Search Tingting

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A second chance?

J. Roughan
26 March 2009
RAMSI gave Solomon Islands a second chance to re-invent itself when the intervention force landed on our shores almost six years ago. Concerned neighboring states--Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, etc.--refused to allow a young sister state to fail. These nations poured in resources, personnel and finance to rescue us, to give the Solomons time and opportunity to once more get on its feet. We were given a second chance!
Again last week the nation was once more blessed. Cuba, a medium sized island nation on the other side of the world, gifted us with 10 trained doctors with the promise of 40 more young doctors. During the next few years these young medics will be working among our people. And to top this generous gift, more than 65 of our own young citizens are already in medical training in Cuba. So within a span of 5 years, Solomon Islands will be boasting of having dozens and dozens of its own people trained as doctors.
The RAMSI experiment guaranteed our people breathing space, to get our act together, to peacefully review what went wrong with us as a nation and to assist us in re-building our shattered institutions. Cuba's 50 trained medical doctors gift travels the same road.
Our tiny population of 1/2 a million people are scattered over a million and a half kilometers of ocean and located on thousands of islands, both large and small. The 5,000+ village and hamlets sends an even clearer picture . . . our people do not like to heap up in one central place, no matter how well serviced. And this same condition will continue through much of this new century.
The 1976 Census, for instance, found that 12% of our people did heap up in Honiara, the provincial capitals and a few other places. However, it was predicted at the time that by the end of the 20th century more than 3 out of 10 of our people would have moved to a few cities and towns across the nation. After all many other nations were following this pattern exactly. Yet, our 1999 Census said something else. During a 33 year period--1976-1999--some of our people did travel to the country's city and towns but their number remained quite modest. Only 16% of people had begun to root in town while more than 8 out of 10 (84%) people stayed in their beloved villages in spite of not being particularly well served nor rarely recognized as the nation's true owners.
This state of affairs became most evident went medical attention was considered. We were told that the nation's few doctors could only be effectively used if they practiced their skills in a major referral hospital and provincial hospitals. There was truth to this statement. Doctors, to be effective, need back up equipment--x ray machines, scanners, etc.--and professional testing of blood to confirm their medical diagnosis. 
Although preventative medicine was always in the back of the minds of our medical people, it soon became evident that what was indeed practiced was curative medicine. Even with the creation of dozens and dozens of clinics, staffed by trained nurses, the Ministry of Health's accent from the very beginning has been to curing sick patients not to prevent sickness and keeping diseases away from people. There was too few medical staff available to effectively follow a preventative medical approach.  
So the medical department slipped into its present role of curing disease rather than preventing it in the first place. Is it possible for these 50 new Cuban doctors to begin to change this emphasis to respond to the medical needs of our people where they actually live rather than forcing thousands of them to expend large amounts of money, time and effort traveling to Honiara's centralized medical system?
RAMSI bought us time and resources for our leaders to re-think what we want for ourselves as a nation. For nearly 6 years now neighboring Pacific nations have held out supporting hands. Now from the other side of the earth, a small nation is offering us a similar hand up. The easiest thing for us to do is to do nothing. Let the 50 new doctors fill in slots in our centralized medical system. The exciting thing to do, however, would be to use these new medical personnel to re-vamp our medical system by posting and backing them professionally to the rural areas. CNURA, to be true to its name, could truly accent its claim,  Rural Advancement.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sticks and Stones

J. Roughan
17 March 2009
As a kid back in New York City many years ago, the small crowd of young boys that I hung around with would chant these words against those who were yelling bad things about us. Not that it did any good! The older kids still kept yelling at us but chanting back our own words made us feel a little bit better some how.
However, here in the Solomons things are different. Really a great deal different! Yes, the bit about 'sticks and stones' breaking bones remains true but using bad. ugly or offensive words against another causes a great deal of pain. A sure way to get fists flying, for instance, is to curse someone, his relatives or his family in public. That's true even when the things said are among friends!
Using ugly and bad language becomes much more serious when it happens between an employer and employee especially if the 'boss' is of another race. It becomes much worse, however, if the confrontation happens between a male boss and a Solomon Islands woman. For a Solomons woman to answer back to a whiteman boss who has insulted, degraded--black swine--or publicly humiliated her takes tons of courage.
The woman thinks twice before daring to answer back. Her hard won job is put in danger and such a loss would really affect the lives of her  whole family.   The woman's silence in such a case does not mean that the insult was not understood, that the public humiliation has been quickly forgotten or things will quickly and quietly go back to normal. No, like deep pain she will never forget what has been said. As one woman recently confessed after being on the receiving end of a humiliating public tongue lashing: "I have been scarred for life!"
Last week the newspapers informed the nation that an overseas company, Getax Australia, hopes to open up a new tuna cannery in east Malaita in the near future. The company has rightly identified a tuna expert as well as appointing senior managers to help it with its investment. If the proposed new tuna factory follows the lead of the Noro cannery, many local women will work in the cannery. May I make a suggestion?
As important as the tuna expert is, the social relations between women workers and the overseas boss will in time be even more critical. Creating a fruitful and dynamic interaction between employee and employer is crucial to the success of any local enterprise. In the Solomons, moreover, treating staff members fairly, well and sensibly pays off handsomely in the company's 'bottom line'. This would mean engaging a local woman who has the insight, expertise and training in custom and traditions to pass this knowledge on to the company's senior staff especially if from overseas.
What one says, how one says it and the body language used while saying it are important aspects of strong management practices in these islands. Perhaps the employee is barely literate, speaks his/her mother tongue haltingly and doesn't have much schooling to speak of. But make no mistake about it, their eyes, ears and minds are fine tuned and I have found them much more receptive and attentive than my own.
Village culture lies at the heart of 90% of Solomons women. They insure that village life is kept ticking over creatively. To enhance village peace and harmony requires its citizens to learn early on the meaning and importance of body language. We from the west may have lost this human art long ago but it's one of those cultural traits we could re-learn for our own well being while living in this country for the next few years.
Business houses to insure success must incorporate the foundations of Solomons life into the heart of their enterprises. Senior managers and immediate line bosses would do well to learn the customs and traditions of the people they are employing. Language and its proper use in the work place are high on the list of things to do or not to do. An ill chosen word said in the wrong place at the wrong time can destroy as deeply as any stone or stick.

Politicians worry about 2010 while Voters focus on 2009!

J. Roughan
12 March 2009
National elections are due before mid-2010. Many honorables, knowing their time in office has but a few more months to run, are pushing the panic button. In 2006, when most were elected and won their seat in parliament what seemed like a nice long time in the lime light--4 years, 48 months, 208 weeks, 1,460 days--has now dropped to a bit more than a single year.
They realize that for most the numbers are stacked against them for being re-elected to parliament again. If past national elections are anything to go by more and more are destined to be one-term members. Since 1984 during the course of six national elections, on average 43% of the sitting members failed in their attempt to return to parliament.
The only exception to that rule happened in 1993 when almost 8 out of 10 members successfully returned to parliament. But that event was a one off thing because that's the year Mamaloni introduced the Rural Constituency Development Fund. Voters mistakenly thought that funds given out by this fund belonged to the member. Really, however, it was people's money. Once they realized that the RCDF fund belonged to them and not to the member, the number of members failing to return to parliament grew strong once again. 
In fact, by the 2001 election more than 6 out of every 10 sitting members failed in their attempt to return to parliament. That was the highest turnover in seven national elections. Unfortunately, I predict that this same thing will happen again next year if the present group of members fail to energize their people in 2009.
Today's politicians face an international financial collapse that is sending distress signals across the globe. Governments, some as powerful as America, Japan, EU, UK, etc currently face the most depressing economic outlook since WW II in 1945. Had economic growth  of 2006-2008 continued and grown strong, then many honorables would have basked in its warmth and claim that their strong governance had caused all the prosperity. With the current total destruction of what nations had considered normal and natural now in complete disarray, then it's today's politicians who are being blamed for the town turn.
It does no good for a politician to bank on his access to RCDF as a major way of winning back his parliamentary seat. Voters know that the funds from this source belong NOT to the honorable but to the people. So, in their eyes, it doesn't really matter who sits in parliament, these funds are already ear marked  for people's projects and interests..  
Present politicans have to come up with more convincing ways to woo their voters that he is their man, that he has the interest of his people at heart and it would be wise for them to return this experienced person to parliament once again in 2010. But this is becoming a big ask!
The typical village person has not experienced much of a change in his/her quality of life since 2006. SIDT can't produce an up to date Report Card showing that this government as well as the previous one have made any marked difference in the normal lives of people. However,  recalling the depressing results of the 7 seven Report Cards dating back as far as 1989, government after government have failed the people in the basics of life. 
It's no great leap of the imaginations to state, without fear of contradiction, that since governments of the day have cared so little for people over so many years that people, in turn, think little of their representatives. The key to return to office, of winning back a parliament seat, has less to do with funding a project, handing out travel money, supplying bags of rice but more and more to do with making people's ordinary lives thrive. Villagers want their kids in quality schools that start on time each day every day, clinics well staffed with dedicated personnel having medicines at hand when needed, reliable but affordable transport and a strong but a reasonably priced communication system. 
Honorable! Stop thinking about 2010 so much and focus on making 2009 better for your people now. If you don't, then most should begin looking for a new work come 2010!

Belt Tightening?

J. Roughan
4 March 2009

Chalking up a $2.4 million yearly office rent in the midst of a national and international financial meltdown doesn't make too much sense. That's  exactly what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is doing by moving into new offices. Can the nation really afford to shell out $200,000 monthly rent to Honiara's newest building owners when the ministry already enjoys adequate office accommodation?
But spending money like a drunken sailor doesn't stop there! The same ministry plans to send a delegation--with the minister's spouse tagging along--on an overseas trip costing tax payers $400,000. These expenses are hard to justify even in the days when government's monthly revenue was strong and consistent. For the past four months, however, monthly revenues have halved while its expenses have increased. Not a good recipe for success in the world's present financial melt down.
Other ministries seem to be traveling along the right track . . . signing the World Bank to a feasibility study for a major hydro-scheme for electricity. Unfortunately, even if successful the Ministry of the Environment must wait at least 5 critical years before such a scheme begins to kick in with electricity. In the mean time it means SIEA depends upon expensive diesel fuel rather than coconut oil to run Lunga's generators.
Getting government to pay its creditors looks more and more like a re-run of our 1998-2003 bad old days. Rental payments for public servants housing is currently well behind schedule. The delay in getting Honiara's potholed roads repaired has much more to do with cash flow than the rainy weather which is currently blamed for the inaction.   
Already 4 or 5 logging ships sent from Solomons to China have been turned back by authorities . . . China needs the logs but doesn't have the money to pay for them. Recently two ship loads of scrap metal were turned away from Australian ports. The same story! Australia has more than enough metal and doesn't need any scrap at all, thank you!
Our staple exports--copra, cocoa, oil palm--already feel the world's inability to import overseas products as with many other products which the big off shore countries had imported in record amounts over past years. The good and easy times have come to a screaming halt. Australia's economy as is New Zealand, etc. are dipping into recession mode and finances will only get worse before they get better.
How in the world can we as a small nation think we some how will be immune from this terrible financial disease and ride out a fiscal meltdown currently gripping the whole world? Each week world leaders meet in unprecedented, hastily called conferences to try to do something, anything, to pick leading nations out of the deep hole they have dug themselves. The US Congress, for instance, recently passed a $800 billion stimulus package because its industries are falling over like flies with hundreds of thousands thrown out of work.
We, on the other hand, seem to act like the man who dived off a 15 floor building and as he past the 10th floor said to himself: " Well, nothing has happened so far!" When, however, he finally reaches ground level a few seconds after he past the 10th floor he'll know without any doubt what is happening. But then it's too late!
This month's parliamentary meeting couldn't be better timed. Whether any new legislation is tabled or not during this session, is besides the point. Government and the Opposition must focus their energies on how to prepare our people, its ministries and the whole government apparatus for the financial downturn of the next 18 months  or so. Unfortunately, our leaders have not proven themselves good at protecting either the people nor the nation. The Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 showed how Honiara centric and self centered in thought and action they are. 
Hopefully things will be different this time around. Essential services--villagers medical, education, transport and communication needs--must be upper most in parliament's mind, not simply parliamentarian salaries, perks, entitlements, additions, etc. People will closely study members  ways and how they react to this financial tsunami.
Next year's national election will surely reflect people's judgment on how well or how poorly their member has acted during this national emergency. Has a member led in ways to reduce expenses, gain revenue? Or has he continued to act like the man who jumped off the high building and was claiming up to the last second that everything was going great. If a member fails the test in this emergency, then why should  he be returned to office at all?

Learning our ABGs

J. Roughan
26 February 2009
The Foreign Relations Committee's recent touring of Western and Choiseul provinces, listening to people's views about RAMSI and interacting with villagers is a great step in building up the nation's democratic institutions. Hours of testimony, relayed both by radio and TV, initially live on SIBC but then played back during the evening hours, shows that our nation is really serious about taking into account the views and insights of the nation's rural majority.
No, I haven't been able to listen to each and every villager's statement but I did have the chance to take in many hours of radio conversation and discussion. Many showed they were not backward in coming forward. They let loose their thoughts and shared with the Committee what they thought of RAMSI, where it should focus its considerable resources and how to make the Solomons a better place because of its presence.
However, all was not peaches and cream! Not a few of these same villagers asked awkward questions and were second guessing why RAMSI was so totally focused in and around Honiara. It should be throwing its significant resource net much further a field and assist the rural person much more than it has been doing over the past six years.
These observations are on the mark! Not only because rural people are more than 8 out of 10 of the population but they have a proven track record that makes it miles ahead of Honiara. After all wasn't it the village sector that kept the Solomons alive and functioning during the awful Social Unrest days of 1998-2003!
While Central Government, its ministries and its leaders proved ineffectual, costly and leaderless, villagers took care of the olos, the children and protected their women folk while feeding and caring for society as a whole. This happened not for a few months or a year at the most but for 5 long years. When I asked two RAMSI officers what would happen to Sydney if it had lost its security shield and had no police or military to call upon, both responded that it would probably fall apart in less than a week. 
One of the reasons why RAMSI comes off looking so good in people's eyes is that Solomon citizens have experienced an ineffectual, poorly led and hugely expensive government for more than 30 years. That is why the majority of people of Choiseul and Western provinces don't want RAMSI to depart these islands. In RAMSI, they think they experience another kind of government, well resourced with helicopters, ships, vehicles, chain saws, radios, etc. able to use them when called upon. 
All of this is not lost on people. No, RAMSI is not perfect but compared to government--national and provincial--in the eyes of the nation's ordinary citizen it is proving itself miles ahead. That is why people want it to extend its presence to the rural areas, to invest in roads and infrastructure and get the schools, clinics and whatever else is needed to make village life a bit better than it has been for the past 30 years. 
But RAMSI will rightfully say: 'That's government work and duty. That's why there is such a thing called government, to serve people where they live and make everyday existence a bit better each year.' But people's response is every bit as clear! They haven't felt a working government  presence for years and don't expect it any time soon.
But the answer can never be: get rid of government and let RAMSI take over. In fact the more successful RAMSI becomes the harder it is for government to follow, to imitate, to be like it. The way out of this problem is not for RAMSI to ramp up and do more but for government to dedicate itself the more to be servant of the people. Ideally, RAMSI has to scale back and government, both central and provincial, must take on the tasks which it has been elected to do. Over the past six years RAMSI has given us a chance to catch our breath, gear up for the hard slog of working for the people and cast off the mantle of thinking of itself first and the people a distant second.
ABG--Anybody But Government--is not on! Solomons future lies in our own hands and a great time to take control comes in 2010 with a new round of national elections. Vote in leaders who put the nation ahead of their own interests! 

Solomons Stimulus Strategy!

J. Roughan
19 February 2009
Last week the US Congress past an $800 billion economic stimulus package. Country after country--UK, Japan, EU, Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand to name but a few--are either in the midst of passing huge stimulus packages or have already done so. What's happening? Why are all the leading nations of the world pushing the panic button? In short, the financial world they knew, really controlled, has slipped out of their hands. Their fear is that the once almighty banks, financial giants and other money spinners have lost their way and people's life essentials are fast disappearing.
Stimulus strategies are meant to kick start a country's economic well being. In the States, for instance, President Obama's Stimulus Package is suppose to deliver 3 to 4 million new jobs. These new jobs are suppose to replace the ones already lost over the whole of 2008. America's new jobs will come from re-building its decaying highways, setting up new school rooms, repairing run down school buildings, insulating hundreds of thousands of homes to save on electricity, etc.
The Stimulus Strategies of other nations are built much along the same kind of thinking: convince the typical citizen to once again go out to stores and shops to buy up things--household items, cars, clothing, shoes, homes, etc. Then, so the theory goes, fewer and fewer jobs will be lost and in fact, more and more people will begin to work again, taxes will start to flow back to government and economic growth takes off once again.
Such a strategy, however, is certainly not based on past history. In fact, the world has currently entered unchartered waters. The world has become very much like a ship sailing close to land where there are many reefs but the captain doesn't have a clue about where the hidden reefs lie. Unfortunately, most nations currently face a serious recession, money is tight and jobs are disappearing from the largest and most powerful companies in the world. Yet, no one has yet come up with a better plan.
But the current financial tsunami doesn't mean the Solomons must simply throw up its hands in despair and wait until some one else saves us. In a sense, we sit in a better position than many other nations. Most of our people feed themselves from their own gardens and the ocean's bounty, build their own homes, secure sustainable energy sources--fire wood for cooking, coconut oil for lighting and a substitute for diesel--access drinkable water, use bush medicine, enjoy abundant sea resources, etc. In a word, 8 out of 10 Solomon Islanders have a basic resource base to keep themselves alive. 
However, our political leaders, elite members of society, those who live off the dollar, the highly educated and foreigners, found in Honiara and provincial capitals, are particularly poorly  placed to ride out the coming financial storm. Just as it was the village that pulled the Solomons through during its Social Unrest years of 1998-2003, so will the villager have to once more repeat this fundamental work during the up coming Financial Unrest period. But villagers are unable to do this on their own. 
The cash economy nations, the developed world mostly, have been severely shell shocked by the current financial mess.They react in a  predicable ways. Money rules their thinking. National treasurers can only think of jobs, money, banks, stock market, etc. They have little else to fall back on.  We on the other hand by focusing on the majority of our people, the 8 out of 10 who live village life, live off their own resources.
A Solomons Stimulus Strategy, however, taking into account the nation's strong food, housing, energy, medicine resource base of food, can fashion a worthwhile strategy which both enhances people's ability to feed themselves and strengthen their livelihoods as well. Although copra and cocoa prices are currently at historical highs, so too are shipping charges. So no matter how much a copra cutter gains in selling his copra, much of that profit is eaten up by shippers demanding sky-high freight charges. All of this in spite of the dramatic drop in fuel prices since August, 2008. Government must be vigilant along this line. Shipping companies have a right to modest profits but not soaking village copra and cocoa producers.
If the village sector remains strong during this serious financial tsunami and is assisted to gain modest amounts of money from food production, copra/cocoa work and fishing, this will be the best stimulus for the whole of the cash economy nationwide. The solution to Solomon Islands coming trouble, as is usual the case, lies in strengthening villagers' lives--84% of the nation--who in turn will help the cash economy weather the coming storm.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Preparing our people for the Great Shake up!

J. Roughan
9 February 2009
Internationally, the world is one big mess! The Lords of this World--the bankers. big moneymen, financiers, movers and shakers, etc.--who up to the end of 2008, were considered untouchable, were way up there almost out of sight and in many ways, powers beyond us. These are the  ones who always lived a-top the financial ladder, above the rest of us mere mortals and peasants, but are now nervously looking over their shoulders and wonder where it will all end. The world as they knew it and prospered from has disappeared forever 
The greatest financial shock ever to hit the modern world, every bit as bad as the 1930 Great Depression when millions lost jobs, nations refused to trade with each other and no one really knew what to do, now rocks the whole developed world. It's become a financial tsunami not merely hitting the people of southern Africa, South America and most of Asia who are finding life terribly difficult but also the rich nations of Europe, America and Japan are losing jobs and aren't sure how to stop a terrible slide into serious poverty. 
Developing-world people always knew they were poor, living a kind of second class world citizenship and destined to wait on the latest word from those superior beings from the rich First World who thought themselves so far above us. Now there has been a great reversal! In reality  most First World families weren't rich but many did own their own homes, could count on a bit of money in the bank and most important, could  boast of  having a job. Now, many of these basic assurances have come crashing down. In America, for instance, over the past few months, tens of thousands of ordinary families have lost their homes, their bank accounts have shrunk drastically and, most devastatingly, no longer can count on having jobs. 
In recent past economic recessions, normally only a handful of nations felt the chill winds of economic weakness. Not this time! Right across the whole developed and the developing world a sort of panic has set in.  And this current recession has a long way to play out before the world as we knew will come flooding back. Forget about 2009! Many in the world will be running hard just to keep in place while famine, war and suffering will be the lot of many.
We in the Solomons, however, don't have to travel down that same path. Make no mistake about it, however, money will be hard to get and even harder to hold onto because ordinary store things are already jumping in price. Our inflation rate is above 20% and probably not drop much over the whole of this year. 
Energy prices used mostly for producing electricity and powering our transport will fall slightly in the next few months but it's doubtful whether SIEA, ship owners, bus operators, taxi drivers and truckers will take much notice of the world's reduction of fuel costs to slash their own prices. For instance, SIEA stubbornly sticks to its $4.05 per kilowatt hour for its Cash Power and a whopping $4.90 for household users. That price level made some economic sense when diesel was selling at $13.00+ a liter in mid-2008 but is nothing short of highway robbery with diesel now selling for less than $7.00 a liter.
But the same charge must be leveled at our transport industry also. Most ships still charge the traveling public the same price as when diesel fuel prices were sky high. What defense do taxi drivers, truck owners and bus operators use to justify their over high prices? They were quick to increase their prices when fuel became so expensive. Yet, I don't see any quickness about their dropping prices now that the cost of petrol and diesel  have almost halved since July, 2008.  
The job market did not grow much last year and will become even weaker this year. Rather than salary raises, many a worker, except those in government of course, will be asked to take less although they should be getting more. Self employment--production of coconut oil, food security economy, home-made cooked foods, ice blocks made from pineapple, mango, lemon juices not sugar water and coloring that goes on today, etc--will save many a family. I won't even mention rice prices!
The rest of the world is rightfully worried sick about the terrible economic downturn playing out this year. However, I fail to see national leaders  understanding the problem much less coming up with ways our people can come out of this tsunami stronger and more dynamic. Our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 shouldn't be forgotten. At that time, it was Guale's Weather Coast that suffered greatly. In this current storm which  could hit all sections and areas of the Solomons, things could become a lot worse.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Flying? On one wing!

J. Roughan
29 January 2009
Solomon Islanders have been doing their best to write a special chapter in the book  "How to create a modern state". For more than thirty years now, it has shouted to the world that a modern state needs only men and men alone to run its affairs. Women should stay in the kitchen, raise the kids and stay out of public affairs. Since 1978 it has elected more than 300 men--313 to be exact--to parliament but only a single woman! Solomon Islanders thought they could defy the experience of hundreds of other countries, vote into the highest political chamber only men and think that their nation could fly using only one wing! Well, the results are in! It doesn't work and in fact, is can't work!
Over this 30 year period our nation has lurched from crisis to crisis but that hasn't stopped it from repeating the same fundamental mistake of allowing only men to run the affairs of state. No other Pacific Island nation has suffered 5 years of Social Unrest which can be directly traced to the nation's refusal to strengthen itself by having women gain parliamentarian seats and to help run the affairs of state.
It's interesting to hear what's happening on Malaita these days. West Kwara'ae people are complaining that their one member has too many constituents to look after. They currently seek to elect a second representative to care for the West Kwara'ae people. Yet, for 30 years now, ALL the women of that constituency and the nation at large--half the entire population, about 260,000 women--have been without a single representative in parliament. How long will such an injustice continue? 
PNG has been doing serious soul-searching along this same line as well. Women's participation in national politics is not much better than what we find here. Currently only one woman sits in parliament but government officials intend to do something positive about increasing that number rapidly. Out of 36 women nominated by different groups, organizations and bodies, the government intends to appoint three of them to be members of parliament. 
While I appreciate PNG's concern to do something about the serious problem of women's under representation in parliament, I do not agree with the way they are going about it. Basically government will select the women parliamentarians. No, the country's citizens must elect these women to this high office; they aren't to be selected. The voting process as flawed as it can be at times, is a far better way to operate than a few high officials selecting women for parliament.
But time is not on our side. Our next national election takes place in 2010, less than 16 months from now. There has to be some changes in the law which allows only 50 parliamentarians. If the nation is to have a modest women representation in parliament, then an extra 10 seats have to be allocated for women.  Such legislation would be temporary until the idea of the male/female balance in parliament roots among voters.
In our next national election, then, all candidates, men and women, would follow the full requirements for election--proper registration, fee payment, constituency campaigning, etc. The very same conditions that apply to men candidates running for the office would apply to women as well. The only difference for a woman to successfully secure a parliament seat, however, is for the top 10 women vote getters across the nation to be allocated these reserved seats.
In the 2006 national elections, for instance, 25 women candidates from 21 separate constituencies ran for this high office. Seven of them in fact attracted double digit backing from voters--Afu Lia Billy, East Kwaio, gained the highest female vote, more than 21% of the total. Some women actually gained more votes than other parliamentarians in other constituencies.
This is but one idea. If a better one emerges to secure women's presence in parliament, fine. The election year is not far off at all. Voters require clear explanations and awareness programs for the need why the next election must be different from the last seven. Our many deep seated problems--growing poverty levels, few jobs for young people, quality education weakening, sense of peoples'  well-being in decline, etc.--which led to the Social Unrest period of 1998-2003 have not gone away.  All of these troubles happened during the 'male oriented, male dominated' political life of the nation.  A healthy female presence in parliament may well change the nation's fortunes and allow us to fly with two wings!

Dying too young!

J. Roughan
22 January 2009
The AIDS plague in Africa, India, China and other countries, up to recently, killed off, each year, thousands and thousands of the very citizens most needed to lead their countries out of poverty. Fortunately, new medicines and drugs are making a difference. Fewer and fewer AIDS sufferers are condemned to die at young ages. Their productive work, if the life-saving drugs are faithfully taken on a daily basis, is making the difference. AIDS is no longer a death sentence! These sick people remain productive, are once again living normal life patterns, work jobs and raise families.
We in the Solomons also have an AIDS problem, not as bad say as South Africa. We remain at the beginning of this major health crisis. The full epidemic has not reached our shores but certainly, much like PNG, we too will have our most productive age group affected by the dreaded sickness AIDS.
We do, however, have other sicknesses which are taking away our most productive workers in the prime of their productive lives. Their sicknesses are not easily caught and other people can't spread them among us. We alone, each one of us, bring these fatal sicknesses upon ourselves. They come to us through our life style, the way we live our ordinary lives. Eating poorly, drinking too much, smoking at any level, daily  job stress, poor sleeping habits and lack of proper exercise all contribute to the killing of our men and more and more our women at the high point of their productive lives.
Last year, for instance, parliament lost three of its best and brightest: Bart Ulufa'alu, Joses Sanga and the member from North East Malaita. All of them less than 70 years old, certainly far less than the 78 years of age which Solomon Island men are normally expected to live. High intake of salt and sugar over many years, cigarette smoking, in some cases, high levels of alcohol consumption contributed greatly to the high blood pressure readings, heart trouble, diabetes and congestion which finally killed them.
Add to this list other silent killers--high stress levels brought on by overwork, poor sleeping habits, social pressures and lack of physical exercise--and the nation has developed the 'perfect storm' for early and unexpected deaths among some of its most talented and gifted leaders. Just last week, for instance, Samson Maeniuta, only 65, was unexpectedly called home by his maker. Last month, another servant of the Lord and the legal fraternity, John Hauirae also left us suddenly. John was less than 50 years of age, far too young for retirement and with much legal drafting waiting for his practiced and skilled hand, also died.  
Unfortunately, death rarely sends out service messages announcing its arrival time except to those who listen intently and do pay attention to what the message is saying. In the case of our many early deaths of our top level leaders, service messages have been coming out regularly, clearly and loudly.
In the early part of the 20th century such early deaths would have been blamed on poisoning, sorcery or some kind of spirit intervention. These days, however, the medical profession sends out clear messages about these early and easily preventable early deaths both on the personal and community level. Some parts of the message, fortunately, are actually being listened to. Each day, for instance, I carry out a most unscientific survey along Honiara's streets. How many cigarette smokers can I count along the city's road, sitting in cars, buses and trucks or just hanging around city buildings?
At the beginning of my survey I was convinced that I would count dozens and dozens of smokers on the streets, in shops or riding buses. However, for the past five months, while performing my unscientific survey, I never spotted more than 8 smokers in any one day of my counting. Which proves very little but does indicate that more and more people, unfortunately not teenagers, that smoking seems to be weakening. If my survey is of any use, then that's an upbeat sign that citizens are becoming aware of the danger of smoking to their long term living. 
In the food consumption area, however, I'm much less sure. Yes, more and more Solomon Islanders are drinking and carrying around plastic bottles of water, not coke, orange, etc. That's a good step forward! But Honiara's fast food joints are more than happy with the number of customers waiting in line for their greasy fish and chips, oil soaked meat balls, rice richly topped with grease, etc. This kind of diet, over a long period of time, is exactly what doctors warn against. 
2009, unfortunately, we will experience more and more of our Big Men leaving us while still in the prime of their lives. There are no medicines for this condition except following a healthy diet, cutting out smoking and drinking completely, learning to sleep better, walking even running rather than taking the car and reducing stress levels. Each of these 'medicines' are available to all of us and the earlier we take them, the more sure that a longer life could be ours.

Less than 16 months to go!

J. Roughan 
15 January 2009
The Sikua-led government has less than 16 months or so before the next round of national elections in mid-2010. The previous government  had counted on having plenty of time . . . at least a 4-year period to implement its programs while still in power. Of course it never dreamt that a motion of no-confidence would be mounted much less that it would be passed so as to cut short their period of control.
But in politics, things do happen out of the blue and are hard to predict. But even if nothing unusual does happen to bring grief to the present government, the hands of the clock are already on the move. It's time in power is surely over by mid-2010. Hence, in a short period of 16 or so months it would be hard for it to begin a new program, follow through with major funding and at the end of government's time in power to really complete it.
Hence, the need for tightly focusing on those projects which are not only do-able but more importantly to accent those which will respond to some of the nation's basic needs. Poverty reduction and youth livelihoods lie at the heart of national pain. In our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 our youth population basically kept its head down. If a trained sociologist had been walking Honiara's streets during the period leading up to our trouble years, he would have been excused had he predicted that the teaming number of bored, listless and half-educated youth walking Honiara's streets were a 'bomb waiting to explode'.
But, on the contrary, the majority of island youth kept a significantly low profile in spite of serious temptations--a gun in the hand, riches or at least some easy loot and protection from the weight of the law--offered by some so called leaders. Yes, Honiara's barricades east and west of the town's main road were manned mostly by bored and sullen youth but their numbers were modest even at the height of the tension. Most had come to the conclusion that they had no future in such nonsense. The nation could and would offer more!
Now almost 6 years after the Social Unrest had reached its height, the Solomons, with RAMSI's willing help, searches for a new and better life for all. The Sikua government with much less than a year and half remaining in its mandate and now entering its final stretch of power is forced to cut the fabric of progress to fit this realistic time frame.
My suggestion to government is that it exercise a tight focus on the youth issue, doing something positive to their livelihood prospects and thereby help to reduce poverty levels across the nation. Targeting youth right across the nation would be a mistake. There's just too many of them. Nothing would  probably get done in the tight time frame government faces. Focus efforts  on those areas which have proven volatile in  the past. Villages which have felt the terrible burden of isolation and neglect would be my choice. 
In that scheme of things, Guale's Weather Coast certainly qualifies. Even before independence the colonial government had literally given up on that section of the Solomons. A useable dirt track basically build by local people's sweat and labour, youth's especially, paid for by government funds could prove to be an incentive to the donor community that this is the beginning of the end of Weather Coast isolation. And make it less prone to the excesses which destroyed so many young lives.
Another product which youth must explore is alternative uses of coconut and its valuable oil content. For the past hundred years, for instance, the most valuable part of the coconut, its oil, was harvested by outside interests. All Solomons villagers were expected to do was to harvest the ripe nuts, dry the white coconut flesh, bag and ship it to central ports to be ultimately sent overseas to processing plants where foreigners  gleaned the most value. The ones who did the majority of the hard work were villagers. Those who did the least, however, gained the most value. That must stop!
Youth enterprise extracting oil from the coconut to replace diesel fuel is one way for Solomon Islanders to finally capture most of coconut's real value. Also, the whole story about a Food Security Economy waits to be told. 2009 is already headed for the record books. The nation's current 24% inflation rate atop of an extremely weak currency is making life harder and harder for our most vulnerable citizens. Politicians can't correct every problem but they can make a serious dent into poverty by targeting youth and enhancing livelihoods through creative use of our local resource base. 

Educating my child is too important to be left to the experts!

J. Roughan
8 January 2009
Solomon Islands' parents most important investment is by far the education of their kids. More money, care and concern is invested on the education of their children than any other enterprise. Over more than a period of twelve years parents and relatives lay out thousands of hard earned dollars to insure that their child gets a decent education. No other family project, even the purchase of a family home, comes close to matching the dollars and time spent on insuring that a child gets a proper education. 
Recently the Ministry of Education has unveiled a major initiative, Free Education. This government scheme should make it easier for parents to send their child to school and not have to worry about paying big school fees. Unfortunately, the words used--Free Education--in the minds of some parents means something different from what was originally intended by those who came up with the basically good scheme in the first place.
Of course 'Free Education' doesn't exist any where in the world. The Government's large and on going investment in teacher training, salaries, school financial assistance grants, buildings, dormitories, etc. etc. forever puts the lie to the idea that such an expensive proposition as education could ever be 'free'. What is meant by 'free education' is a government plan, with overseas donor help, to help families send their child to school.
So many parliamentarians have been hounded over these past years by their constituents to help with school fees. Since this request  has  grown stronger and stronger, it only makes sense to directly help school children rather than going indirectly to the member and begging for this help. But financial help, although really needed by most parents, is probably the least important item in a long list of things called for to strengthen our schools and root education deeper in the hearts of our people than it really is.
On 19 January 2009, less than two weeks away, school doors open to begin a new year. After a break of almost two months, all Solomons schools are on notice to begin the new academic year with teachers in place, school supplies at the ready for the Headmaster, teachers and helpers to hand out to pupils and a fresh beginning for a whole new school year. Unfortunately, although headmasters and teachers have known the exact day for school opening, many schools won't open that day but stay closed until well into February.
The whole education process is not only our biggest industry by far but, in fact, the most important one. Honiara's traffic patterns, for instance, change dramatically once classes begin. Yet, so many teachers treat this major national enterprise as a distraction to more important parts of their lives as if their teaching work is not paid for by a monthly salary, NPF contributions, home leave entitlements and in some cases school contributions for daily transport needs, housing and extra assistance in cases of deaths of a family member.
That is why parents have to be much more alert and vigilant that their education investment really is being used well and creatively. It is not enough for a parent to accept that the local education experts--Ministry of Education, teachers, schools themselves--are properly using the funds wisely and well for the children placed in their care.
If a school starts classes late this year, why? Is it because teachers failed to come on time? Is the headmaster at post or is she still at home? Why are only a handful of teachers turning up? Does a class room still have the broken louver blades that should have been replaced during the break period?  What about teaching materials . . . is there enough chalk, pencils, dusters, etc? what about school books, are there sufficient for each child? pupil's desks, are they still not fixed? These are just a few items that a parent should be aware of when visiting with his child for the first day of school.
How much will a school fee help when classroom basics are lacking or broken beyond use? Will a government paid school fee make much difference if teachers are missing from post, if school toilets still don't work, if classroom supplies are lacking, etc. etc. No, school fees as important as they are, do not respond to the deep structural lacks that the school system suffers. Something more is needed! Parental concern shown through their attendance at School Committee meetings is the first step to strengthening education for their children. School fees from government mean that it is indeed interested in making schools work but it is the concerned parent that will make the school work.

Grievance? Sense of Entitlement? or Service!

J. Roughan
1 January 2009
Here we are at the beginning of a brand new year. 2009 is but a few days old and its entire twelve months stretches out before us. Yes, the year could really belong to us. We are a free people, able to feed, house and care for ourselves! No external enemy haunts us, waiting off shore, desiring to bring misery and hurt to us and our lives. 
Just the opposite! While in other parts of the world, we see nations attacking others--Israel into Gaza, central Africa, Afghanistan, etc. We, on the other hand, experience a strong positive presence of other nations who want us to succeed, to help us make a go of it. Australia, for instance, has put its promises to the test. It pledged heaps of finance and personnel to help us on the way and has actually done so for almost six years now. Other Pacific Island countries are on record wanting us to do well and have helped with personnel and commitment. 
Hence, this year's positive outcome for the nation and our people is basically in our own hands, our own people's commitment and our own leaders dedication. A positive, national 2009 outcome, however, will not come about automatically but with a deep involvement of all our people. 
There are a number of hurdles, I do not say, barriers, although some of these hurdles seem to be barriers, stand in the way of the nation's well being. Some people, for instance, carry about in their hearts grievances which are truly real but block their ability to ever move forward. The hurts and losses of the Social Unrest years of 1998-2003, for some people, are more real than the present days of 2009. The hurts, losses and sorrows of that period weigh them down so much that they find it almost impossible to see the light, progress and change that has come to the nation over the past five years. A feel of deep grievance so soaks up their attention that until those grievances are finally laid to rest, that for them nothing positive can be accomplished.
But for each of those so afflicted with deep feelings of grievances, possibly two others carry around a sense of entitlement. Somehow government is required to feed that sense of entitlement with compensation payments, RCDF handouts, walkabout financing, pocket money, etc. etc. These people think that once government or the member or whoever gives the 'proper' payment then all will be well and the nation can live up its promise.
Fortunately, when the nation was knocked to its knees during the Social Unrest years, when no one, including central government was helping villagers to keep themselves fed, housed and safe, the rural person acted as the glue to keep the nation functioning and whole. Few of them  carried an attitude of grievance because it would have done them little good. Hurt feelings doesn't put much food on the table, take care of the kids or feed the olos. The same with those burdened by carrying around in one's heart the sense of entitlement. Life doesn't work that way.
In both cases--those who have burdened themselves with a grievance mentality and the others carrying around a sense of entitlement--miss the point. Without denying the first group's real hurt and loss and the second group's feel of injustice towards them, 2009's chance of turning things around depends upon service. In both cases sited above, the persons have become inward looking. They find it hard to believe that service to others has a real payoff and is more important than serving oneself.
In fact, the very things demanded by the grievance and entitlement groups will only come alive when and if a national service mentality grows  strong. 2009 is already shaping up as one of the most difficult economic years of the country's--really the whole world--three decades of existence. No amount of whining, demanding and pressure tactics will get all the necessary funding to take care of the basics in life much less those things over and above. The old saying makes great sense here: No matter how hard you squeeze a rock you can't get blood out it! 
And a growing service mentality is not special to the Solomons. America's latest election of a black man has put that nation on notice. Service the typical worker, the family person, the ordinary man and woman must come before catering to the banker, the CEO of the mighty car industry, the money men who up to the end of last year ruled the States and much of the world. These are the very ones who pulled the international economy into the worst financial storm since the last great depression in 1930.
Service mentality is the key for a Solomon Islands future . . . for all!