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Friday, October 23, 2009

On Track, of concern and off track!

J. Roughan
22 October 2009

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Customer, as King!

J. Roughan
15 October 2009

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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Early warning system

J. Roughan
9 October 2009

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