, only after 4 years in power does the member begin to worry about Mr. and Mrs. Voter. 
But a more powerful tool to fight corruption at its roots is in scrapping the 'first past the post' system which runs or should I say ruins our political system. If a winning candidate attracts 25% of the vote so long as he comes in first, he gets the seat. So, as has happened in a number of  cases, the winning member had 7 out of 10 people vote AGAINST him but because he got the greater number of votes than the second candidate, the 3 out of 10 who did actually back him were enough to push him over the winning line. Something is wrong with this kind of democracy!
Of course, let's make strong legislation to keep corruption out of politics. But don't forget the one group which is most adversely effected by the corrupt politician, the country's citizens. They have a clear interest in insuring clean politics on all levels of society. Let's use them more effectively and watch corruption start to dry up.

No broken windows!

J. Roughan
29 October 2009
New York City, up to a few years ago, was not known as a safe city to live in. Crime, all kinds of crime--murder, arson, rape, robbery, etc. etc.-- were a large part of normal city life. Certain parts of the city, for instance, you just didn't walk about. These were the tough and dangerous neighborhoods. Having a walk about in these places was not a healthy thing to do!
Then something strange happened! Serious crime events began to fall. Less and less criminal activity and I mean serious criminal acts began to disappear from the city's streets.
Many claimed it was because of better policing. Others said, yes, more and better police work was important but the real reason was 'getting tough' with criminals. Their usual response: quicker and longer jail sentences was given as the best explanation for the big crime rate fall. But something else, something completely different from the usual responses to crime and criminals, was also happening city wide. Fewer and fewer broken and smashed windows could be found. These were being repaired and quickly so!
New York City had just elected a new mayor, Rudolf Guiliani, a no nonsense, hard-nosed politician who was determined to do something new and different to tackle the city's well earned reputation for crime. He was working on a new theory and was determined to put it into practice in the "Big Apple", New York's City's special name.
He figured that a clean, fixed up and neat city were just as important as vigorous policing, strong courts and honest politicians to creatively respond to the city's soaring crime statistics. In other words, a city that showed pride in itself, gave off positive vibes and sent an up beat message could quickly overcome negative signals.
Mayor Guiliani bet his reputation and years of basic good governance, that a clean, working and beautiful city would rub off on all levels of society. He figured that the rich and the poor, the employed and those without jobs, families and single people would rather back a winning team than throw in their lot with a bunch of losers.

And it worked and is continuing to work! New York City is one tough place. I called it home for my first 20 years in life. Its 12 million people are no push overs. They hustle, live fast and furious lives and don't usually look to others for help. NYC is not a place to relax in but one that forces you to either 'shape up or ship out'.  It is the last place in the world to be easily convinced that keeping a city clean, repaired and functioning was a great formula for basic peace and order as well.    
Can we in Honiara learn a few lessons from one of the world's great cities? Can you imagine what our small city could be if we all pitched in to keep the place clean, tidy and rubbish free? Honiara's City Council just inherited a bunch of rubbish removal trucks, hundreds of large rubbish  bins and is currently mounting a "Keep Honiara Campaign".
If NYC turned its crime rate around by mending broken windows, cleaning up its streets and fixing up run down buildings what would the same medicine do to Honiara's petty and not so petty crime. Repairing a few broken windows or cleaning up the plastics along the street, on their own, do little to reduce crime. But what it does is to send a message to all that this is our town, the place we call home, and everyone can relate to such a message. Finally Honiara is equipping itself with the tools--rubbish trucks, hundreds of rubbish bins, etc.--to make a difference. Now all that is needed is a public to pitch in and change our town into the best in the Pacific.  

Friday, October 23, 2009

On Track, of concern and off track!

J. Roughan
22 October 2009

Back in the year 2000, Solomon Islands and a host of other countries vowed to do something clear and precise about addressing poverty and human development. What was nice about this worldwide commitment, however, was the time frame which all nations promised to keep. By the year 2015, they said, 'We nations which have signed up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) promise, after a 15 year period, to be judged how close we have come to fulfilling them.'
Here we are now today more than half way through the 15 year period! What can Solomons say about its own track record on the MDGs? Unfortunately, not a single Pacific country is on track to achieve these medical, social and economic goals. In our own case, we are on track for only two of the goals. The other six goals are either in the concern basket or we are currently way off track.
First the good news. The nation is certainly pulling its weight by doing something powerful and positive when it comes to reducing infant and child mortality. Infant mortality, for instance, dropped from 121 (per thousand live births) in 1990 to only 37 in 2007 because antenatal care and immunization coverage. That's how the nation is handling the 4th MDGoal!
The MDGoal 5, improving maternal health, is also better than what it was in the 1990 but seems to have slide down a bit recently. In 2007 there was a spike of maternal deaths--220--which is high but better than what is found in PNG and Timor Leste. 
On a more sobering note, however, there are three MDGs that raise concern. Universal primary education--MDG 2--is not keeping pace. The enrolment ratio in primary school, for instance, has jumped "from 39% in 1990 to 56% in 2007 to 92% in 2007 and 94%  in 2008" yet the school drop out rate remains a concern. It's vital to keep kids in school right up through Form 3 and not allow them to opt out of the education system at too early an age. Solomons is, fortunately, doing better in this area than PNG, Samoa, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Palau and Timor Leste.  
The country's medical department is to be congratulated for its fight against HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases. Our malaria rate has fallen from 199 cases per thousand people in 2003 to only 82 cases per thousand in 2008. This is progress! Yet, malaria remains a serious disease and with an incidence amongst the highest in the world outside of Africa.
Absolute poverty such as hunger and destitution is rare in this country. But poor government response to MDG 1--Reducing Poverty and Hunger--remains a major concern for our major donors. And things will not become easier in the future. Our population growth of at least 2.7% means that reducing poverty and hunger will become more and more difficult in the years ahead.
The harshest reality facing our nation, however, is our inability to do something about MDGoal 3--To Promote gender equality  and empower women. National elections are scheduled for mid-2010, our women are trying once again to gain a foothold in Parliament but in so many ways the country doesn't seem ready for them. A movement a few months ago to allow women a few reserved seats went no where. The nation  remains convinced that it can thrive in the 21st century when only half its population is officially recognized, appreciated and able to participate.
The MDGoal  7, however, might take care of itself because our once important forest coverage will have already been completely harvested. We then will have few or no trees to fell. Our destructive ways with our forests are a fair sign of how poorly we will treat the rest of our vital  environment--water, soil, land, etc.
Hence, the Solomons gets a fair report card on two of the MDGs. It raises worries about three other MDGs and receives a failing grade on the two last MDGs. We have but six years left--2015--to turn our national report card around for the better health, prosperity and yes, peace for the whole nation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Customer, as King!

J. Roughan
15 October 2009

A once thriving business was going bust.  Each new year worked out to be worse than the year before! The store owner, fortunately, knew exactly what was wrong, why the business was sliding down hill, why he would soon be out of business. The Boss was determined to do something about it. He wrote out this business plan, in poetry form, and gave each employee a copy of it.
                                  A customer is the most important person in a business. /
                                  A customer is not dependent on us. /
                                  We are dependent on him. /
                                   A customer is not an interruption of our work. /
                                   He is the purpose of it. /
                                   A customer does us a favor when he comes in. /
                                   We aren't doing him a favor by waiting on him. /
                                   A customer is not just money in the cash register. /
                                   He is a human being with feelings and deserves to be treated with respect. /
                                   A customer is the lifeblood of business. /
                                   Don't ever forget it!
The business owner's short poem was posted at every store cash register and tacked to walls through out the store. In no time, sales did pick up, more customers were streaming  through the doors and a new attitude was now present among staff workers.
I'm wondering if this same short poem, changed a little bit, might work its same magic among our nation's many ministry workers. Couldn't the poem read as follows?
                                  The villager is the most important person in our business. /
                                  The villager is not dependent on us. /
                                  We are dependent on him. /
                                  He is not an interruption of our work. /
                                  He is the purpose of it. /
                                  The villager does us a favor when he comes in. /
                                  We aren't doing him a favor by waiting on him. /
                                  The villager is not just money in the cash register. /
                                  He is a human being with feelings and deserves to be treated with respect. /
                                  The villager is the lifeblood of our business. /
                                  Don't ever forget it!
At the end of the year, next month in fact, the nation will conduct its 10 yearly census, an important yardstick which measures many vital facts needed to run the country for the next ten years. One statistic, however, will remain basically unchanged from the 1999 Census. It will be the number of village people compared to those who have gone urban..
Yes, over the years we have had more and more people move to the city and to the nation's towns. But the village proportion, about 8 out of every 10 people, will once again become clear in this, our newest Census. Doesn't it make sense, then, for ministry personnel and the rest of us for that matter to adopt the above written poem as our own personal business plan?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Early warning system

J. Roughan
9 October 2009

Last week's severe earth movements scarred us half to death. Our Pacific region experienced a full dose of what it means to live atop the Ring of Fire. At least three intense earthquakes--the first one off the Samoan and Tonga shores, the Sumatra quake in Indonesia and most recent, a severely large quake off Vanuatu, our nearest neighbor just south of us--all hit within a week of one another. Our own local tsunami disaster of 2007 in Western Province where more than a 100 of our people died, remains fresh in our minds.
When Solomons people heard that a Vanuatu quake had generated a tsunami wave, it didn't take our citizens long to react. Honiara's banks, schools and shops quickly closed their doors. No. 9 patients steamed out of the hospital and headed for the Forum Fisheries hill a few hundred meters from the hospital. Fortunately, we lucked out! The tsunami warning was canceled and most of us went about our daily business as usual but with a bit more awareness and respect of the power that lurks in our surrounding seas.
More and more people, however, are demanding a better early warning system to protect themselves, their families and their homes from the terrifying power of a tsunami. And rightly so! Given half a chance and even a brief warning to gather up the infants, kids and the olos and head for higher ground is the least we can do.   
Mother Nature, if understood well enough, does give off warning signals. It has its own early warning system. But so do our social events give off warning signals of close up dangers to society. Are the current events happening in and around the country--the surge of youth home break ins around Honiara, our faltering medical service outreach, the $50,000 parliamentarian spouse handout, twenty years of Report Card failures, etc.--connected one to another? Or are these social decay signs to be seen as separate realities with little or no connection?
Over the past twenty years, certainly since the Social Unrest years (1998-2003) hit us so severely, the nation has been sent a series of stress signals or heard early warning bells. Most times, however, our leaders simply dismissed them as distractions or at best understood them as mere 'tempests in a tea pot'. But these early warning signals have consistently turned out to be actual warnings of serious future problems.
In 1999, for instance, it took the forced displacement of more than 20,000 workers and their families from Guale's plains area to wake most of us up. Guadalcanal's people had been pleading with their leaders since the late 1980s and even before to listen to their cry, address seriously the land issue and get rid of the strangers who had taken over their lands. Only when locals took matters into their own hands and had actually cleared out the palm oil plantations, when bodies were found along paths and especially when national income from the oil plantings seriously dropped did our decision makers 'leap' to action.
Not so long ago, only three years past in 2006 in fact, the nation was once more on the receiving end of warning signals. The 2006 national election was suppose to have ushered in a new era, with stronger leadership, more committed parliamentarians, basically a better life for most people, especially those living outside the Honiara area. But this whole dream went up in the smoke of the Chinatown Burndown.
Many citizens were saddened at the national leaders inability to listen to their people. People Power was sending unmistakable messages: Listen to us carefully or things will happen! Unfortunately other affairs--how to line one's pocket during a severe period of financial turmoil--crowded out people's cries.
Currently our youth are yelling out: We are hurting! We have little or no work. Our future looks bleak! The serious house break ins by armed  thugs sends a strong signal. Of course the vast majority of our kids are fundamentally good, well behaved and a credit to their people and the  nation. But there are a growing number of them who are sending messages to decision makers to listen to their pleas and asking leaders to do something about turning their lives around both for their own sake and the good of the nation.
Government pats itself on the back and boasts of how many different bills it has submitted to Parliament and how many have been past into the nation's law books. It announces to the world how long parliament has sat in session this year, one for the record book. But are these measurements, this type of ruler, or yardstick, an accurate one of how well the nation is being served? Youth are singularly unimpressed by such statements. They want to see a growth in the job market, where our drop- and push-outs can find meaningful employment.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Core of our political instability!

J. Roughan
30 September 2009

The recent saga about our political instability reminds me of the story of the Irishman who lost his watch at one end of a football pitch but was looking for it at the other end of the field. When asked why he was looking for his watch at one end of the football pitch when he knew that he had lost it at the other end of the field, his answer was simple enough:"There's more light down this end of the field!"
So too with our own political instability debate. It's been decided that the lack of strong political parties is the major reason for our current instability. But exactly where does all our instability take place? Once we are sure we know where the greatest instability takes place, then we can do something constructive about it.
Take a studied look at the Solomons' last six electoral contests, almost a quarter of a century long--1984-2006--, and what do you read? The startling fact, it practically jumps off the paper, is that 8 out of every 10 Parliamentarians never attracted even half of their constituency vote. In raw numbers it means that over the last quarter of a century, the nation has been ruled by 62 members who actually won a majority of people's vote but, the rest, a further 249 members, four times the number that actually achieved a majority vote, never reached the 50% mark. In reality,  then, the nation, for almost a quarter of a century now, has been governed by a group of men who never achieved 50% or more votes in their own constituency.  This is the core of our political instability!
Even worse still, some parliamentarians, 11 members in the present house in fact, only managed to attract three votes out of 10 in their own constituency.  In other words, more than 7 out of every 10 votes cast were AGAINST the present sitting member. He, however, still managed to win by coming in first past the post to win the seat. To make things crystal clear, for every 10 votes cast, 7 of these votes went against the eleven honorables but still they managed to gain a parliamentary seat and claim in the process they had been elected democratically. Really!

Electoral Results  1984-2006


The following table details the Solomon Islands electoral history since 1984.


                                National Election Results   1984   -   2006








2006….     AVE


MPs /%

MPs / %

MPs / %

MPs /%

MPs/ %

MPs/   %

50% or above

 9    (24)

6      (16)

14    (30)

12   (24)

10     (20)

   3  (.06) = 20%

Below 50%

29   (76)

31    (84)

33    (70)

38   (76)

40     (80)

  46  (94) = 80%

Below 30%

 9    (24)

12    (32)

10    (21)

14   (28)

19     (38)

  27  (54) = 33%

Below 25%

 5    (13)

  9    (25)

  9    (20)

10   (21)

13     (26)

  11  (22) = 21%

% MPs failing to return







Members in Parl.














Source: Solomon Star Election Results  1984-2006. LINK Magazine
The above electoral results table clearly shows where the heart of our political instability lies and what has to be done about it before any other mechanism is legislated. Over a quarter of a century and through 6 separate elections, the nation has allowed a minority of people to govern this nation without the proper mandate of a majority of citizens actually voting them into office.
And this unfair process is not slowing down but strengthening. For instance, 27 members of the present House were elected with less than 30% of the vote compared to 19 members in the 2001 election and 14 members in the 1997 election. Here, then, is the source of instability! More and more members are attracting less and less votes which means that too often a member can concentrate his efforts on pleasing those few who actually voted him into office rather than for the whole constituency that he is supposed to represent.
No wonder, then, jumping from one side of the house to the other has become their favorite in-door sport. Their loyalty is less to the nation but more to the minority who actually voted for them. Insure that any member who wins a seat in Parliament must attract at least one half of the votes cast by having a runoff contest between the top two vote winners of any constituency. If the nation can get this part right, then it can move to legislation on political parties to bring about proper political stability.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Health Services going down hill!

J. Roughan
25 September 2009
For almost twenty years now, Solomon Islands medical system has not kept pace with people demand. Also, over the same twenty years, SIDT has continued to survey through its eight Report Cards how the nation's people have rated their governments on how well or poorly they have served people's basic medical needs. The following table, created by Solomon Islanders mark the medical service citizens have experienced over this twenty year period. It speaks loudly how poorly many governments, eight in number, including the present one, responded to the medical needs of their own citizens.         
             Solomon Islands Governments Report Card Summary

                            Medical Attention               1989  -  2009  

                                                                     ` Percent (%)












Kemakeza !  Kemakeza  !      Sikua

2001-2003 !  2003-2005   !    2007-2009


Health Services






    41         !         51       !         56  

(Source: SIDT's Report Cards)
Over a twenty year period, then, with many different governments in power and millions of dollars spent, the people of the nation have witnessed only marginal progress in government's medical outreach program. These Report Cards over a twenty year period indicate a modest 9% increase in people's grading of government's efforts to make better health for the majority of people.
Why, after twenty years of effort, with so much money spent and many different governments in the driving seat, do such low marks continue? What is wrong? The medical system? Government's poor understanding of the situation? Or what?
Over the past three weeks, fortunately, a Parliamentary Select Committee has been holding a series of public discussions asking basic questions about the workings of the National Referral Hospital (NRH). The Committee's daily meetings, witnessed and recorded by both live radio broadcast and nightly TV coverage, have been to question NRH doctors, nurses, technicians and typical hospital personnel about their work, how they go about their daily chores serving the people of this nation and seeking answers to find out what's gone so wrong with the system.
Of course, a usual response from NRH personnel has been the lack of sufficient funding to repair necessary technical instruments like x-ray machines, to buy sufficient consumables like bandages, sterile needles, etc. and more basic things like bathroom cleaning fluids. But the problem goes deeper, much deeper.
Staff indiscipline was also raised as a factor in the poor care patients are receiving. When staff indiscipline is examined more closely, however, it becomes clear that a ward or operating theatre which should have more than 30 staff members on duty finds itself reduced to a fraction of that number. Nurses are run off their feet, doctors are asked to do longer shifts and the whole medical system is coming under severe pressure to perform while reduced numbers of personnel face a significant increase in patient numbers.
But there are other factors at work which may help explain why it has taken Parliament 20 years to respond to the No. 9's serious and growing problems. Central Hospital is the last medical station for 99.9% of our people. If Central Hospital can not cure or stabilize a patient, few Solomon Islanders can even think of traveling overseas for treatment. Not so our political elite!
Members high up in the current political circles enjoy a fall back position. If No. 9 can't help them, no worri wori, St. Vincent's in Sydney is but a short plane ride away. Not a few of our politicians can and do play the St. Vincent Hospital card when it comes to medical attention. At this first class Australian hospital, a great medical experience is open to them when serious and not so serious sickness hits them. And all of this service comes free. The rest of us peasants, however, must put our faith and trust in No. 9 and when that fails, then it's back to the village to die.
Hopefully Parliament's Select Committee will clearly spell out NRH's many shortcomings, allocate serious financing--much less to the Honorables and more to the small people of this nation--and make sure No. 9 once more becomes the premier hospital for all.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Truth alone destroys rumor, half lies and tok stori!

J. Roughan
16 September 2009

Eighteen years ago this month, 27 September 1991 to be exact, a Solomons Airlines twin otter hit Mount Nasuha on southern Guadalcanal's Weather Coast on a return flight from Makira heading to Honiara. All fifteen people on board the aircraft died instantly. The nation was in deep shock for it was the worst aviation accident our small nation had ever experienced.
It didn't take long, unfortunately, for the rumor mill to go into overtime, the half lies to surface and tok stori to take hold. Foul play was at the heart of many of these rumors because of the presence of the prisoner Tony Bara who would have been the chief witness at a sensational murder trial had he not died in this air accident. To government's credit, the PM of the time, Solomon Mamaloni, immediately ordered a Death and Fire Inquiry be mounted so as to clearly identify what exactly had happened in this unfortunate accident. The PM was determined to stop all the made up stories in their tracks and get to the bottom of what exactly happened.  
Although an inquiry was immediately launched, to this day there has never been an official report tabled. Fortunately the Solomon Islands Chief Magistrate at the time, David Chetwynd who left the country in mid-1992, published his own study on the accident. It makes grim reading. He found serious fault with how rescue attempts were handled, interference from high officials and the tack of professional work at the accident scene. He was under the impression, however, that soon after his own report had been made public, the official inquiry document would be made known to the nation so as to put to rest the many rumors that had already risen. 
This never happened! Here it is 18 years later and still Solomon Islands people are left with only rumor, half lies and tok stori to explain the most serious air accident that had ever happened. The full picture of what really occurred on Mount Nasuha has yet to be heard.  The lesson  governments must learn from this kind of official inaction or refusal to make public what should be known doesn't just disappear or fade from people's minds. If the true facts of a situation are not made known or are deliberately hidden, that is not end of story. Rumor, half lies and tok stori take on a life of their own.
Isn't this what happened with the government's suppression of some parts of the Commission of Inquiry report on the 2006 Chinatown burndown? By with holding parts of the  Commission's report from people only confirms in their heart that the Chinatown Burndown was in great part due to RAMSI's poor policing efforts during those days. Solomon Star, in its Friday, 4 September 2009 issue for instance, quoted a Patrick O'Connor essay (originally printed in an Australian newspaper) where he clearly makes a point of asking why RAMSI's "unexplained failure to take basic security measures that could have prevented the violence".
Government's suppression of parts of the Commission's report doesn't help matters at all. In the 1991 Death and Fire Inquiry although mounted by the government of the day has yet to see the light of day 18 years later. That doesn't mean that people have forgotten about the air accident. It does mean, however, that the ordinary citizen now has mixed emotions about the usefulness of official inquiries if their findings are easily hid from the very people who have a right to know.
Presently a select Parliamentary Committee is thoroughly studying what is happening in our one and only Referral Hospital, No. 9. The committee's hearings, however, are held in open air, covered by live radio and then, for those unable to listen to the live radio coverage during the day,  in the evening hours a TV coverage brings the findings to the rest of the nation. One thing is for sure. This live radio and TV coverage of  what doctors, nurses and hospital staff are sharing out in public can never be bottled up, hidden from the public and brushed under the carpet.
It's easy to predict in the light of the medical staff's moving testimonies about their deep. serious and on going staff shortages, the broken but vital equipment, the poor staff discipline and a host of other weaknesses will certainly be addressed by the authorities and rather quickly so.  No. 9 is our final place for bring back good health. If the Referral Hospital is in such a miserable state, what can the rest of us hope for when serious sickness hits us. Overseas medical care, unless you are part of the political elite, is beyond the reach of 99.9% of us!
This on going hospital inquiry shows how important it is to have an official inquiry made public and in 'your face'. There can't be any cover up, or silence or 'mi no savvy' attitude. No. 9's life threatening shortcomings are clear to all the public especially to the members of Parliament. Once  the Committee's report is tabled in parliament, it would be political suicide for a parliament member to dismiss this report, make light of it or do anything but act on it and quickly so.
Truth, not only makes one free, it alone destroys rumor, half lies and tok stori!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Law of Unexpected Change

J. Roughan
10 September 2009
Often we humans do things thinking that the outcome of our actions will produce only what we originally intended. But more often than we would like to think about, something entirely new comes from our action which had never entered into our minds in the first place. This happens so often that it's got its own name: the Law of Unexpected Change.
For instance when humans started doing more and more gardening and less and less hunting and gathering to secure their daily food, something new happened. Not quickly, of course, but over time it became clear. Gardening for food took a whole lot less time than searching for it, hunting and then killing it, But this new way of getting one's foot meant people had extra time on their hands to do other things like making better spears, stronger axes, newer tools, making music, etc. etc. 
This new ability to produce more and better food allowed people to heap up in one place and stay for longer periods of time. That meant the beginnings of village life which later grew bigger until small towns emerged. This great change would later on be called the Agriculture Revolution and would see human beings creating towns and then, cities.
But there were other revolutions as great as the agriculture one. When Mr. Gutenberg of Germany invented a printing press in the 1500s, everyone knew that more and more bibles would be printed and quickly so. Few people, however, realized that not only would more and more bibles be printed but other types of literature would explode in numbers as well. Novels, plays, literature, and all kinds of printed stuff could be massed produced as well. Here was another case of human beings intending one thing and the Law of Unexpected Change working overtime 
producing something else again.
All around us at this very moment we are living through another REVOLUTION. It is called the Information Revolution. The computer has forced us into a new kind of world and like revolutions before, some things happen which we expect--the production of faster and more accurate information--as well as things we never thought about--games, films, music, etc. Preparing for the unexpected change is just as important as knowing about the things we intended would happen. 
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century caught many off guard. Factory work, for instance, took the husband out of the home for long periods of time. Women's role began to shift from more than cooking and caring for children but managing the whole household for the good of the family. Even today we are still trying to catch our breath what this deep change has done to society, some of it good and solid, others filled with problems.
But our most recent Information Revolution is only beginning to take hold among us. Wait until the cell phone culture--Honiara's children already walk the streets with cell phones glued to their ears--starts to really take hold when it will be possible to contact any part of the Solomons with the flick of a few fingers on a cell phone. We will be able to speak to our distant relatives, friends and others while sitting at home and think such a luxury quite ordinary. But such a revolution brings ways of acting which we have never known and we hardly understand.
Just like other revolutions what we intend by this technology will be one thing and what really happens along side what we intended will press society in new ways. Nations in East Africa, for instance, already use cell phone to by pass commercial banks--a person can safely, securely and reliably transfer money from one end of the country to another.
Commercial banking firmsin East Africa had given the cell phone technology little concern and certainly never thought it could be used to transfer money.  But now these same banks are clamoring for government to limit cell phones from transferring money since such a practice is eating into bank profits. No one had thought a cell phone could do such a thing but ordinary people stretched the cell phone's ability. What else will the cell phone, part of the Information Revolution, bring to our own people in the next few years?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

People view future brightly!

J. Roughan
4 September 2009
SIDT's most recent Report Card marked the Sikua Government as a failure in its outreach to the country's citizens. Yet, in spite of the low marks delivered by people across the nation on government's health work, delivering quality education, resource assistance and the availability of small amounts of money, the 2,000+ people surveyed also predicted, much to everyone's surprise, that the Solomon nation would be enjoying a good future.
Almost 6 out of every ten persons asked in the June/July survey, said they were sure that the "Solomons had a great future ahead for itself". Yes, one person out of every 5 surveyed had also said the opposite but the vast majority of people were quite up beat about a solid Solomons future. We found such an upbeat mood strange! Present day's poor economics, government inability to pay its debts on time and a poor local business scene all seem to call more for a negative rather than the positive outlook predicted by the people for the nation's future.
Yet, people were telling us something quite different. Why is this so? What is it that the ordinary villager, the typical town dweller and daily worker is seeing that many of us are overlooking?
Back in 1995 SIDT while conducting a national poverty survey, came upon a similar people's prediction which, at the time, we didn't understand and, unfortunately, too easily set aside. SIDT's 1995 Poverty Survey asked thousands of people to assess their wealth or lack of it by using the local measuring yardsticks, not money in the bank but real wealth like land availability, job opportunities, education chances, water access, housing, food consumption, transport, communication, etc. etc. 
It was people's response to the last survey question that made us sit up and take notice. The last survey question asked people to mark their understanding of wealth during three different time periods: the years  between 1980-1990, from 1990-1995 and then to take a leap to the year 2000, five years to the future.
People's first two responses on their real wealth during the 1980-1990 and 1990-1995 periods were predictable. Yes, they did feel they were a little bit well off. However, when it came to them predicting five years in the future, the year 2000, people's scored themselves low, very low.  They were, in fact, predicting, long before the Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 hit the nation, that their world of 2000 was going to be a  poor one, much poorer, than they had been living over the previous past few decades.
In 1995, however, the nation hadn't seen any coups, it didn't have armed militants roaming the streets and edges of Honiara, there was no such thing as a Weather Coast rebellion with its many murders, rapes, burnings and certainly there was no displacement of more than 20,000 Guale workers and their families. All of this social chaos happened years after the year 1995!
What were these people seeing that most of us couldn't or wouldn't see? How could they predict a future which many of us only became aware of when staring it in the face, when we were in the middle of the Social Unrest? What is it that today's people are telling us in the latest SIDT survey?
They are telling the nation that the Solomons future is a good one, that things will become better and that life as we know it will become better for more and more of its people.  Could their predictions be wrong or quite off base? Of course they can but that was our response in 1995 when people were predicting a poor Solomons future. I hope today's prophets are on the mark, that the Solomons does have a bright future ahead of itself and that we are doing the right things to get there.  This time, however, I will be watching much closer than I did in 1995!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Power of Paper!

J. Roughan
27 August 2009
Albert Hauhere, a newly trained teacher from West Are'are in the middle 1970s, decided to make a lasting contribution to his village. He didn't have any money to speak of but he did have a workable plan. With the help of dozens and dozens of young village people he could construct a solid football pitch right in the middle of the village. Houses and homes lined the pitch but in the middle was a professional football field which  over the years hosted many a football tournament, acted as a recreation focus for school kids and held other events.
At the beginning, the fly in the ointment was no matter how willing the kids were to help they needed work tools--pics, shovels, knives, etc--to bring their dream to reality. This is when Albert tested the power of paper. He sent a letter to the Auki administration asking it to help the village of Nariekeara create its own sports field. After all, Auki had already grandly announced that it had received a $10,000 grant to help in provincial sports fields. But his letter received a negative reply . . . yes, there had been money available for sports fields but it had already been completely used up for expenses to the Auki sport's field.
Needless to say, Albert wasn't happy at all. However, I asked him to do two things: first, file away a copy of his original letter and the Auki reply and secondly, mention these facts when applying for help from overseas. A letter to New Zealand, fortunately, brought a much happier reply. A New Zealand organization was quite interested in his project and replied with a cheque to cover the cost of buying field making tools.
But that wasn't the end of the story! Late in the 1970s, just before independence, Nariekeara was visited by a government school inspector, John Seagraves, who saw for the first time the football pitch right at the heart of the village. He was duly impressed. The grass was more like a golf course, drainage ditches worked perfectly and the football field's lines were clear and accurate. John asked a few questions as to who was the person behind the project, how was it accomplished, who had funded the necessary tools, etc. etc. 
However, the education officer became upset when he found out that the funds for the project had come from overseas. Why weren't local funds used? It was a poor way of starting off a country, he said, by seeking overseas funds when the same funds could be given locally. Albert asked the education inspector to wait a few seconds while he went into his own home to retrieve the file he had been saving for this very moment. 
Albert's thin file of a half a dozen letters told the whole story: a copy of his own original letter, Auki's rejection response, copies of his letters to New Zealand and finally, the last letter which had carried the cheque to buy the tools necessary to build the field. Once Mr. Seagraves had read the correspondence, he quietly put the folder down and no more was said. Clearly Albert Hauhere had done the right thing but the message was clear and simple: Paper had Power.
How often people have come to me telling me of their projects, their plans, their dreams. Many would relate to me that they had shared these very dreams and plans with their honorable but nothing had come of them. When I pressed them for more detail, more often than not only words and tok tok were shared with their MP. Did they present the Honorable with a paper detailing how they intended to bring their dream to reality. No, the usual answer came back. They had spoken about their plans, their dreams but no paper of any kind was presented. 
Many Solomon Islanders hate paper! Talk, speaking and conversation is their thing. All this paper work is white man's way and we in the Solomons do things differently. Unfortunately, it is paper that makes the world turn . . . not money. If we don't master paper, then it will come back to master us.
As much as we don't like paper and see it as more an enemy than the more we will lose out. There are plenty of young Solomon Islanders coming on stream who handle paper very well, thank you. Those of us who find the paper route too difficult to follow, then get those of the family who are good at putting things down on paper to help us out in our dreams. If Albert could do this almost 40 years ago, certainly we should be thinking of it today.