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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!