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Monday, June 29, 2009

One billion hungry!

J. Roughan
30 June 2009

The world achieved a dubious record recently. For the first time in its history, a billion people--that is a thousand million children, women and men--are seriously underfed. To put it clearly, they are really hungry. Most of these starving people go to bed hungry each night and the majority  of them will face the very same empty stomachs and pain the very next day.
Of course, some of this billion people are found right here at home. The current international financial breakdown, the money tsunami, has hit right across the nations of the world. Our small country has not escaped this pain! Some of our own people more than ever before are suffering the same lack of food and it will get worse before it gets better.
How many of us remember this time last year when the rice price finally hit the $200 mark for the first time. Immediately, Honiara's residents, demanded that government do something about it. Poor people couldn't live with such a price hike. Yes, there were signs that government had become alarmed. Rice import taxes were lowered and in some cases slashed, other leaders turned to Thailand for cheaper import only to find that transport costs more than made up for the original cheapness and still others claimed that the nation must grow its own rice.
Paying more than $200 million yearly for overseas' rice was not a healthy national plan for the long term. Then, Taiwan offered $25 million for the Solomons to become a serious player in the planting, harvesting and rice processing business. As good as this thought was, the idea that the Solomons could in a short period of time become almost self-sufficient in rice production was unrealistic.
Of course our people could grow, harvest and process rice as good as anyone else. But a rice culture is something more, it's a way of life. Labour intensive and exacting, rice growing is a grain that developed over centuries in southeast Asia. It takes years and years of practice before rice cultivation becomes second nature.
Yet at the same time we have in our midst experts in other kinds of food production. Our women's ability to produce food through their expertise in planting, caring for and harvesting the nation's root crop product has had a track record of hundreds and hundreds of years. Yet, rarely have our decision makers turned to them, assisted, helped and offered a helping hand to make their potato, yam, taro, cassava, etc. plantings more and more plentiful and profitable
Currently a billion people go to bed nightly with little hope that the next day will see them eating more than a single meal for many days in the future. Some of these billion would give their back teeth to be assured that tomorrow would bring them ONE meal for the whole family.
While thanking Almighty God for His blessing of plenty upon us, he usually does not reward us by performing a miracle or two. What He does expect, however, is for us to use the gifts already given--healthy farm lands, abundant rain, pest free areas and expert farmers--to make the best of these gifts not only for ourselves but others not so well blessed.
Our Parliamentarians occupy a special position in this hungry business. Their 2 million dollar grant--the Rural Constituency Development Fund and other funds under their care--could not be better focused than increasing food production. The financial meltdown that makes food more and more expensive world wide, will not go away this year. In fact, this time next year it will only begin to lessen. By mid-2010, if we are lucky, the world will begin to see a modest up turn. That's for the world! Our own case, however, well might take longer.
That is why focused efforts by government decision makers, rural farmers, women gardeners and the rest of us have to realize that the problem of One Billion Hungry People stares us in the face this very moment. The nation has a chance to pull itself up and get cracking with agricultural policies that deliver food security for all. No longer can we depend upon Australian rice, Asian biscuits, noodles and starches while our own people already know how to grow enough food for all of us . . . and at an affordable price.  

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The 70/30 Split!

J. Roughan
25 June 2009
Since 1978 Central Government--Parliamentarians, Ministries, Public Servants, the whole Central Government apparatus--has managed to absorb the lions' share of national revenue, overseas aid, development funds and wealth creation. In other words, the system that has governed the Solomons for more than 30 years, has seen more than seven dollars out of every ten ending up in the hands of a few.
A fairly strong argument can be made that the basic, root cause of our recent Social Unrest period--1998-2003--can be traced back to this unfair system. Of course misguided development practices, poor leadership patterns, corruption, land issues, etc. played their part. But those who brought little to the leadership table--poor formal education, thin experience successfully running local businesses and little by way of national resource wealth, have become, through an electoral process, the major benefactors of national wealth.
For example, the annual average revenue given to the nine Provinces between the years 1995-2000 (a five year period) was $96.6 million out of a national annual average of $336.3 million; this has resulted in a vertical split of 29% to the Provinces and 71% to Central Government. People across this island national felt this unfair split in their daily lives.
Citizens across the nation, for example, have scored seven Report Cards starting in 1989, twenty years ago. With not a single exception, thousands of ordinary people have marked seven different governments as failures because these governments did not provide people with the basics of life: insufficient number of working health structures, lack of quality education opportunities, a failure to strengthen people's resource base and a growing difficulty in gaining modest amounts of money for ordinary needs of daily living.
However, the 1998-2003 Social Unrest period raised people's eyes and have them actively asking themselves why should this state of affairs continue. If the nation's natural resource base actually belongs to villagers through their lein, tribe and descent group, why is it that their lives aren't better, healthier and more productive?
This kind of thinking is one that fuels the present day work of the Constitution Review Congress that meets daily to pour over the 2004 Draft Constitution and bring it up to the present moment. Our 1978 Constitution, crafted by overseas experts, did not adequately reflect the reality of Solomon Islands. At independence day, there was no time to create a constitution which would fully accept Solomon Islands' customs, traditions and history. 
Now with 30 years of experience under our belt, having gone through a severe Social Unrest testing period and a people restless for a change  that would bring better life to the majority of our people, the time is ripe for a deep review of the original Constitution. With this review comes the need to draft a new, locally grown one. That is exactly what the Constitutional Review Congress is working on at present. 
The next two steps in the process are just as important. Bring the reformed Constitution back to the people for their understanding and input is vital. Since it is they who will be living under this new document it is only fair that they have a major say in how they think things should be working.
The final step in the process is incorporating people's thinking to a plenary session with all stakeholders. Those of the Congress will fan out among the nation's villages, explain as well as possible the highlights of the new constitution and seek input from the majority of people. This document will not be rushed . . . it is far too important for that.
But if a human document is to have divine blessing then it is important that the nation must pray that the final product is one blessed by the Almighty.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Parliament Report Card: 100% and 0%

J. Roughan
18 June 2009

This week saw Parliament go from top of the class to the very bottom within a few hours. First the 100% mark!
Parliament demonstrated its power to be a truly effective national voice by voting into the Governor General position a gentleman with impressive legal background, with many years of legal expertise and someone who was both mature and tested in the Public Service. Unfortunately it took four rounds of voting before the chamber finally did settle on Frank Kabui.
But earlier in the week Parliament fumbled the ball terribly when not one of Parliament's 50 members could bring themselves to nominate a single woman candidate's name for the GG's post. More than half the men who were actually nominated for this critical position did not possess the minimum requirements to hold such high office. Many of the nominated candidates never trained in law, or had in depth experience in other disciplines and lacked years of formal education training. But still their names appeared and were duly offered to parliament as suitable candidates for the highest post in the nation.
Yet, the nation already boasts of women who have earned Ph.D., medical doctors and Masters Degrees, been tried and worked successfully at the highest levels of Public Service and are considered by their peers to be mature, quite intelligent and deeply dependable. But not once did a woman's name make it to the short list while men with far less training, experience and education were seriously nominated.
That's why the Parliament Report Card is marked 0%!
Currently our newspapers carry lively readers' comments on the idea of women holding parliamentary seats come next year's election. What a great boost it would have been had today's parliament members nominated a woman for the GG post! It would have clearly shown that some Parliamentarians, at least, welcomed the idea that a woman could be considered for the highest position in the land.
But Parliament lost a golden opportunity!  Is there fear that if a woman had actually been nominated, she would now be the Solomon Islands GG in waiting? Australia and New Zealand, both of whom recently had women Governor Generals, seemed to have survived well since having a woman who held the GG post.
Parliament members hold special place in the minds and hearts of people. They are seen, by many, as being special moral leaders in the affairs of state. What they say and do, does make a difference to the rank and file of Solomon Islanders. They are opinion makers especially in those areas of life which are close to people's lives. 
While Parliament rightly voted in such a solid candidate for the GG's post as Mr. Frank Kabui, it would have been a great gesture had it also included a name or two of women, from the other half of the nation. It's that group of people who daily keep the local sky up by feeding, caring and tending for those who make up most of the nation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Freeing the Solomons from 30 years of history!

J. Roughan
11 June 2009

Freeing the Solomons from 30 years of history!
Since 1978 the Solomons has been steering its Ship of State using a foreign-crafted constitution which basically failed the majority of its citizens. In 1978, for instance, Solomon Islanders were convinced that a Solomons Basic Life, especially within villages, would be theirs in a reasonable period of time.
Yet, 30 years of experience has demonstrated a different history, one which raised the life style of a relatively few in number but at the expense of the many. The nation's resource-rich wealth makers, commonly known as landowners, have seen their portion of national wealth reduced while those who owned very little and with only a smattering of formal education and little business experience profited enormously over the past three decades.
A political astute group managed to capture the State's enormous wealth for their own benefit. Legally, constitutionally but often with other dubious methods this group guaranteed that national wealth flowed first and foremost to their pockets and less and less to those who really owned the Solomons, the villager, the lien and the tribe. Honiara, for instance, over the past thirty years, absorbed the lion's share of income, services and employment while at the same time this very group weakened the heart and soul of the nation.
Our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 were a poignant reminder that this state of affairs must not continue. Of course poor development practices, land issues, corruption and plain poor leadership all played their part in making the Solomons the poorest nation of the South Pacific. However, even if each and every one of these negatives would be corrected, something more fundamental is needed.  A serious and substantial, almost radical, change in how central government leads this nation needs addressing. If not, then we its people, are doomed to repeat our descent into serious social discord once again.
People's deep desire to change from the current centrally dominated governing order to one closer to the people and responding to the bulk of the nation's citizens is to seek some kind of State Government system. Thirty years of working within a centrally controlled governing method makes it hard to think outside the box. The Constitutional Congress members in their daily deliberations feel this tension of 30 years of experience but at the same time, they sense a deep yearning of people for a new way of governing and working with different levels of society.
It's not merely a matter of shifting central government's power to the state but that village communities themselves become major benefactors of this deep shift of power from a centrally dominated form of government to the newly defined state. After all, it is they, the villager, who actually owns, controls and administers the nation's basic wealth: the land, trees, minerals, water, reef and fishing grounds. For more than three decades, however, these very owners have been left out of the governance equation reduced to mere spectators in the running of their own lives. 
RAMSI's presence has been a necessary but stop gap measure. The nation has been gifted a great chance to study exactly what went wrong with us and then given the chance to set up a constitutional review committee which could come up with a document that actually reflects the reality of Solomons culture, custom and tradition. This new constitution aims to get things right for the next hundred years or so. 
Constitutional Congress members currently struggle daily to craft a new Constitution--a home grown one reflecting local priorities and needs--which would guarantee that the nation's wealth ends up making life both healthier and certainly less onerous for the majority of its citizens. This  mind numbing work is not simply an exercise to change the constitution because of some kind of fad or whim. Our very existence is at stake.
Our Social Unrest years left the nation with many murdered people who seek justice, hundreds of families torn apart and thousands of displaced people who want their lives brought back whole once again. The recently created Truth and Reconciliation Commission depends upon the good will and work of citizens who are sure that their future will be a whole lot better for them than the past. A new Constitution which shifts substantially the power back to the citizens of this nation in the newly created States and the on going village communities has a much better chance of succeeding than continuing on with a failed constitution of the past 30 years.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Only two words long: I'm sorry!

J. Roughan
4 June 2009
Last week ex-militants from both Guale and Malaita missed a great chance to tell the whole Solomons world that they were truly sorry for the pain, suffering and turmoil they had visited on our country. They were given a golden opportunity to do so while addressing the Foreign Relations Committee meetings which both radio and TV covered nationally.
The committee, touring each and every province across the nation, was gathering testimony from village and town folk. It was a wonderful government effort to inform the whole nation what people across the country were thinking about RAMSI. Ex-militants had a perfect chance, then,  not only to explain why they tried to destroy our nation but also to say those two small words "I'm sorry!" to the people for the terrible things they had done during the Social Unrest years of 1998-2003.
In vain I waited to hear a heartfelt "Sorry" for the awful pain, destruction and actual death of innocents they had authored. A perfect time to say "I'm sorry!" Not a single ex-militant, however, brought himself to utter that simple word "Sorry!" although they had come close to destroying the country, certainly had made many suffer and literally scarred the future of this beautiful nation for years to come. Nattering on about the Townsville Peace Agreement, focusing on their own personal loss and accenting their own pain wasn't the most pressing message the nation wanted or needed to hear.
Yes, I admit I did not hear every single word said during their hours of testimony, only that which I caught on radio broadcasts during the day and TV's nightly coverage. If I did miss a sentence of two which carried a sincere "Sorry!" statement from one or two of these men, then I am sorry to have missed that vital piece of testimony. However, what I did hear from those who only a few years ago were more than willing to destroy the nation, left me with great dread.
What came through their testimony, however, was something else again! They had expected that the TPA's immunity clause should have been totally honored and going full force. They had expected complete immunity from prosecution for their awful deeds and were aggrieved at the possibility of actually having to face future court action and the possibility of jail time. 
Some time this month, June, the nation's ears will be glued to the radio for the start of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's meetings. These public testimonies will try to bridge the huge gap between those who were terribly hurt during the social unrest years and those who are accused of doing the killing, raping, burning, torturing and destroying people, families and communities.
If the recent Foreign Relations Committee meetings are anything to go by, however, I don't expect much reconciliation to go on. The first step in any reconciliation process is to accept one's guilt, show some kind of anguish/sorrow/remorse for the actions done to hurt the other person and then to seek forgiveness. Simply surfacing the facts of a crime so as to be public knowledge, may establish who the guilty party is but does little to bridge the awful gap between the killer and the families of those killed.
Probably the most important sentence in any long lasting marriage are these two words: "I'm sorry!" Although only two words long, when said with sincerity, have saved many a marriage. These simple words begin the reconciliation journey, get the couple's relationship back on the road once again and have a  positive effect slowing the heart rate and calming our breathing.
Of course even a sincere apology never brings back the murdered husband, make whole the raped mother and sooth the traumatized child, but it is the necessary first step in the long reconciliation road. Without them, however, the nation goes no where but remain in limbo waiting for the next Social Unrest period to unfold. While RAMSI can create conditions where an apology can take place, its we who have to apologize!