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Monday, November 23, 2009

Pure People Power!

J. Roughan
24 November 2009

Solomon citizens know that the next few months is a great time to flex political muscle, have their member pay stricter attention to constituents and press them to pass legislation the typical citizen needs. Five to six months from now--probably early June 2010--the whole of parliament  will be forced to do what it hates doing. Each and every member must return to his own village dominated sector, listen to the angry voter voice and then, convince them that the member deserves another four years in power in spite of doing practically nothing for them since 2006. Believe me this is going to be quite difficult thing to accomplish in this up-coming election.
First of all each and every parliamentarian going into the 2010 election faces an up hill battle. If past elections are a guide, the rate of parliamentarians not returning is on average about 44%. The 1993 and 2001 elections were even worse! The failure rate of a member getting back to the Big House on the Hill was well over half. In the 2001 elections, for instance, more than 6 out of every 10 parliamentarian failed in  their re-election bids. Fortunately for many members in the 2006 election, the failure rate fell slightly to a 'normal' 44%. Such a 'normal' rejection rate, by world standards, is quite large compared to other nations worldwide.
But what should worry most parliamentarians is government's poor showing when it comes to serving people in the basics of everyday life. Once again SIDT's July Report Card presented the government with a failure mark given by thousands of people. Over a 20 year period, through 8 different governments, Solomon citizens have been failed by the very institutions which are suppose to help them.  Eight Report Cards have given the governments of the day marks below 60%, not just once or twice but 8 times in a row!
It's a poor defense for a parliamentarian to claim that he isn't in government or was only a backbencher.  His claims that he was unable to influence the poor service delivery in medical attention, schooling and resource management are weak. In voter eyes, however, the whole of parliament is laid open to the charge that citizens' needs come a distant second to those holding high political positions.
The Parliamentary Entitlements Committee's granting members a $50,000 end of term entitlement to spouses plus other perks looks and is so crass. Our national economy has been in serious disarray since the world wide financial tsunami. Every nation in the world has struggled to get  its economic life back in balance, out of the red and once again functioning. Not so us! A parliamentary select committee decrees a give away program worth millions while thousands of our own people scrape by on less than $2.00 a day shows a complete lack of understanding of people's pain.   
Another useless defense for SIG's constantly and continuously to grandly announce that government has been hard at work passing new bills. Solomon citizens are more than aware that the government has been working through a 'legislative boom' with almost 20 bills becoming law over these past few months. Such a useless statistic, however, means little to a population when they look at the mediocre medical attention they experience on an almost daily basis. 
Solomon citizens are much more interested in what practical steps government will take to right the many short comings its own Special Committee of Parliament found in its month long study of No. 9's on going problems. A strong, official reaction with teeth will prove helpful to members' quest to be re-elected. If the select committee's report is set aside to gather dust, then members will suffer greatly at the polling both next year.
Members currently find that their old stand-by, the Rural Constituency Development Fund which they have placed so much hope in for next year's election, brings less and less clout among voters. A much better bet for the parliamentarian is to insure that normal social services of medical, education and social well fare work better and better for all.  
Unfortunately, Solomons people power does have only a limited time frame but the next few months is certainly one of its most powerful periods of action. Election time comes first for people power but the next few months leading up to the national polls comes a close second!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Didn't we see this film back in 1993?

J. Roughan
19 November 2009
Exactly one week ago today, and again in the same place--Lawson Tama, Honiara's citizens witnessed a re-run of the same old 1993 film of a footfall riot and other football riots that happened during the 1990s. Of course the Mother of All Youth Cyclones hit us in November 1989 which also came about in connection with a failed football game when our team lost a match in Fiji.
Few who witnessed the 1989 youth riot could forget the pictures of dozens of youth jumping from the Mataniko River bridge to escape police tear gas. During that episode, more than 5,000 young people caused more than $150,000 damage to stores, shops and business premises. Last week's rampage, fortunately, was mild in comparison--a shop or two looted and the football office complex burnt to the ground.
But this our most recent riot could have turned quite ugly had it not been for quick police action and most youth refusing to join in with the looting and riotous behavior of a small minority. In early April 2006, unfortunately, that didn't happen. During the days of 20 & 21 April 2006, Honiara experienced a complete breakdown in civic life when a mob went wild and torched almost the whole of China Town. That part of town was almost completely destroyed.
The strange thing about all these riots--youth cyclone, mob rule, mass stealing--authorities had warnings that something was going to happen, that preventive action should have taken place. A famous English juror, Lord Acton, gave us an important history lesson, a lesson we as a nation seem to forget. He stated: 'Those who refuse to listen to history, are soon forced to repeat it!'
In other words, how many times must we live through riots before we prepare ourselves for them. Last Saturday's football riot was not a rare  exception, not something unusual but was as predictable as rain over a mountain. Anytime Malaita, Honiara and Guale take to the football pitch, things other than football too often happen. As sure as God made little green apples, many followers of the above mentioned teams have other things on their mind than a thrilling football match.
Unfortunately, a communication link between the football organizers, the police protection unit and Lawson Tama authorities broke down. Things like that do happen! But it didn't take long for some of our youthful opportunists to seize the chance to take out their frustrations and do a little looting on the side. The police's quick action by rounding up a dozen or so possible trouble makers and sending them off to a room at Rove and later a court date is already in the cards.
But closing the barn door after the horse has bolted is just not enough. Not every football game results in a riot. Far from it! I have never heard of a football riot taking place when Isabel, or Choiseiul or Temotu were matched up to contest a game. Rarely does a riot start if Guale, or Malaita or Honiara are playing Central or Renbel. Football riot chances double and even triple, however, when the Honiara, Guale and Malaita play against each other.
Lord Acton's warning above automatically comes into play when certain teams are pitched against each other on the football field. Since we already know who they are its timely that the authorities--police, Lawsom Tama, National Football Association--double their presence, place riot shields at the ready and easily accessed and all stones, rocks and loose sticks around the football pitch cleaned away and out of sight and use.
May I make a suggestion? Before a major game takes place at Lawson Tama, make a thorough cleaning--employ one of Honiara's schools--to scour the whole of Lawson Tama especially along the hill down from FAA to make it impossible for rioters to access their favorite ammunition--stones, rocks and sticks.  We don't need to see another re-run of the 1993 or 2009 film again!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

No. 9 under the microscope!

J. Roughan
13 November 2009

For more than a month now Parliament's Special Committee has been paying close attention to the medical services of our National Referral Hospital, affectionately named No. 9. This parliamentary committee chaired by the Hon. Peter Boyers must be commended on its month long study, probing and questioning of our doctors, nurses, medical staff and many others connected with No. 9's medical outreach.
SIBC's daily coverage, TV 1's nightly programs and the print media's high lighting of the Special Committee's work must also get special mention as offering the nation a worthwhile public service. It's rare when the whole media sector--radio, TV and print--has harnessed its energies to pull together an information packet for the worth of the whole nation. Would that the story they are telling was a positive one, full of great promise and hope!
Now, after the Special Committee's public review, no one can be under any illusion or doubt. Our one and only medical establishment currently works far below its proper level needed by the nation. Make no mistake about it, No. 9 could not handle a major airplane accident out at Henderson. Nor could it adequately respond to a major road crash. God forbid, if an overloaded market truck returning to its home village in East Guale would collide with a fuel-filled tanker. Then, tens of causalities, badly burnt bodies, could not be properly taken care of at our National Referral Hospital.
Parliament's Special Committee has made a strong start. It uncovered profound weaknesses in the medical system, laid bare the severe inadequacies of some health units within the hospital complex and most telling, makes it clear the full meaning of the financial cuts which the nation's primary hospital has suffered over past years. These financial cuts are one of the main contributing factors in No. 9's overall failure, a failure to provide adequate medical service to the general public.
Members, fortunately, have recently returned to parliament to hold sessions. Of course, parliament's current work sessions have much more to do than simply study and put their minds together to fix this problem. It has tons of tough things to take on board, craft strong legislation on political integrity and especially getting the national economy up and humming as in the recent past.
But no legislation or economic stimulus package overrides the dire necessity of re-establishing the National Referral Hospital's return to health once again. To paraphrase SIBC's short jingle: 'Without a strong No. 9, all else is nothing!'
Of course No. 9 needs more money, better financing and stronger funding but that's only half the story. Even if parliament would order tons and tons of more cash tomorrow morning many hospital problems wouldn't disappear at all. It would be a like painting over a piece of rotten timber . . . once the paint dries the rot quickly shows up again but in worse condition.
Parliament's Special Committee has done its job. It thoroughly inspected the National Referral Hospital and has uncovered its serious and potentially dangerous weaknesses.  But now what is needed is a select committee, not parliamentarians nor dominated by medical doctors or PSs, but a committee made up of community people who would bring two things to the problem: they must have a great stake in the proper working of the national hospital and secondly, have a proven track record of getting things done, fixed and moving under pressure.
No. 9 needs a bunch of do-ers, talkers need not apply! Appoint a health Czar who would be given the authority to knock heads, shout out loud but make things happen. Of course the Czar and his/her committee must have a strong budget to be able to throw around its weight, get toilet doors fixed up immediately, order x-ray machine spare parts yesterday and do the hundred and one things that must be done to get our No.9 up and running for the whole of the nation. Time is not on our side!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ballot Box has strength. Use it to fight corruption!

J. Roughan
6 November 2009
Politicians greatest fear is, not the law, but the ballot box! Every four years each and every one of them must face Solomons citizens and win  enough votes to remain in office or to secure a place in parliament. There is no way around this requirement. Either the politician gets enough people's vote or he finds himself sitting on the outside looking in.
The Ballot Box, then, is the vital key in fighting corruption, reducing sleaze and shaking the political system clear of incompetents, misfits and losers. Why is it then that in next week's seminar on understanding and fighting the nation's corruption cancer not a word is mentioned about Solomons citizens, their Ballot Box power and how this tremendous untapped gift could be harnessed to fight corruption in its many guises.
Next week the second seminar on anti-corruption takes place at FFA's Conference Centre. Its preliminary papers, distributed a week before the seminar, outline the gist and direction of the talks scheduled for Monday and Tuesday next week. However, not a single mention is made of the most important persons in the whole anti-corruption campaign, the nation's voters. 
Solomon Islands citizens have continuously, constantly and consistently voiced out their distaste of the venal, corrupt and disappointing politician. Over a 22 year period of seven national elections 1984-2006, the Solomon Islanders voter has dismissed 44% (on average) of candidates seeking to return to parliament. Even more telling, however, is that in each election fewer and fewer winning candidates gain 50% or more of the popular vote. In the 2006 election, for instance, only 3 winning candidates were able to attract 50% or more of the vote. The other 47 members scored either in the low 40% or worse still, 30% or less.
However, the Solomons voter could be a powerful ally in the fight against the cancer corruption and best served if there were such a thing as a Recall Law and secondly, a dismantling of the first past the post election system which currently dominates our politics.
What a difference it would make, then, especially in the corruption fight, if there was Recall legislation. A Recall Law gives voters power to call for fresh elections if and when their member, after some months in office, proves to be corrupt, quite incompetent or just a poor performer for  people's interests. As said in the beginning paragraph above, the single thing a politician fears above all else is having to face the electorate to gain back his seat. A Recall Law would make it legal for the voters in a constituency to dismiss their member before the four year period for gross incompetence in office and vote in a new person.
Many nations have Recall legislation on their law books and with a number of safe guards in place to protect from frivolous use of this law would be a great way of keeping members' 'feet to the fire'. A politician would then be forced over the four years in power to keep looking over his shoulder to make sure he is performing well rather than as it is today, only after 4 years in power does the member begin to worry about Mr. and Mrs. Voter. 
But a more powerful tool to fight corruption at its roots is in scrapping the 'first past the post' system which runs or should I say ruins our political system. If a winning candidate attracts 25% of the vote so long as he comes in first, he gets the seat. So, as has happened in a number of  cases, the winning member had 7 out of 10 people vote AGAINST him but because he got the greater number of votes than the second candidate, the 3 out of 10 who did actually back him were enough to push him over the winning line. Something is wrong with this kind of democracy!
Of course, let's make strong legislation to keep corruption out of politics. But don't forget the one group which is most adversely effected by the corrupt politician, the country's citizens. They have a clear interest in insuring clean politics on all levels of society. Let's use them more effectively and watch corruption start to dry up.

No broken windows!

J. Roughan
29 October 2009
New York City, up to a few years ago, was not known as a safe city to live in. Crime, all kinds of crime--murder, arson, rape, robbery, etc. etc.-- were a large part of normal city life. Certain parts of the city, for instance, you just didn't walk about. These were the tough and dangerous neighborhoods. Having a walk about in these places was not a healthy thing to do!
Then something strange happened! Serious crime events began to fall. Less and less criminal activity and I mean serious criminal acts began to disappear from the city's streets.
Many claimed it was because of better policing. Others said, yes, more and better police work was important but the real reason was 'getting tough' with criminals. Their usual response: quicker and longer jail sentences was given as the best explanation for the big crime rate fall. But something else, something completely different from the usual responses to crime and criminals, was also happening city wide. Fewer and fewer broken and smashed windows could be found. These were being repaired and quickly so!
New York City had just elected a new mayor, Rudolf Guiliani, a no nonsense, hard-nosed politician who was determined to do something new and different to tackle the city's well earned reputation for crime. He was working on a new theory and was determined to put it into practice in the "Big Apple", New York's City's special name.
He figured that a clean, fixed up and neat city were just as important as vigorous policing, strong courts and honest politicians to creatively respond to the city's soaring crime statistics. In other words, a city that showed pride in itself, gave off positive vibes and sent an up beat message could quickly overcome negative signals.
Mayor Guiliani bet his reputation and years of basic good governance, that a clean, working and beautiful city would rub off on all levels of society. He figured that the rich and the poor, the employed and those without jobs, families and single people would rather back a winning team than throw in their lot with a bunch of losers.

And it worked and is continuing to work! New York City is one tough place. I called it home for my first 20 years in life. Its 12 million people are no push overs. They hustle, live fast and furious lives and don't usually look to others for help. NYC is not a place to relax in but one that forces you to either 'shape up or ship out'.  It is the last place in the world to be easily convinced that keeping a city clean, repaired and functioning was a great formula for basic peace and order as well.    
Can we in Honiara learn a few lessons from one of the world's great cities? Can you imagine what our small city could be if we all pitched in to keep the place clean, tidy and rubbish free? Honiara's City Council just inherited a bunch of rubbish removal trucks, hundreds of large rubbish  bins and is currently mounting a "Keep Honiara Campaign".
If NYC turned its crime rate around by mending broken windows, cleaning up its streets and fixing up run down buildings what would the same medicine do to Honiara's petty and not so petty crime. Repairing a few broken windows or cleaning up the plastics along the street, on their own, do little to reduce crime. But what it does is to send a message to all that this is our town, the place we call home, and everyone can relate to such a message. Finally Honiara is equipping itself with the tools--rubbish trucks, hundreds of rubbish bins, etc.--to make a difference. Now all that is needed is a public to pitch in and change our town into the best in the Pacific.