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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Traveling backwards

J. Roughan
30 July 2009

Below are the results of SIDT's latest people's Report Card survey on government's service delivery to its citizens over the past 18 months--December 2007-June 2009--of the Sikua Government's hold on power. This Report Card is the eighth (8th) people survey conducted by SIDT since 1989, twenty years ago. In this survey, people across the nation--more than 2100 of them--mostly from the provinces--64%--marked out their reactions to the government's work in their lives. It does not make for happy reading!
Other Report Card readings, dating back to the late 1980s when Solomon Mamaloni was Prime Minister, are detailed to help the typical reader understand how the present administration stacks up to former governments of the day. Unfortunately, not too well at all! In fact, only in the education sector (65%) does the Sikua administration show any advancement over other former governments. Yet, even this one bright spot in an otherwise uniformly dismal result remains on the lip of failure. Any thing less than a 60% mark, for instance, is a failing result.
During the Kemakeza era two Report Cards--2001-2005--the effects of the Social Unrest years weighed heavily on the government's ability to reach out to its citizens. Providing the basic services of quality education. strong medical attention, increasing employment opportunities, etc. were difficult to accomplish. Security and peace, for instance, were the vital parts of daily life.
In today's calm, security and peacefulness nation wide, however, there is little reason why the present Report Card results aren't much stronger. Of course, the current national economic strain helps explain a bit why people have marked the Report Card with a low 45% when it comes to  Availability of Money. But the other low results of the Report Card--Health Services and Resource Assistance--call for other reasons to explain what is happening.
Part of the explanation rests in the attitude of MPs, Civil Servants and Solomon's political class which more and more are under the illusion that government and its wealth is basically for themselves and less and less for the citizens of this nation. A sense of entitlement which has recently come to the fore over these past few weeks--spouse $50,000 retirement fund, $400,000 termination grant to MPs, special housing for the PM, etc.--must be counted as part explanation of the sorry state of this Report Card.
Next year the nation goes to the poll to elect a new Parliament. It's quite clear that many a voter will use the present Report Card results as a talking point for candidates to respond to. Those present members of parliament would be well advised to study this report and aim to do some serious soul searching about its meaning in their lives. If they seek to be re-elected, it would be wise to map out ways of making a real difference in the lives of the people of their constituency rather than thinking of ways of lining their own pockets.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Massive transfer of national wealth!

J. Roughan
23 July 2009

Over the past 31 years the Solomons have witnessed a massive transfer of national wealth away from landowners, villagers and rural people to a select few--the political elite and the political class. Much of this transfer, unfortunately, has been legal!
The latest version of this wealth distribution scheme now three decades long has been the efforts of a few to quicken the pace of the transfer, by clothing it in legal language and await people's verdict on the action. Well, ordinary citizens across the land have had enough! Rewarding parliamentarian spouses a $50,000 termination grant has finally broken the long-suffering silence of the tax payer.
In the face of a global financial meltdown where country after country struggles to cope with rising budget shortfalls, the response from certain members of the political class has been to travel the opposite direction. Rather than search for ways to save money and budget wisely with dwindling amounts of ready cash, our law makers and their cronies decided to break the bank. They don't intend to save but to spend more of what is actually owned by the many to lavish it on the few. 
In the nation's earliest days, 1978-1986, a good case could probably have been made that its senior law makers were deserving of special privilege. After all, it was argued, although few parliamentarians brought much at all to the law making process, perhaps offering high salaries and extending to them many expensive perks, it was a way to attract the best and the brightest to the service.
Unfortunately, few MPs, overwhelming male, lived up to the requirements of office. A brief review of 30 years of history shows how poorly our MPs have performed over these years. Once the Solomons political class had the reigns of power in their hands, our economy began to falter badly. In 1978, for instance, the Solomons dollar was equal to the American dollar. In other words, Solomons currency was as strong as the US dollar. Now thirty years later it takes 8 Solomons dollar to buy a single American one. In fact, as any one who has traveled overseas knows, it is quite difficult to exchange our currency with other any other countries' currency.
Because our political class proved themselves so poor in governance, not only has our economic health taken a severe beating, but we have become the only Pacific nation beholding to other countries' military. Our parliament's disastrous mishandling of the national economy has been matched by an equally destructive drive to destroy the very nation.
Our first eight years of independence--1978-1986--were our best years. Compared to the following years, these first eight years witnessed real progress for most of our people, not only the few at the top. In our first years, commodity--cocoa, copra, palm oil, fish--prices started to dip worldwide. It was a case of taking two steps forward and one step backward. Still that did mean we were advancing--only one step at a time--but that was an advance although slower than we would have liked.
We had no war wounds to heal, destroyed infrastructure to re-make or people on their last legs. But our national leaders in the person of the MPs, their cronies as well as many local landowners refused to accept this situation. No they had a better idea! They decided to make a giant leap forward by selling off our round log wealth for miserable amounts of money.
The round tree export of the 1980s led directly to the Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 when the country nearly destroyed itself. Without a unified police force and a dedicated Central government capable of leading people and overseeing a weakening economy, all we could do was to ask the rest of the Pacific to come in and save us.   
Yet, before RAMSI ever landed on our shores it was the village and the villager which came to the rescue and kept us afloat until the might of Australia and other Pacific nations could stabilize the nation. Now six years down the track, although we are still not healed, the same leaders who pounded the country to its knees are at it again. They want to continue the same game plan--massive transfer of national wealth into their own pockets--that brought so much destruction and heartache to the nation in the first place. When will we ever learn?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

First things first!

J. Roughan
16 July 2009
Honiara City Council recently announced it was seriously planning to construct the nation's first "children's hospital" in the Pacific. What great news! Here, right in the heart of the city, is to be a hospital dedicated primarily to the well being of children and open 24/7. It looks like some people in authority have put on their collective thinking hats and are intending to have the city take serious steps in the health business. 
But then I started to think. How much difference will a new hospital do with the filth of the city which has been collecting for many years now. What about the mounds of rubbish that have not been collected for more than five years now. Yes, not five days, 5 weeks or 5 months but five
These mounds of uncollected rubbish are the happy home of cockroaches, rats and other vermin. If the medical profession worldwide has learned anything over the past half century, it knows that the best way to fight disease, reduce skin troubles and weaken the grip of sicknesses is to keep a town clean, destroy the breeding  places of diseases and make a clean surrounding the target. 
Hospitals are for curing people who fall sick. Preventing sickness in the first place is a much more powerful way of making and keeping people healthy. No, don't get me wrong. Of course a Child's Hospital is a great idea. But a more powerful way to insure our children's health is to insure everyone in town is healthy.
At present there's not a single public toilet for more than 80,000 Honiara residences. The greatest health strides of the 20th century were not found in its penicillin, antibiotics and other medical miracles but the humdrum work of getting rid of human waste, keeping public places clean and insuring plenty of good, clean and plentiful water around.
We in Honiara have none of the above! No public toilets, little running water and the filth of our town roads is embarrassing to say the least. I  normally ask any first time visitor to Honiara what is their biggest surprise. Too often I get back this response: "The town is so dirty!" I don't bother arguing with them since their first-time insights are right on target.
All my toktok is not set out to stop Honiara City Council from going ahead with its plans to erect a Children's Hospital but to ask questions about the context of this new hospital. If the town can't clean up its streets, if rubbish is hardly ever collected, if good, clean water is rarely delivered then, a half dozen new hospitals will not make much a difference to town health.
Malaria reduction in the Solomons has come about not by posting a medical doctor in each village, erecting new hospitals in every ward but by making sure of three fundamentals of primary health. Have people sleep under treated mosquito nets nightly, keeping village grass and weeds low and when a person does come down with malaria, immediately treat the sick person with anti-malarial medicine. By following these three rules, more and more malaria has been beaten.
As said before, yes, go ahead put up a Children's Hospital but at the same time let's get the town looking clean, build at least half a dozen  public toilets--leased out and run locally for profit--and demanding more clean water. If we can get these three things going, after a few years we might actually close the hospital down . . . there won't be enough sick children around town to use it!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's not working for us!

J. Roughan
9 July 2009
This past week our small nation celebrated its 31st birthday. Congratulations one and all! Many an African nation and nations elsewhere around the globe would be tickled pink to have achieved such a milestone--still free, united and with a hope for a bright future. However, there are more than a few of our people who are warning us about some seriously, big thunder clouds on the horizon.
The nation already weathered a severe storm, our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003. April 2006's Chinatown Burndown came as an ugly  reminder that, in spite of years of practice governing ourselves and a foreign military force at our beck and call, really in our very midst, we still  managed to fall off the social rails. The Chinatown Burndown tells us once again that there are some in our midst who feel the system is not working for their interests.
These two incidents' roots--Social Unrest years and the Chinatown Burndown--can be traced back to the sentiment that colors much of our history since 1978. Our people, although eager and extremely happy at independence day, now rightly say: "The Nation is not working for us!"   Other parts of society, however, sing a different tune. The political elite, politicans, government sector in general have truly prospered during 31 years of independence. Not so the bulk of the nation! It is not working for the rest of us!
Our Youth Time Bomb continues ticking loudly in our ears. This group of youthful citizens, the most numerous, making up more than 40% of our population, remain jobless, receive less than quality education and are seeing their dreams of a bright future fading fast. The Solomons as we all know is not working for this group!
What about women? Can the nation honestly say that the Solomons is currently working on their behalf? When women study parliament's numbers, 331 men and 1 woman over a three decade period, any thinking person is forced to admit that something is radically wrong with how we have been governing ourselves. Isn't this being voiced out now by many citizens who currently seek to re-dress the terrible imbalance of men and women in parliament? Women rightly claim loudly and clearly: "The Nation is not working for us!"
Because the nation is not working for most citizens--provinces on the receiving end of small grants while Central Government swallows up ten times as much--there is a clear determination to do something to stop this injustice and to make the lives of ordinary people fit the dreams of our original independence days..
Fortunately, at this stage the movement to make the nation work for every one is done in a wholly legal, rational and in a non-violent way. The Constitutional Review Congress, for instance, has for the two past months, May and June,  been sorting out the details of a future nation that works better for the majority and not simply for the select few.    
On the occasion of the recent 31st anniversary celebrations our Prime Minister asked for the whole nation to join forces and work together for a better, brighter and prosperous future. The pijin phrase he used summed up the theme nicely: Yumi Tugeta Bildim Kantri Blong Yumi! But this dream becomes reality if and when the whole country works for all people. If major parts of our nation--women, youth, the Provinces, etc.--feel they are second class citizens, called upon only when it is in the interests of those who run the country for their own benefit, then the Solomons will never be a country working for all of us.