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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Block the choke points!

J. Roughan
7 December 2010

More than 20 years ago, 8 -10 November 1989 to be exact, Honiara
braced itself for an invasion of more than 5,000 rioting youths. That
youthful riot made last month's rampage along Honiara's streets a pale
imitation. The 1998 Youth Riot was the first in a series--1993 and
1996 ones followed--that hit Honiara but it was one that had the real
potential of turning into something quite serious.

The 1989 youth troubles was triggered off by swear words supposedly
written by a Renbel person against Malaita. The paper which had the
swear words written on had been tacked to a store door at the old
Central Market. Unfortunately, no Commission of Inquiry ever reviewed
the origins of this riot and so Solomons people never knew for sure
what was the truth behind the 1989 Riot. But that didn't make any
difference. Youths from all over town believed that the swear words
had been posted in the market and they were determined to do something
about it.

What better way, they reasoned, than take their anger and frustrations
out on an innocent group of people, the Chinese, ruin their
livelihoods and loot their stores. How such mob rule--stoning people,
breaking into shops and stealing goods--responded to swear words
written on paper and publicly posted on a market wall is beyond

But the police reaction to the 1989 Riot presents valuable lessons we
should listen to. Hasn't the youth-riot pattern been the same kind of
response as in the 2006 Chinatown Burnout and in the most recent one
last month? Honiara rioters seem to follow the same behavior pattern
since 1989. Heap up dozens and dozens of young angry men, march them
along Mendana Avenue towards Chinatown and before burning stores,
shops and businesses, loot them first. However, in 1989 the youth
rioters were in for a nasty surprise.

Solomon Mamaloni, the PM of that period, had his own ideas how to
bring Honiara's streets back to peace and to do it without loss of
life. He ordered his Police Commissioner of the lightly equipped
police force to do three things: block all entry into Chinatown
especially at the old Metanikau Bridge site as well as the entrance to
it opposite the Referral Hospital; use tear gas to disrupt and
disperse the mob if they refused to obey the Police Commissioner's
orders and, finally, refuse the rioters entry to the road leading to
White River where they intended to do some nasty things.

The PM's plan proved quite successful! Dozens and dozens of rioting
youth never reached Chinatown. When they tried to get through to
Chinatown by way of Honiara's main road--Mendana Avenue--the police
used tear gas that stopped them cold. Dozens of the rioters jumped
into the river to get away from the gas. Then the crowd re-grouped and
marched along Mendana Avenue towards the White River settlement. But
here too the PM had a surprise waiting for them..

Approximately a dozen or so burly, stone-faced Solomon Islands' police
personnel with billy clubs in hand were lined up across the road near
St. John's School, a natural choke point. When the rioting-youth crowd
reached that part of Honiara, the police gave them an option. Turn
back and forget their plans about getting to White River by the main
road since it was blocked off from them by the police. The alternative
of swimming around the road block at St. John's School or taking the
bush track in back of Rove was not particularly inviting. In no time,
then, the youth marchers lost their enthusiasm for the march and most
of them returned home, disappointed of course, but little damage was
done either to the city or to themselves.

I checked the old Metanikau Bridge on Tuesday afternoon when the riot
was in full swing and there wasn't a policeman in sight. Streams of
young men--no young girls, no women, no olos, only youths--were
streaming across the bridge. A number of youth who recognized me
warned me away from the bridge and advised returning home. When I
drove to Chinatown by way of Menadan Avenue near the hospital, I found
it completely open as well, nothing and nobody stopped me from getting
into the Chung Wah School area.

This kind of security lapse would not have happened if Solomon
Mamaloni's tactics had been put into operation. Blocking off critical
entry points to Chinatown seems normal, natural and should be
inevitable. Every riot since 1989--and there have been at least six of
them--rioters have marched on Chinatown hoping to cash in on loot,
goodies and stock. The 1989 Riot was stopped dead in its tracks by
blocking off the town's natural choke points. Shouldn't that tactic be
one of the first strategies used to frustrate other would-be rioters?

Time is not on government's side!

J. Roughan
22 December 2010

The Philip Government has been in the driver's seat since late August.
That's more than four months now! Although it has survived a number of
dangerous internal shocks--death to two of its members, a cabinet
member's return to Rove and other serious internal woes--it still
manages to function as a going concern. But that reality is not the
same as saying that it is governing the nation. The events of the last
three to four weeks--ministerial shuffles, fining of illegal fishing
ships, etc.--are more about its own survival than exhibiting a strong
governance model!

But NCRA backers are claiming that the Government is still very early
into its hopeful four-year term of office. Present difficulties and
its hic cups should not be seen as anything very special. A quick
review of the reality of Solomons' politics, however, quickly raises
doubts about this claim. Basically the present government should only
count on being in power for three years, not four, to accomplish
anything of note. 2011, 2012 and 2013 if undisturbed by a successful
'no confidence' motion, are the only years open to it to push through
its legislative program.

During any government's last year in office, and 2014 is when the next
national elections should be coming on stream, national political
history reminds us that Parliamentary campaigning comes on strong,
one could say, overwhelmingly in the last year of the life of any
parliament. Little else fills Members' heads during the last year of
their term, except, of course, how to win back their seat in the House
once again.

So allowing that the last four months of this first year in office has
already disappeared like rain in desert sands it is a 'big deal' for
any new government to start off strongly in its second year of
service. NCRA is going to find it tough to gain back its initial drive
of becoming the new government of the land. But that hope must be part
of its new year's strategy to gain back people's respect and hope.
They are looking forward to a better and brighter future than what
they have received so far at the end of 2010.

NCRA's Policy Statement document is filled with dreams, visions and
hope-to-do plans. But few of these plans, given the three-year time
frame available to NCRA, are able to get off the blueprint table much
less become realities on the ground. There is one project, however,
that could be unleashed in early 2011, which could respond to a much
forgotten people, historically sidelined by government after
government since independence, and answer our youth's hunger and
thirst for paid employment and to be part of the nation's development

I speak of a villager-crafted road stretching along Guale's Weather
Coast from Kuma Village in the west of the island to Marau at Guale's
southern end. Such a locally worked road project, if properly
presented to the donor community, could open up a whole new stretch of
Guale's land holdings to thousands of people who have been abandoned
by the authorities for more than 30 years. In fact, it has been this
very abandonment over a number of generations that lies at the heart
of our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003.

Of course, permanent bridges construction, culverts, strengthening
road sections, for expertise, advise and over sight
monitoring from outside the local community but the basic road
building work would be assigned to village populations lining the road
way. Extra workers could come from the youth population when called

Such a major development road making project sends an unmistakable
message: Weather Coast people are important to the nation, it would
bring in much needed income for many levels of society of the area and
re-establish links of people with government both on the provincial
and national levels.

The message in this short essay is that the present government has
little time on its hands to effect projects and works to make a
difference to the citizens of this nation. It's vital that the newly
established government 'put runs on the board and quickly so'! Its
first four months of power have not been that productive and it needs
to show the nation that it is the right group of people who given half
a chance can bring the nation up to its potential.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Towards a fairer world!

J. Roughan
2 December 2010

From the Solomons earliest days, from 1978 onwards, most political leaders actually worked hard to make Solomon Islands a better, more productive and peaceful place. In a word they wanted the nation to be a fairer place for all: villagers, urban people, elite and the leaders themselves. Unfortunately, over the years, many of them lost their way and led the people and the nation down the wrong path.
Solomons first 6 years as a nation, for instance, were solid and growth-full. We had started off our historic journey in 1978 a poor nation but one that had no great war wounds to heal, our colonial masters gifted us with a $30 million golden handshake and our people although scattered among hundreds of islands were no less united.
The first few years of independence 1978-1984 were ones filled with hope. Unfortunately the base price of copra, cocoa and oil palm, worldwide, took a nose dive and this development thing, we were fast learning, was becoming harder and more expensive by the day. In was in 1985 that our leaders with the help of many landowners made their fateful decision. There had to be a better, quicker and easier way to become more independent, rich and developed than the road they had been following for the first 6 years of independence.
For the next 10 years or so our leaders claimed they knew a better and easier road to gain riches and strengthen independence. Sell off the nation's round tree log wealth to Asian buyers became the wisdom of the day. Not only would vast amounts of money roll in but peoples' lives would become easier by the day. Yes, by 1995 millions of dollars had flown into the Solomons (but land owners also lost millions more into the pockets of the round tree loggers and some of our own corrupt leaders).
Rather than continuing along our initial path of slow but constant development for all and government work to strengthen schools, better health facilities, more involvement in people's cash crops and the creation of more employment our leaders convinced the resource owners that there was a quicker and better way. Harvest the round tree logs and sell them at bargain basement prices. The result of this decision proved disastrous for the country and produced a profound weakening of village life.  
But the real cost of that poorly thought-out decision came in the 1998-2003 period.  Hundreds of our people died, thousands more lost homes and livelihoods and a nation was forced to call in strangers from other parts of the Pacific to help us get back on our feet. We, fortunately, did make it back to normalcy, back on our feet as it were and once again we had a functioning government, a trust worthy police force and a people once more at peace with themselves and each other. But that process is now into its seventh year and still we're not sure of ourselves.
Once again our nation faces a crossroad. More than 180 nations worldwide, Solomons included, in September 2000 made a solemn pledge to achieve the 8 Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015. In 2005 these same countries reviewed how well or how poorly the nations of the world were on course. This year, 2010, again there was another review of the progress or lack there of on how far we have come to achieving these 8 goals. The jury is still out for most nations and Solomon Islands is very far from its target.
These 8 goals--eradicate extreme poverty, achieve primary ed for all, empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, fight AIDS and malaria, ensure environmental health and develop a global partnership for development--are at the heart of producing a fairer world. No where in the listing of these goals, however, is there any mention about the need to work on projects.
Once again our leaders have looked on a universally accepted way of bringing about a fairer way of life for most people by working on the MDGs. We as a nation in 2000 publicly signed up to work on these goals. But over the years things changed and we decided that there is a better way of bringing about a fairer world. Fund individual villagers and town folk to work on projects. This is the wave of the future we are told.
Let central government work on the MDGs our leaders say. Each constituency will concentrate attention and resources on achieving a fairer world by pumping money into project work and hope for the best. As in the 1986-1995 period we made a commitment to go one way--help our people--and then did something completely different--sell off our tree wealth. In 1998-2003 period we suffered the consequences of this decision with severe Social Unrest. What will the nation and its people pay for once more promising something--fairer society through the MDGs--but do something quite different--project work.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Journey from the village to $$$

J. Roughan
25 November 2010

Solomon Islanders are in the middle of making their most difficult journeys since 1900 or so. It's the journey from village subsistence way of life to the cash economy. It wasn't that long ago when most islanders gathered their total daily food intake from garden lands and from the near-by sea. There was no such thing as home mortgages! Housing materials--roofing, flooring, posts, walling, etc.--came directly from the near-by forest. Cousins, uncles, aunties, wantoks all, were the labor force. Feeding them for a week or so while they put up one's home took care of labor costs.
Energy needs were found in abundance from the plentiful supply of wood in the near-by forest. Water for cooking, drinking, cleaning, washing  was at hand because a well situated villages was built close to the many major streams running in the area or from natural water holes. The rest of life's necessities--medicines, salves, antibiotics, lotions, etc.--were found in the nearby bush or at least a clan member had mastered the necessary local medical knowledge.
If the local scene was peaceful, tranquil and orderly--there were few family feuds, pay back situations or out right war--then life was fairly predicable..Unseasonable rains or droughts, plagues of insects or plant infections were a few of the things rural people couldn't control but these were few and far between. Life was physically tough--long hours of garden work almost on a daily basis, hauling bush material to the village, etc.--remained routine but peaceful  
The modern world of commerce, education, invention, military power, transportation, communication, etc. etc. had hardly penetrated the village sector 50 years or so ago. It didn't take long for villagers who had little knowledge of matches, kerosene, tinned food, suitable clothing, etc. however, to latch on to these useful items and in no time make them their own. From the lure of luxuries to becoming necessities came over night as it were. But what was clear that the life offered by the cash economy seemed an easier one than what they experienced in their daily lives. 
In truth this journey from almost a total self reliant life style to today's cash dominance to buy 'luxuries' has been gaining strength especially since our first days of independence in 1978. Honiara and all it stands for has been the strongest 'pusher' of the nation in this journey but other forces like the 1980s -1990s logging boom, paid employment, access to education, cash cropping and especially the overseas influence have helped fuel this present journey.
It was quite timely, therefore, for our own Central Bank and the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme to join forces and conduct a two day workshop accenting the need for a people to gain financial literacy. The workshop lasted only two days but it was a wake up call for our leaders  to take heed. Just as the ability for a modern citizen to know how to read and write, it's obvious that getting a working handle on how to understand, use and work with money is critical to a successful Solomons citizens future life. 
No one argues that the reading/writing skill should be only for certain types of people, so too is the necessity of learning to use the special skill of money management, financial understanding and working with the modern world of money. To make all this financial literacy happen, however, different financial actors--banks, credit unions, lending societies, National Provident Fund, saving clubs, even money lenders--play a vital part in helping rural and urban people become financially literate.
That is why it was so disappointing that not a single Parliamentarian showed up at any part of last week's two-day financial literacy workshop. Fortunately, the Minister of Finance did kick the meeting off with a key note speech. However, once his speech was finished he was the only member of Parliament to grace the meeting and become a lead presence in the formation of financial literacy program.
For the typical villager to take this difficult trip from village subsistence living to one where cash dominates requires a good deal of courage and luck. It's vital, then, that national leaders lend a hand, appreciate what this new kind of life means and work on ways to smooth the passage.. Of course with greater access to more and more cash, then a villager can live a better, more productive and secure life. The opposite is just as  true as well.  
The serious weakening of national economies across the world currently show that the cash economy still has much to learn. The country of Ireland, for example, which only three years ago boasted that it had become an "Economic Tiger". Twenty years ago its youth were hopping on planes and ships, running away from the country looking for employment in other parts of the world. But the Euro cash economy transformed Ireland into a leading world class economic miracle.
But it didn't last long at all. Now Ireland is in serious trouble, owing billions of Euros and wondering how it had gotten itself into such debt. If a European country with high education standards, first class economic system and tested leadership could have fallen so hard, so fast, what does that say about us? That's why it is so important for leadership to be at the forefront of helping our people make the journey from village to $$$.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marau is the place! Not Doma!

J. Roughan

11 November 2010


Last week's essay detailed why it is vital for the Guadalcanal Provincial Assembly to put as much distance between itself and the Solomons national capitol as possible. Today's writing makes the case that the tip of Guadalcanal, the southern end of the island, would make a fine location for a provincial headquarters.

The Marau area, on its own, however, even with its fine natural harbor and working air field, is insufficient to be chosen as a worthwhile candidate to establish it as a provincial headquarters centre. But Marau located at one end of a villager-worked road starting at Kuma stretching along the Weather Coast's far west right into the Marau area makes all the difference in the world. Of course it's not a perfect choice! Land purchases would have to be negotiated with local landowners and water rights could be another problem area but these would be minor issues.

More importantly, the Marau area is far enough away from Honiara not to have to constantly worry about its influence and it allows provincial members a chance to recognize the whole of the island is under its jurisdiction.  Most vitally, however, a Marau centre establishes a creative way of responsible leadership responding to Weather Coast villagers' concerns about being once more abandoned by government as they have been for more than four generations in the recent past.

As mentioned in last week's essay, Weather Coast villagers profound sense of government abandonment directly contributed to the nation's worst case social upheaval. It would have seemed only proper, once RAMSI's militantly force had calmed down the social melt down in the area, that responsible authorities would have tried their best to respond to the people's profound hurt.

But just the opposite happened! Like a very bad dream political leaders, provincial as well as central both, distanced themselves from their own people. The Chinatown Burn Down in 2006 where not a single person was killed and only a few were slightly hurt attracted its own Commission of Inquiry in less than 2 years.

Guale's Weather Coast atrocities--at least 100 murdered, hundreds of houses burnt to the ground, untold rapes of women and girls, severe dislocation of many village people--caused no public outcry nor called for a formal inquiry to be held. Only court proceedings which sent less than a dozen or so men to jail for life time sentences became the nation's sole response. 

Once again, when provincial authorities could do something positive and creative to respond to their own people's deep seated feelings of abandonment they spectacularly failed the test. A Marau Provincial Capital could go a long way in repairing the hurt feelings of these people but what we are currently hearing is a continuation of the pattern of running away from responsibility and setting up some kind of commercial centre in Doma, not too far away from Honiara.

A Marau site for a provincial headquarters makes it easier to establish a village-made coastal road along Guale's Weather Coast's shores from Kuma in the west right to Marau in the east. Such a track/truck road would go a long way to helping villagers along the coast to transport their cash crops of cocoa, copra and vegetables to Marau's all weather port. No matter how bad the seas are and at all times during the year, Marau's peaceful, sheltered waters hold out the hope of transporting people and getting cash crops to market without waiting for weeks and months. Once a Marau centre is established would a similar road be constructed linking Honiara with Marau be too far in the future?

But the most important consideration is that the political hub of the province has a place of honor among its people and it is not seen as simply an addition to an other urban centre. Tangarare, Doma, Aola and others should be seen at this stage as fulfilling the idea of a Growth Centre which would be information hubs housing telecommunication gear and awareness building locations. These are needed of course but the political heart of the province should be sited at the core of its people, especially a people who have suffered so grievously over a five year period.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Doma?? Please Re-think this decision!

J. Roughan

4 November 2003


Last week, Guadalcanal provincial authorities formerly asked Central Government to help them build a brand new provincial centre set up in the old Doma plantation, just west of Honiara. The price tag on this proposed establishment stands at a bit shy of a billion dollars--$871 million to be exact. At the outset may I congratulate the Province in making this historical decision . . . to flee Honiara's smothering influence and set up its own admin headquarters anew, away from Honiara's overbearing presence towards everything provincial .
Over the years, the Guadalcanal Province has been forced to take a lowly third place in Honiara and this in their own land. Of course, Central Government has always seen itself taking pride of place, becoming number one in the pecking order. Next came Honiara City Council and way down, in third place,  came Guadalcanal Province. Now with a desire to shift out of Honiara and move to a totally new location, Guadalcanal Province has begun its exodus from Honiara domination to take the first step towards a State System.
On closer study, however, the shift from the Honiara city area to Doma is not that much of a change at all. The smallness of the move but continues Honiara's domination, control and influence but it pretends to give the Guale people something new. Villagers along Guale's northern coast would travel a few miles less for services, markets and commercial activities. Villagers all over the province especially those on the Weather Coast, however, which suffered so severely during the Social  Unrest years of 1998-2003, will be aided not at all by a shift to Doma. In other words, the vast majority of Guale people get no benefit at all from this kind of shift. 
In fact such a shift but continues the Honiara influence at the expense of villagers who are in great need of services. Our Social Unrest years seem to have happened so long ago. The terrible happenings that made for an unwelcome history—cool blooded murders, burnt homes, rapes committed, loss of life, etc. etc.—have been partly forgotten.  The nation's courts have dealt with many of the criminals who had unleashed these crimes upon their own people. Yet, why these events had taken root in only one part of the Solomons with few similar examples in other parts of the country have hardly been addressed.
Weather Coast's people's present day silence, however, does not mean that the root causes that tore at the heart of society's social fabric have been adequately addressed.  Before those terrible days at the turn of the 20th century, many leaders thought that villagers in that part of Guadalcanal were much like the rest of the country. Yes, most villagers in the area were poor, politically marginalized, not adequately educated and with little hope that things would turn out well for them and their children in the new century. At first glance, these village people seemed little different from hundreds of villagers in other provinces. Why, then, did the serious social melt-down occur on Guale's Weather Coast and few places else?
Those people 'living on the edge', however,  had unfortunately experienced another grievance that other Solomon Islanders were not exposed to.  Weather Coast villagers had been suffering, over several decades, a severe sense of abandonment. Although they lived less than 30 miles away from the nation's one spot that housed the most modern, developed and prosperous part of the nation—Honiara, Weather Coast people  never participated in that life style. The city was a mere two day journey overland, less than a day by ship or an hour by plane. However, it might have been located on another continent for the typical Weather Coast village visitor.

Shipping to Guale's Weather Coast was, at the best of times, difficult because of the rough seas and unsafe anchorage up and down the southern part of the island. There were no roads in that part of Guadalcanal and unless ships could safely land on its coast, then getting cash crops like copra, cocoa, garden vegetables, etc. to market proved impossible. It became heartbreaking for villagers of the area, to see ship after ship sailing past unable to land to transport people's market produce. What did happen, however, was their product slowly rotted on the shore for the want of a way of getting it to market.

Given these circumstances, some 'hot heads' took things into their own hands and staged a rebellion. Fortunately, the vast majority of villagers never joined in but did suffer grievously at their hands. Yes. the courts jailed the most notorious of the culprits but the underlying cause of the grievance--the almost perfect abandonment by government authorities--continues on to this day. This author made a plea to Nick Warner, RAMSI's first coordinator, to begin a hand made road from Kuma in the west of the Weather Coast to Marau, to do something concrete to lessen the isolation of the area, but to no avail.

Here it is, going on 8 years since the RAMSI landing, and little has changed in that part of Guale. Next week's essay will detail where this author thinks a new provincial centre should be placed and give the reasons for shifting it completely away from Honiara. and Doma.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Solomons' Third Rail

J. Roughan 
28 October 2010

Solomon Islanders have rarely seen a subway train up close. This kind of train operates much like a public bus except it usually travels underground but doesn't use either petrol/diesel power. Subways are driven by electricity delivered along a special steel rail. This rail is highly charged, quite dangerous but effective in delivering power to move a train.
Although this third rail, as it is called, is great for powering trains, it is also highly dangerous, and can be lethal to anyone who touches it by accident. Some political commentators use this third rail picture to warn the general public as well as politicians that to discuss certain national issues can be really dangerous, must be carefully studied before going public and that all be put on notice of their potential danger.
We had a case of a Third Rail topic on Friday afternoon last week. Solomons Law Forum set up a public discussion on government's up coming Forgiveness Bill proposal. More than 100 participants from across Honiara turned up for SIBC's two-hour live broadcast which featured a number of leading Solomon Islanders. Fr. Sam Ata (chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), Hon. Manasseh Maelanga (Deputy PM), Mr. Andrew Radclyffe (Legal practioner), Mrs. Ruth Lilogula (Commissioner of Lands) and Rev. Ellison Baku (Pastor) were panel members.  Mrs. Moodie Nanau, Supervisor of SIBC's Program Presentation led these Forum members in a lively discussion concerning this Third Rail subject: Government's Forgiveness Bill.
Although the exact wording of government's proposed Forgiveness Bill proposal has yet to be drafted, many Panel Member as well as those in the audience voiced out their disquiet on the merits of such a bill. It didn't take long during the discussion period for many to raise some basic questions both from the floor as well as from the dais. Forum participants zeroed in on the issue with such questions as:  'Forgiveness for whom?', 'Forgiveness for what?', 'Who has the basic right to forgive: the government, society in general or the victim?'
So even before a single sentence has been written about a possible Forgiveness Bill, people are lining up not only to study what Government might want to enact into national law, but, in this case, are questioning the very basis of such legislation. In past years, national leaders were ever so quick to reach for amnesty legislation when something terrible had been done. Before the courts could begin to operate, some politicians were calling for amnesty for those who had committed the crimes. The Townsville Agreement comes to mind. Heaven forbid that some Big Man face a court of law, be found guilty of committing a serious offense and then sent to Rove for years for his crime!
Although the Townsville Agreement was conditional--all arms had to be returned before any amnesty would begin to operate--few if any guns were returned. It made little difference to those who were demanding amnesty that high powered guns had been returned or not. Only when RAMSI came on the scene in 2003, were many of these arms finally surrendered. Even to this day, it's common knowledge that some high powered guns are still out there in villages and are yet to be returned. But that doesn't matter! The Amnesty part of the Townsville Agreement must be honored no matter what is said about the unreturned high powered guns.
This basic imbalance is one reason why last Friday's Forum surfaced people's distrust, disquiet and disgust which a Forgiveness Bill would create if it were made the law of the land any time soon. As many said during the Forum, who is it that can offer forgiveness? Isn't it first and foremost the victim, those who suffered major loss of loved ones killed, serious property damage and loss of livelihood? Is forgiveness simply a juridical thing? Is government thinking that there should be legislation dictating that certain crimes at certain times can never be tried in a court of law?
How such a mind set could bring lasting peace back into the hearts of people who have yet to be compensated but only a handful of the offenders have stepped forward and said from the heart: "I'm sorry for what I have done to you and your family! Please forgive me!" Once that giant step has been taken, then a Forgiveness Bill might have some meaning for society and a chance of being passed by Parliament.
During last week's public Forum one participant made the point that the proposed government legislation would best not be called a Forgiveness Bill but something else, e.g.  a Restoring Justice and Peace Bill with an emphasis on reconciliation, personal, communal and national. But mere word change is enough! There has to be national preparation geared to change minds and hearts. For years, now, SIDT has been running a Restorative Justice Program which police personnel, police trainees, Rove prisoners, village groups and women's organizations have participated in. The present Truth and Reconciliation Commissions' reach out program is another way of touching the hearts of our people and showing how important healing and reconciliation are to the national health.
For our political leadership to bank solely on a piece of legislation to heal a divided people who have been so terribly hurt is the wrong way to go. Before any legislation comes before Parliament, victims and offenders should be given a chance to reconcile. A few pigs, some shell money and a heap of yams on their own will never accomplish this task. It takes people meeting together, looking into each others eyes and saying from the heart: "I'm sorry for what I did!" Perhaps with that major step taken, legislation could be crafted which would seal the healing process.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When did Adult Education disappear?

J. Roughan

22 October 2010


Each and every political party which contested last August's national election, made a special point to stress the need to seriously increase the education budget. The promise made was crystal clear! If a particular political party formed the nation's newest government, then it promised to spend big bucks on education.

The present coalition government, NCRA—made up of at least six political parties--was no exception. It put teeth into its education promise in its recently published Policy Statement. NCRA "considers education as a key ingredient in all spheres of human development".  Its Policy Statement details what it means by saying it "will fund tertiary education, including scholarship for SICHE", "recognizes the importance of promoting distant learning" and give serious consideration "to establish a National University of Solomon Islands".

However, lost in all this education shuffle is the vital place of Adult Education in the lives of our Olos. Of course tertiary, secondary, primary and pre-school education lie at the heart of keeping our nation up to the mark and running well. And the mantra that 'today's youth are tomorrow's leaders' is whole heartedly accepted! We know in almost backward fashion that our youth population makes up more than half of all our people. And it makes perfect sense to focus on youth, their education needs and what future the nation faces if it fails to educate its youth.

Yet, it's the Olos, not the kids, who still control the nation's resource base. They are the ones who must say "Yes!" if the land is to be used for oil palms, coconuts, cocoa, etc. But, here we are well into the 21st century and the Olos education base, compared to ten years ago at the turn of the century, has improved very little. Yes, you say, these Olos are close up to the grave, in fact many of them have one foot in it, so why pay attention to what they say or don't say. Well, let me inform you loud and clear that if we continue to try to get around them, dismiss their importance or just don't listen, then nothing will happen. Malaita gave us a clear signal!

In the 2006 Sogavare Government, great effort was expended to have Malaitan landowners sign on the dotted line to allow their land holdings be used for new palm oil plantings. The government at the time spent big bucks trying to accomplish this task but at no time that I am aware of was there serious attention given to discoursing the land issue with landowners, making them aware of the importance of this type of planting, etc. Too often raising land owners awareness, the resource owners concern, was too often simply a matter of waving bunches of dollars in front of them. Then, we expected then to jump at the bait. Well we all know what happened! Here it is four years later and not a single, solitary oil palm has been planted on Malaita.

When the Colonial Government became serious about establishing formal education in the Protectorate in the 1960s, things took off. When I first arrived on the scene, for example, the school fee at that time--1958--was two sticks of tobacco which I would hand over to a child's father to allow me to take his child to school at Tarapaina in South Malaita. By mid 1980s, however, school fees were no longer a few sticks of tobacco. They had jumped to hundreds and in some cases even thousands of dollars per year. Island people had been convinced of the worth of education and were willing to shell out large amounts of cold, hard cash to buy into the system.

Of course paying school fees was an accepted investment. People's reasoning was clear enough: have my child get a solid education and the world of work, paid employment, income and salaries, opened up for the educated student. The pain, sacrifice and hard work of getting enough money to pay school fees became an acceptable reality. This investment, after a few years, would begin to pay off for the family, uncles, aunts, relatives and wantoks who had scraped together the necessary school fees.

Why hasn't this same logic been followed in the case of oil palms and other large scale cash crop plantings? First of all little or no land was in question when school fees entered the picture. Families across the nation eagerly bought into this new thing called  education. People could    experience almost on a daily basis that the educated person had advantages and little was lost of any real wealth, their land and its resources. The world as they knew it and had lived by since childhood had not going to this new thing called school.  

But giving over large tracks of precious land for many years to perfect strangers really attacks the very basis of how they think this world works. The only reality for the typical Olo is the land and its resource base. Few if any of them stash cash under the bed, even fewer operate cheque  accounts or have IBD deposits with the banking system. All they have in this world is what they rest their feet on each day, gather their daily food intake and are comforted constantly, their land.

Taking that security away from them is like asking them to start off a new life in a foreign country. Yet, I do feel change is in the air. The Olo is not stupid, not dumb but is searching for a new way of remaining on his beloved land, living off it and still preserving a way of life that, although new in some respects, has a great deal of the old still sticking to it. That's where Adult Education must come into the lives of Olos. Less than 50 years ago many of them embraced a new way of living when they worked hard to get school fees. These same Olos are open to change but the nation has to help them find this new world which guarantees a way of life which protects their most precious gift, the land, and a people's future.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some good things; many hard ones but some definitedly dangerous!

J. Roughan
14 October 2010
Government's National Coalition for Reform and Advancement policy statement has at last made it into the public arena. Although a bit on the thin side, it's still remarkable that in less than 50 days, half the time normally expected of a newly-formed government to publish its dreams, visions and plans into black and white, NCRA has done it. Of course, the devil will be in the details, how these dreams, visions and plans are actually carried out in a Solomons real world.
Some of Its aspirations--meeting the Millennium Development Goals, raising the quality of life (rather than the trite and overused D-word development), rural-based economic growth, etc.--are admirable. Other visions and goals present hard choices like registering customary lands, emphasis on all aspects of education, doing something creative in the forestry sector, substantially build up tourism, etc. are certainly hard areas of concern which will surely test NCRA metal.
But NCRA's most dangerous goal of all is to fundamentally test the idea that "control over resources will continue to remain with the state or outsiders." In uncompromising language the NCRA policy statement boldly announces that "ownership of land reverts to the control of resource owners" (p 12). This means a new direction for Solomons Islands and on the face of it, definitely dangerous. Dangerous to the nation's growing establishment--national politicians, Honiara elite, business interests, power brokers, etc.--which over a 30 year period has built up empires of money, power and position.
The Solomon Islands Constitution clearly states:"the natural resources of our country are vested in the people and the government of Solomon Islands;" Few of the country's landowners, however, have ever agreed with this statement. Its their understanding that the people through their clans, tribes and liens are the only legitimate owners of the nation's resource base. All others, including the State, are outsiders!
Over the past 30 years, however, government after government ever since 1978 simply assumed that they and they alone controlled, directed and for all intents and purposes acted as if they owned the nation's land and sea resources. Because of this belief by Honiara's elite, over a three decade period of time, Solomons people, in the process, have been changed into two different kinds of societies. One became rich, well educated, politically strong and dominant. The other part of Solomons society, the vast majority, the nation's citizens, traveled in another direction! Too often, it was the villager, although the true owner of the nation's resource base, who to this very day remains poor, half educated, politically weak and subservient.  
For example, the annual average revenue allotted to all nine Provinces between the years 1995 and 2000 was $96.6 million. During that same period, the Honiara based elite through government salaries, housing allowances, different perks, vehicle allocation, etc. etc.--managed to gobble up a lion's share, $239.7 million each year. This terrible imbalance of national wealth resulted in a vertical split of 70% going to Honiara's special groups while the remaining 30% was earmarked for the rest of the nation.
It is no wonder then that some rural wealth producers finally rebelled and the nation experienced a Civil War during the 1998-2003 period. But leading up to those years of strife, ordinary Solomon Islanders were already voicing out their deep displeasure, in no uncertain way, by failing each and every government of the day. SIDT's twenty years of Report Cards scored 8 separate governments, starting with Mamaloni's one in 1989, to the Sikua-led group in 2009, with failing grades.
Governments' basic service delivery to the nation's poor majority has been consistently judged inadequate. In these people's Report Cards, citizens marked the governments of the day with a score of much less than a 60% mark. It was the people of the nation who consistently gave the governments of the day these failing grades. Yet, rarely did government listen to their plea and try to lift scores into passing grades.
That is why the NCRA government's plan to bring the natural resources back to the landowners will find difficulty in changing the mind set of those who have governed this nation since the late 1970s..These have so much at stake in how the present system works which awards them so well, to change. They find it hard to accept that the nation's wealth should be more evenly distributed. Our new government has finally  detailed its dreams, visions and plans. Some of these plans are good, many, however, are going to be hard to put into practice but at least one plan--"ownership of land revert to the control of resource owners"--will be dangerous to implement. But it must be done to insure that this nation belongs to all and not to the select few.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Parable out of the blue!

J. Roughan
8 October 2010

Most Solomon Islanders are already aware that Christ was fond of using the parable. It became his favorite teaching device. As he said more than once, his people were a stiff necked mob; very difficult to accept new ways of thinking. But the parable in his hands became a great tool to penetrate people's inner most thinking, offer a new way of looking at the world or at least undermine the certainty of their convictions. His Good Samaritan parable remains classic.
But the parable never died out! Even today in a Solomons context the parable remains an important teaching tool able to move people to re-look at their lives, to present a different way of understanding events or at least cast doubt on what was often considered unchangeable. Allow me to share with you a parables of an important Solomon Islander taught me more than 40 years ago.
Aliki Nono'ohimae, co-founder of Ma'asina Ruru with Nori, the father of Andrew Nori, lived in a village near Kiu in West Are'are. Our paths crossed many times during the 1960s but the most memorable came in 1968 when a group at the Rohinari mission station planned to erect a major health clinic in that part of Malaita. The building planned would be 30 meters long, 14 meters wide, steel framed with roofing iron and all the things necessary to make for a major construction.
In January of that same year, I called for a major meeting of all the Arahas of the area, including Aliki who was the Paramount Chief of West Are'are and beyond to discuss the construction of this huge building. The meeting was well attended, more than 150 chiefs from as far south as Maka to the north at Hauhui. During the meeting I made three non-negotiable demands: each family had to contribute $10 which at the time was serious money. After a bit of discussion, it was accepted. The second demand--each of the 9 villages involved would send 20-25 workers each week until work on the clinic was completed. This caused much debate but finally it was decided that as difficult as it was, it could be done.
However, my third demand almost proved insurmountable. I asked that the Are'are custom of holding feasts (houra)--marriage, death, compensation feasts, etc.--be suspended for the next 8 months or until the clinic was finished. I knew that even with the little bit of donated money at hand, without a work force the project would have come to grief. A feast given at Wairokai, for instance, would certainly attract hundreds from neighboring villages in Waisis, Rutorea, Kiu, etc. etc. That would mean no work force and lost time!  
My explanations on the matter fell on deaf ears. No, said the majority of those present. Such a request was going far beyond what the group could agree to. Arguments for and against raged on for at least an hour with no break through in sight. Then, Aliki raised his hand to speak and the classroom meeting grew quite silent. He asked me: "Are you finished speaking?" My only response had to be a polite yes and I sat down in the front of the classroom waiting for Aliki to deliver his verdict.
Here was the Paramount Chief, fully in charge of custom and tradition, and rightfully accepted as the highest authority in these matters. I was a White Man of only ten years residence in the district and was asking that custom and tradition of many years standing be suspended in favor of building a clinic. The outcome for my plans didn't look particularly bright and already my mind was racing to think how to save the day.
Aliki rose from his seat,  strode down the center of the classroom and at the same time he was reaching into the small woven pouch which hung around his neck. As he neared where I was sitting, he stopped, pulled out a 5 pound Australian note (worth $10.00 in Solomons currency) and gently placed it on the table before me. He announced in a loud voice: "Here is my contribution! Talk stops now and work begins tomorrow!"
Everyone in the classroom except myself understood the full meaning of his action. Not only had he blessed the project, he had also made it  clear that, although he himself could never use the newly built clinic (in his spirit world, it would be taboo to enter any building where a woman had given birth) he wanted it for his people.
Aliki with minimal words had decreed that in spite of people's important customs and traditions, other forces were of more worth . It took me many months, however, to fully understand the full meaning of his action. As Paramount Chief he, in full public view, had stated that other forces were beginning to work in the area and a new mind set had to take root. His action was a Parable out of the blue!

We all come up together or no one does!

J. Roughan

7 October 2010


Our people suffer from a deep, profound and weakening sickness. More than 6 out of every 10 citizens can't read or write. The world around us, including many of our island neighbours, boast of having better literacy rates than ourselves.


The modern age is marked by a transforming information network whereby people on the other side of the world knew as much about ourselves, our nation and our problems as we do. Australia, for instance, is currently spending more than $3 billion to lay fibre optic cables so that even those citizens far from urban centres and living deep in the bush will be connected up. Expensive for sure but absolutely necessary if their nation is to exist far into the 21st century.


Its thinking is: invest in faster, more secure and reliable information technology or come in a distant second in the Information Revolution. We, on the other hand, don't seem to mind if the bulk of our population remains in the 19th Century. 


This Information Revolution is not about dry, dusty words in some book or other. Nor is it simply a repetition of the old ways of thinking but much faster and quicker through computer use. No, it is truly a Revolution, a brand new way of looking at this fast changing world. It's one of profound new ideas, new ways of thinking. No nation, no matter how rich with its natural wealth of land and sea can long last if more than half of its people are unable to enter the Information Revolution.


Unfortunately, our ruling class—politicians, business elite, educated personnel, moneyed leaders, etc.—feel little unease that most our people are unable to compete in this new world. Our people are crippled with a kind of 'polio' so that it's impossible for them to compete in the Information Revolution race.


Literacy, national leaders say, is a school problem, isn't it? Let the education system come up with worthwhile solutions. We will study them and if found acceptable, we will fund them. Our attention must be focused on more pressing problems like our salary increases, entitlements, housing allowances, etc.


But illiteracy is much more than an education issue or basically about village living. This profound basic issue lies at the heart of why our nation is currently so deeply divided into the 'haves and the have-nots'. What makes our national problem so serious, probably more than in other countries, is the fact that our 'have-nots' are the real owners, controllers and directors of the nation's resources. The 'haves', on the other hand, control little and even the little bit they do have a say in is fast slipping out of their hands, e.g. re-writing of a new Constitution.


But a major step to reversing this serious illiteracy issue is at hand. The present government is seriously studying the idea of establishing Growth Centres in each of the nation's 50 constituencies. A Growth Centre is basically an information hub where villagers will be at the centre of learning. With the use of an FM radio reach out, informing and opening up of new ideas on a daily basis, broadcasting in local language daily for a few hours, our Resource Owners could be energized to embrace the idea of reading and writing.


Already, however, even before a single Growth Centre has been established, different voices are accenting another kind of Growth Centre, one which business, commerce and the almighty dollar are king. Information, yes, it's important but put first things first, these are saying. People are cash poor and getting a bit of cold, hard cash into their hands immediately must be the order of the day.


It makes little impact on this kind of thinking that although the nation already experiences a tsunami of money—3 commercial banks, an expanding work force, new and multi-storied buildings spouting up in Honiara, hundreds of cars, trucks, buses, taxis roam our streets, yet many of our people remain poor. Government itself finds it next to impossible to reign in its spending ways. Supplementary budgets are dwarfing the whole budgetary process.


A Growth Centre, on the other hand, accents the vital need of people's interaction for information, first and foremost. Less we forget, it was only a few years back, that it was the small time worker, village gardener, fisher, etc. who snapped the Solomons economy from below zero in 2002 to take a giant step up to 5.8% in 2003, before RAMSI came on the scene.


All of this economic activity was not driven by government investment, or Honiara business involvement. It came from the small villager's limited information base, a great deal of local enterprise and sheer determination to make things happen for the better.     


Literacy is not about 'them'! It is the basic step of the nation to lift itself out of poverty. We can't have part of society 'living high off the hog' while the vast majority sink more and more into poverty.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Village: An information-poor zone!

J. Roughan

30 September 2010


In 21st century Solomons, village people are cash poor. Unfortunately, this reality has grown over many years, really since the nation's independence in 1978. And it really shouldn't be that way at all since it is they, the villager, who actually own and control the nation's vast mineral, tree, sea and water wealth.


Now that commercial logging is beginning to seriously dry up, government is starting to push the panic button. Its asking itself: Where will it get funds to run the nation—education, medical, salaries, etc.—if its biggest money-spinner no longer generates the necessary cash?  


Gold Ridge when it comes on stream will still be at least a year away. The whole mining sector which is just getting on its feet still has a long way to go to imitate the logging industry of the 1990s and 2000s. During those days it furnished government coffers with much of its most needed revenue.


Solomons rural areas with its vast population base—8 out of every 10 islanders—are village based. The Ministry of Finance must be tearing its hair out trying to figure out ways of tapping into this great tax base. Currently most village people are cash poor; they don't have money under their beds, in check accounts at the bank or in their pockets.


So if economic activity could be markedly increased at the village level, then the nation's tax base could be substantially increased and the huge financial hole which the treasury is currently feeling would began to close. Hence, this is the major reason why the present Government and others on the other side of the house are interested, quite interested, in fact, on the idea of Growth Centres.


But the whole idea of starting up a Growth Centre is about bringing the bulk of our people into the 21st Century which is truly one of access to clear, pertinent and accurate information. Once our people are on the receiving end of this kind of information, then economic activity is not far behind.


Do you remember what happened in the early days of our Social Unrest years—1998-2003? Many Honiara families who se husbands were government employees—teachers, doctors, nurses, ministry workers, etc.—found themselves without a salary on payday. Mothers of families didn't just descend into panic but opened up barbeque stalls, became betel nut sellers, hawked donuts, small cakes, etc.


In other words the economy didn't just dry up just because the government wasn't able to pay its workers on time. People simply took up newly created jobs and remained economically creative. In less than five years, for instance, the growing of flowers, preparing funeral wreaths and doing of flower arrangement became a thriving industry.


Government's dilemma of not having enough cash on hand to run the country shouldn't force it into short cuts. Growth Centres at the constituency level is a sure fire way of generating more and more income for those who have traditionally been overlooked. But the real lack at the village level is less about cold, hard cash but the severe lack of up-to-date, pertinent and clear information about the world about them.


To this date, the olos of our country have never been exposed to a constant and clear understanding why it would be in their best interest to allow their land holdings to be used for development. Four years have now passed since the 2006 signings, when Malaita people were informed how beneficial oil palm plantings would be for them.  Yet, not a single oil palm has been planted.


Is it a case of the olos not being able to comprehend or is more likely to do with the constant, continuous and consistent information flow which they have lacked for many years now? The Village still remains an information-poor zone and it has hurt us economically.

Hundreds of islands, dozens of languages but One People!

J. Roughan
28 Sept. 2010

The school kids were among my first teachers! I was running a small school (about 250 boarding pupils) in the southern Malaita area during the early 1960s. On a clear day the southern-most tip of Guadalcanal was clear to see. While standing on a near-by reef I pointed out that part of Guale and asked the kids with me what was that large land in the distance?

The kids, almost in chorus, told me: "That's the Solomons!" What about this piece of real estate we were now standing on? Isn't this the Solomons also? "No, this is Malaita!" they confidently informed me. In their minds eyes, then, Malaita and Guale were not only two completely different pieces of real estate; they had very little to do with each other. But that was 1960!

Now 50 years later, most Solomon Islanders are beginning to accept that these different island groupings do form a single country. We have, of course, a long way to go before everyone accepts completely that all these different island groups make up a single nation, one people. But compared to the 1960s we have moved a great distance in our thinking.

Our recent Civil War—1998-2003—attestes to the fact that these hundreds of islands, dozens of languages, many different traditions and customs but a very brief history of oneness continues to be an uphill struggle for the whole nation. Fortunately the present government is not simply sitting by and hoping that the task of forging so many different people into a single nation comes alive. It has publicly informed the people of the nation, for instance, that each MP has been given a significant yearly touring allowance. Visiting villages in one's constituency is a critical way to forge the country into a single nation.

But Government's most important step so far to this end has been its blessing on the idea of establishing Growth Centres for each and every constituency. These centres, however, must be thought primarily as information hubs, places for up-to-date, accurate and empowering information brought to the nation's people constantly, continuously and consistently.

Rural people's most pressing poverty concerns, for instance, have much more to do with not being aware of what's happening throughout their district, province and nationally. Economic life best takes root, depends upon and follows on when a people are made well aware of the different forces in their lives. Isn't that the major reason why so many land owners are reluctant to allow their lands to be developed? Money alone is unable to move them to give permission since they remain unaware and hence unsure what will be the consequences to the lives of their people down through the years.  

Although more than 8 out of every 10 people nation-wide do not live in urban centres, and who actually own and control the nation's land, trees, rivers, fishing ground, reefs, etc. remain the least informed even today. Yes, of course, they are certainly cash poor but their most profound poverty has more to do with their information lack. Too often a villager leaves his home site, travels long distances on less than a comfortable ship to reach Honiara in order to re-join that most favoured part of society.

A Growth Centre is an attempt to invest in the village sector with some of the information, services, employment, etc. which we living in the urban parts take for granted. Investing in a Growth Centre is a way of bringing social equity to the bulk of our people so that all citizens bloom. Over a 32 year period and if truth be told even during colonial days, there has been distinct bias favouring one part of the nation over the other. Honiara has absorbed the lion's share of national wealth and has continued to do so at the expense of the well being of all our people.

One of the most effective means of keeping scattered and hard to visit villages is to use broadcast radio. Already some institutions—Don Bosco Society out at Tetere and SIDT here in Honiara—have found that a 3 to 4 hour daily broadcast time in language on a daily basis has increased significantly the information flow to people. Now that Government has allocated money to help Members visit their villagers, a broadcast radio set up in each constituency could only assist in this same work. Rather than a Parliamentarian visiting only 8 to 10 villages each time after a House sitting, the member could inform all his people through radio what exactly the recent sitting was about and how the member had addressed local problems.

A Growth Centre's major purpose is to give the majority of our people a chance to be part of the fashioning of a new Solomon Islands which works for all. For too long only the select few, found in urban centres, have been at the core of doing well while the rest of the nation saw their dreams of a better future falling further and further behind. A new government can implement a program where the majority of our people can look forward to a better and healthier life.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Judgment Day we won't be asked what we read but what we did!

J. Roughan

21 September 2010


Currently, there's much fuss about the fact that one of Danny Philip's cabinet ministers can't read or write. Yes, I too would have been more pleased had the MP selected for that ministerial post, was skilled at reading/writing. Although I have yet to met the man at all, I do know he's self made, runs a successful construction firm and knows how to get the best out of his workers. All these skills are vital in running a vibrant and productive ministry. Good luck to you, Minister!


But I think the public's concern would be better served by focusing attention on more fundamental weaknesses within our political system. Not being able to read/write, though serious, is not in the same league as ex-convicts holding down major political offices, or seriously sick members trying to carry out the duties of office and represent their constituencies and once again our political system's recent rejection at the polling booth of well qualified women all send red-flag signals that our political system needs serious review.


Years ago, I think it was in the late 1980s, Ben Kinika, a Makira man, held the post of Minister of Finance in a Mamaloni-led government. I knew Ben quite well and on one occasion asked him how did the typical member handle the complex, difficult bills coming up for parliamentary debate. I found reading these bills myself a challenge, one that forced me to read and re-read them again and again before fully grasping and understanding them.


Ben shared with me that, yes, a number of MPs had come to his office, some would throw the Bill Paper on his desk and say: "Ben, tell me what does it all mean?" These members had no trouble reading these Bills but understanding them was something else again. At least these Members knew well enough to approach a peer and get a proper and full explanation from a trusted source.


So although illiteracy at such a high level is a worry, there are other issues in our political system that cause more serious concern. The nation now has three ex-convicts holding down senior governmental positions which raises far more serious concern than not knowing how to read/write. The public service, especially at the Permanent Secretary level, is ideally positioned to assist ministers who find it hard to handle technically difficult position papers and such.


Not so the ex-convict! Although a lawfully discharged prisoner has served time and has now been set free, society must accept him back into the community. However, it should also be recognized that many times the community may well demand higher standards of public accountability and, in some cases, a better performance than other parliamentarians who have never been behind bars.


Hence, the former prisoner has a double hurdle to overcome. Not only must he do his ministerial work well but he must also be conscious that not all in society will be willing to listen and follow his directives. Our people are a forgiving lot but find  it more difficult to forget which too often colours their response to government requests. The Public Service system has no ready answer to lighten a minister's work load but to constantly remind the world that the minister's previous serious faults have been paid in full.


A third category—seriously sick men—is more tricky. During the 8th Parliament, 4 sitting parliamentarians died, although relatively young, while in office. Already the present government has suffered the loss of one of its youngest. It's not difficult to predict that more members will die while in office. The question that should be on our leaders minds, however, is how to minimize the number of seriously sick persons from entering the political race in the first place.


While the national Constitution is silent on the issue of physical health, one would think that political parties, the political elite and voters themselves would send a clear directive to all candidates that only persons who have passed a medical fitness test should be eligible for such high office.    


The most serious challenge facing the Solomons, however, is the continued rejection of women entering Parliament at all. This error continues on even though its 32 years old. We are basically hurting ourselves, trying to fly with one wing when the rest of the world already knows that unless both wings—men and women—are part of political life, than expect more and more difficulties in the years to come.


The inability of a member to read/write is unfortunate but the system can manage it. Past serious criminal actions open a fragile and slowly steadying governance to stresses and strains it has little experience in handling. A seriously sick member will certainly test not only the individual Member but the constituency which voted him into a position of power. The continued rejection of qualified women, however, is dangerous to the nation's health and well being.


Each of the above challenges sends a message, a mixed one at that. How these are handled over the next four years will determine whether the message is mostly positive rather than negative. What meanings our young people read from these messages, however, will determine the future of our beloved Solomon Islands.    

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

No one wants to be servant!

J. Roughan

15 September 2010


Recruiting stewards and stewardesses for international as well as in-country airlines is getting harder and tougher these days. Yes, these airline people like the pay, they love travelling all over the world and they look forward to all the excitement but balk continuously about being servants . . . serving people during the flight.


People, these days, don't want to be considered servants. Leaders, yes! Big Men, certainly! Any title is fine so long as it doesn't have too much connection with service, putting others before oneself. Isn't this part of our national leaders current problem! How they love hearing the title 'Honourable' but find it hard to see themselves, their role and their duty primarily to serve those who have voted them into power!


And this attitude of not accepting that a Member's first and foremost duty is servant introduces dangerous practices. It's so much easier to hand out project proposal funds than making sure that No.9 is functioning well, that the toilets are not overflowing with human waste and the doctors, nurses and technical staff are hard at work, each day, every day.


Much the same could be said about teachers. Rural schools too easily loose out having the necessary teaching staff who are actually in the classroom for five days a week for the 40 weeks of the school term. Members have a duty to the people of his constituency to make sure that this happens.


Our young people cry out constantly for more employment, better jobs and ways of regularly making a few dollars. Waiting for the overseas investor to come in and magically produce these jobs does not work. Yet, parliament has yet to set itself up as a major help in this field. RAMSI, for instance, has poured in more than 6 BILLION dollars (1 Billion Australian) into the Solomons since 2003. Yet we don't have a fruit picking program for our young people in Australia as New Zealand has done in its own country. This is where an active Parliament comes in handy. It has the mandate to create legislation formerly requesting Australia to be as generous in their agriculture areas as they have been through RAMSI.


Over the years, certainly since 1989 when SIDT ran its first Report Card and published the poor survey results over a twenty year period of Report Cards, it became clear that a major shift was happening right under our noses.  Parliamentarians were changing their understanding of what was primary and essential as members: law makers, monitoring government's performance, steering the ship of state away from reefs and danger. 


But they began to view their work less and less as service to people and what was actually asked of them as law makers, monitors, and managers of the Ship of State.  Many were giving higher preference to becoming project supervisors, social welfare workers and walking ATMs dispensing money.


Witness Transparency Solomon Islands recent report of the members of the 8th parliament. According to its findings, five members could only drag themselves to parliamentary sittings 50% of the time and many, many of them actually participated little in the drafting of national legislation. The vast majority of members hardly ever spoke for or against the 44 bills brought to 8th parliament.  


And the national elections of last month once again underlined the close connection that voters see between Members primary work—legislation, monitoring state work and steering the Ship of state, the MV Solomon Islander--and what is much more secondary—funding project proposals, welfare work and dispensing hand outs.


The 2010 election results speak for themselves. Half of the members of the former house never returned to Parliament. Normally, on average, 44% of members don't make it back to the House. This year, however, there was a major increase in members failing to make it back to their seats. 


It is early times for the 9th Parliament. It can accept itself either as Servant to the people of this nation or continue down a road which has proven disastrous to many ex politicians.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The government truck is all gassed up and ready to roll; its drivers have been hand picked; but, no one is sure where it's going!

J. Roughan
13 September 2010

The above statement sums up what is happening in the Solomons these days. The nation is anxious for the newly elected politicians to step up to their work and begin governing. Our elections, thank goodness, went off smoothly. We now know who is in Cabinet, but exactly what direction the nation is headed for is unknown as yet. What does the government think are the most pressing problems the nation faces and how we are going to overcome them remains still a deep, dark secret.
We are told, however, that the newly appointed government is currently working on a draft document, a plan, which outlines its strategies for the next four years. In the meantime, the 19 Crown Ministers who are suppose to direct hundreds of public servants, who are chewing up millions of dollars weekly, are not even at the starting blocks as yet. Yes, they are undoubtedly sitting at their desks but what exactly they will do while waiting for the government plan to roll out, is unclear. Do they carry on with the last government's priorities, experiment with something new, do their own thing or what?  
This is no way to head up a government which will be spending millions and millions of tax payer's money in the next few months. The nation can't afford the luxury of waiting until this government plan is publicly unveiled and to find out where we are headed for this year. It's been almost six weeks now since citizens elected the 9th Parliament into office but we are still back in limbo, not knowing how government plans to tackle the many serious national problems. These won't go away any time soon but will become more difficult as the days pile up.
If ever there was a good reason for a strong political party system, some are saying, the present weakness of having to wait almost two months before a government begins to exert its power, proves the point. Yet, when studying the results of the recent poll, politicians themselves don't want political parties either. They feel they can make a better deal going it on their own.They much prefer standing as independents! Only the SIDP (SI Democratic Party), for instance, did well in the last election with 14 of its members gaining seats. Yet, few independent winners  decided to cast in their lot with the SIDP.
I think, as in the recent Australian election and earlier this year, the UK election, both sent a clear message to their political masters: 'We don't like the way you've been running the country!' The Solomons voter has sent much the same message to its political elite. Rather than establishing political parties which generate more heat than light, more confrontation than cooperation and more conflict than harmony, do something different the electorate is telling us..
Before independence in 1978, there was little talk, much less action about starting political parties. During those days, Legislative Council business was conducted through a committee system. Politicians with different points of view, sitting in on the same committee, would hammer out compromises rather than having winners and losers. It was less a contest than a way of coming to solutions for hard problems where there was many more winners and a fewer losers. Of course, the committee system takes more time but it produces outcomes better for national life than one that is built on confrontation and conflict rather than harmony. It's a practice much closer to people's customs and practices.
Because of Australia's recent 'hung parliament' where none of the big parties won a majority, there had to be a great deal of 'horse trading' before a government could be formed. What was unthinkable before--working out compromises and cooperation with minor parties and different small groups--became the order of the day. It will be interesting in the next few months to see how Australia and UK work out politics in this new way of governing.
Our own citizens have shown much more wisdom than we give credit for. DSE (Development Services Exchange), for example, just finished a most successful Domestic Poll Watching exercise where every one of the nation's 50 constituencies were covered by trained and dedicated citizens. Locals from the 50 constituencies attended 15% of the 910+ polling stations across the nation on polling day last month. Overseas Poll Watchers some of whom have experienced many other countries' polling days, were surprised and pleased by these villagers who proved to be so professional. The overseas official report about local Poll Watching activity is making its way to the UN and The Commonwealth Foundation. 
The nation has come a long way since 1978! Its people are much more experienced, informed and active. They want to be and will determine to be much more of a force in national political life. Writing them off as 'bush', or uneducated or lacking sophistication no longer makes sense. Our political masters will do themselves well and assist our own people in the process if they help this nation live up its full potential. It would be well, then, for the present government to draw in some of its ordinary citizens while the drafting of the new four year plan After all this same plan concerns people's lives and who would be more interested than the people themselves.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lessons from Australia, UK and USA

J. Roughan

1 September 2010


Australia's two leading political parties—Labour and the Coalition—recently found themselves in an awkward position. Not since the early days of World War 2—1940—has the Australian electorate told their political masters 'We don't like the way you do business! You politicians, political bosses and the whole political establishment are more concerned with you own ways than our lives.'


So rather than allow you to continue doing 'business as usual', we refuse to give either of the big parties a majority at all. Go back to parliament's independent members and small party groups, e.g. Green Party , work out a new way of doing politics and then come back to us, the Australian public. Start doing things differently to make our lives better.


And this serious change in politics is happening all over the globe. Earlier this year, British voters told the same story to their own political bosses. 'We won't give any major party—Labour, Conservative or Liberals—a majority to rule. Go back to the drawing board, work out a more sensible way of governing and then get on with the job.'


In three major countries—Australia, UK and last year in USA—the small people of this world have sent an unmistakable message to their political bosses: 'Shape up or ship out!' The old adversarial and confrontational ways of the past three decades has gotten the people of the nation nowhere!'


Isn't that the very message Solomon Islands voters recently sent to its political class in last month's poll? Half the members of the 8th house were dumped and many newly elected members only got through by the skin of their teeth. Six new members, for instance, could only manage to attract less than 25% of the vote in their constituency. In other words, more than 3 out of every 4 voters—75% of the citizens--chose other candidates than the one who actually won the seat. 


To compound events the sudden death of a government backer has already triggered off the latest version of the numbers game. The first order of business is not how to make the country stronger, better or more productive. No,, Solomons citizens will be forced to watch the spectacle of politicians chasing after votes, wooing weak members from the opposite camp with more and more handouts and political parties promising the moon.


Where in all this circus comes the well being of the nation? How does all this 'wheeling and dealing' decrease by a single cent the profound poverty of our people? Our impressionable youth must be shaking their heads in disbelief: 'They say to themselves; These are our national leaders who can't seem to come up with a more inclusive, more transparent, more helpful way of governing?'


Australia currently wrestles with its own set of problems in a 'hung parliament'! UK has had to stitch together a coalition government which is weathering the storm. What should we be doing ourselves? We don't have a 'hung parliament' just the closest thing, a one seat majority which makes the whole enterprise terribly weak. A sudden defection to the other camp, another unexpected death and the numbers game once again comes into play.


Government has within its power to begin a dialogue with the other camp to effect a coalition government, with a iron clan guarantee of no 'no confidence motions' for the next 24 months. During that 2 year period major legislation—youth employment, kick starting village level economic initiatives, adult education to help land owners come to grip with the land issue, women closely engaged in parliamentary business, etc.-- would be tackled head on to reduce our people's worsening poverty levels.


Squabbling politicians, ineffectual leaders and clueless parliamentarians only produces a fractured people, a degraded economy and a dispirited youth population. If much larger countries with long histories of governance are now forced by their own people to become more and more attentive to people's needs, what about our island nation? Don't our own people deserve to get leaders who actually pay attention to people's needs first and foremost!