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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!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

You've come a long way!

J. Roughan

27 August 2010



Back in the late 1950s, the Solomons boasted of a single media outlet . . . a three hour radio program from Monday through Friday. Even to this day its two distinct voices I remember well were that of Bill Bennett and Ron Calvert, early Solomons announcers. Their five minute news summary at 7:00 in the evening, for instance, was something not to be missed, if you wanted to be up to date and informed about the Solomons of the day.


The country at that time didn't publish a single newspaper. Only a few provincial newsletters run off, now and then, on mimeograph machines were the sum total of the printed word. TV, of course, was years in the future.


Over the past 15 years, however, the Solomons media presence—radio, print, TV—has grown tremendously not only in different ways of getting news, information, national stories, etc. out to the public but more importantly itself has become a major player in its own right in the country's political life.


On Sunday last, for instance, one of the two candidates (Steve Abana) vying for the PM's job failed to front up to a special media event where SIBC, One TV's cameras and a slew of newspaper reporters were poised to ask questions. The hour long program, carried live on SIBC and shown on TV later that same evening, proved a major hit with Honiara's public and those living in provincial capitals who were lucky enough to catch the program.


There was obvious displeasure, however, among many personnel attending the media event and in the general public at large when the invited MP failed to be present at the conference. Fortunately, the missing MP rushed to correct the oversight. He fronted up early the following Tuesday when a hastily called meeting of media personnel gathered to ask questions.


The point of this essay is to show how the Big Men of politics know in their bones that proper media coverage is vital to their political well being. A few decades ago, however, certainly at the turn of the century media's fundament importance to the nation's political life was just beginning to make its mark among our people. Presently, however, its presence is essential to the life of any and all politicians.


Yet too many of our elite class—politicians themselves, party faithful and party bosses—remain stuck in the 20th century. When the media starts to make noise, demands public appearance of leaders and ask the sticky question, then it is only the veteran politician who rises to the challenge.


But our political leadership should be light years ahead in this important field and be leaders in creating new and exciting ways to make politics and politicians alive and current.


For instance, those connected with political parties should be in the business of preparing touring theatre teams which play act a party's platform before election times. Rather than saturating local newspapers with party manifestos, steal a page out of NGO history and print up three to four thousand Pijin Komiks which graphically share the party's platforms in a rich and more influential way than the long columns of print in local newspapers.


In other words, the whole media scene has expanded out of all expectation during these past 15 years. What was quite small, unimportant and on the side line only a few years ago, has suddenly become vital and necessary in the last few years.


Although many of our people anxiously use the modern means of media, too often leadership lags, falls behind  or uses outdated and old technologies. Perhaps in the 1980s and 1990s filling newspapers with party manifestos and political statements were good enough at the time. However, today's media presence is a different kind of reality.


The country has moved on from there and has come a long way in a very short period of time. It is up to our leaders to act as real leaders, look into the future and be ahead of events.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A blessing? A curse? Or something in between?

J. Roughan

21 August 2010


Solomon Islanders finally know who is to represent them in Parliament. All 50 constituencies' votes have been counted and people's choice leaders has been determined. In the next few days, when these elected men meet in the Parliament Building, they and they alone will choose who will lead the country and which parties will form government.


However, already it has become clear that many winning parliamentarians already have their own agenda born out of many years work in the world of business. Some MPs currently in parliament have laboured many years in different kinds of businesses—retail, owners of large companies, casinos, ship owners etc.--others are lawyers, accountants, contractors and house builders.


In other words, these dozen or so newly elected are not simple village folk, rural farmers or a bunch of day workers. These newly elected members bring to parliament years of experience in the world of commerce, business and finance. Their commercial expertise will certainly be felt and they will share with the rest of the house how the business part of the world actually works. Their life skills—working tightly within a strictly defined budget, a 24/7 work ethic, closely following work plans, careful managing personnel, willing and able to take risks to strengthen their companies and other skill sets so needed in leading any new government these days will become obvious.


But that very history and years of working hard to make an individual company thrive and be successful has another side as well when viewed from what it takes to run government. For the business person, the Bottom Line—making a profit—, is not simply one goal of many but it is the basic, fundamental goal which drives successful businesses.


For without profit, and one that comes year in and year out, it is hard to see how any business can stay afloat for long. So the Bottom Line, for the business person, is critical and essential. All other goals are at best secondary!


Not so the goal, end and purpose of running the government enterprise. Government is for, by and of the people. It is not another form of business but something quite different. And in a Solomons context, it means that the actual resource owners, the many tribes, lines and people who control more than 90% of the nation's land, rivers, lakes, trees, reefs and fishing grounds cannot simply be treated as clients in need of help or customers to be served for a price. These very citizens are actually partners ready and willing to run the country for the good of the many with their servants, the members of Parliament.


In other words although these resource owners do have some very fundamental needs and face serious weaknesses in their lives, at the same time, they bring to the development dialogue the very core that enables the Solomons to exist in the first place. In a real sense, then, the nation's citizens bring more to the governance enterprise than any plan, fund or input that the politician, government official or aid administrator brings.  


When the Solomons State dithered, faltered and failed its citizens spectacularly during five years of turmoil (1998-2003), it wasn't the business sector that saved the nation. It was the villager who just got on with life. In fact, even before RAMSI had ever set foot on our shores, Rick Hou, former governor of Central Bank, in his annual report to the nation in 2003, declared that it was the village person who jump started the economy.


It would be the same as if the customers of a failing business had stepped in, kept the enterprise turning over and made sure it survived during the trouble times. This is what the Solomon Islands people did for the nation during its darkest night. It is these same people, represented by the current members of Parliament, who must be at the forefront of members concern.


Of course the hard learned lessons of private business must find a strong place in this the 9th parliament. But the purpose, end and goal of government is the well being of all citizens without exception. Its work must not be limited to those who can help government turn a profit. Government is not another form of business but a reality of its own. Marrying the skills of the business world and the work of strong government will be the task of the newly formed 9th parliament.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The nation's pain remains!

J. Roughan

11 August 2010


Congratulations Solomons!  Voting for the 9th parliament members went off smoothly. Yes, we experienced a few hiccups in the vote counting in a few places but the process itself was straight forward, professionally handled and successfully completed. So congratulations one and all!


But the country's major worries—the growing number of poor people in the country, illiteracy of so many of our citizens especially the women and fewer and fewer jobs for young people—have not gone away. In fact, these worries and a host of other problems over the past few months have grown more severe while the nation focused its energies and attention on the election process. The nation's pain remains!


That is why, while the newly elected members are trying to choose a new Prime Minister over the next two weeks, these same members must also focus their attention on national problems as well. Their own constituency, however, over the next few months should necessarily take a back seat to national issues. These very national issues, in many ways, lie at the root of many local problems.


Take the poverty issue, for instance. SIDT has been tracking how the shortage of modest amounts of money among the typical citizen has been affecting their lives since 1989. That's more than 20 years now! While the services of education and health have sometimes scored over the 50% mark a few times in these past 20 years, the one critical area of ordinary life, the availability of money, has remained stubbornly low. Last year's Report Card on the Sikua Government shows that thousands of Solomon Islanders scored the government with only a 45% mark. Since 1989, moreover, no sitting government has ever scored even a 50% mark.


No member on his own, no matter how gifted, how well resourced, can adequately respond to growing poverty levels of our people. Raising people out of the poverty trap is never accomplished by funding individual piggery, copra/cocoa drier, cattle, etc. projects. No! Poverty is a profound deeply seated national issue and parliament alone is best placed to address it through its legislative power and oversight of government's job creation work. 


For instance, job creation—on the national and international levels, village and constituency levels, rural and urban—can best be accomplished by vigorous parliamentary action. On the national level, for instance, a parliamentary push to put teeth into a food production economy could yield many new employment opportunities at the village, district and national levels.  


At present, each year in fact, many villages across the nation produce tons and tons of mangos, pineapples, lemons, etc. However, this super abundance happens during a short three month period . . . November, December and January. Villagers, one by one, descend upon local markets, all at the same time, to sell their wonderful tropical fruit. There's been little effort to add value to this valuable product.


Yet, we know that if these fruits could be processed—add value by extracting its juice to produce fruit ice blocks—villagers' return on their fruit product would jump in value. Rather than feeding our children on sugar, colouring and water ice blocks, the villager could produce a nutritional fruit drink, something much healthier for them.


In other words, the entire fruit production chain—harvesting, juice extraction, different and new uses of the juice, sale of fruit juice—could create jobs at the village and district levels. This same process could be duplicated with other foods—root crops, nuts, shell fish, fish etc.—so that the Solomon Islands food production ability could be at the centre of an expanding job market of food preparation, storage, transport and experimentation.


The village farmer, most often the woman, is a Solomons response to the need of the private sector to become the most productive job creator as in other parts of the world. Village life is the normal location of the factors for all livelihoods: land ownership, rich soils, ample rain, skilled personnel, a ready and willing work force, etc.   


Recognizing a nation's strength—the growing ability to produce ample amounts of food for an expanding population—is not a plan to keep our people 'down on the farm'. On the contrary! It's a workable plan to buy time so that this platform supports other works—schools, community work, local jobs, etc.—to ease the nation's pain.

Dull! Dull! And deadening!

J. Roughan
5 August 2010

Ordinary people, Honiara's citizens, are streets ahead of our political elite, political leaders and their parties. Last Wednesday's election showed up the large and growing gap between the political class' perceptions of how to run our country and those who do not have much power except their vote.

While much of Honiara was using up-to-date technology—cell phones, theatre teams, TV coverage , Pijin Komics—politicians, their masters and some of their followers were still bogged down in noisy car cavalcades along Mendana Avenue, picture posters of candidates and circus events.
Last Wednesday our national elections went off quietly, orderly and in general quite smoothly. Our 9th national election went off without any major hitch. Overseas observers as well as local or domestic observers were pleased with people's conduct.
Such an accomplishment is a major step in our country's political maturing which many an African nation would give its back teeth to pull off. But this maturity, this growing in political adulthood has been an uneven thing.  In some respects part of our political landscape has grown significantly while other parts less so, much less so.

For instance, while the typical voter easily fitted in with the Polling Station's requirements—searching for one's name on the voters list, standing quietly almost reverentially in line waiting to cast his/her vote and professionally following the direction of the Polling Stations personnel—our political heavy weights seemed to be stuck in the past century.  

In Honiara, for instance, candidates and their political parties staged a circus, something that had little or no information values, but was heavy on entertainment. Dozens and dozens of cars, trucks, taxis and buses, paraded up and down Mendana Avenue, blowing their horns, carrying upwards of hundreds of young people, many of them too young to vote.

To what purpose? How was the voting public informed, made more aware of the candidate's understanding of the problems facing the nation, his solutions, his responses to these pressing problems. On election day, I voted in the Central Honiara constituency—where 23 candidates were contesting the election. Of the almost 2 dozen candidates, I only knew four of them well and three others slightly. How I would have loved to have had a chance to listen to a public debated among these candidates!

What was needed, for example, would have been a public debate organized by Honiara City Council where candidates could have publicly debated the city's basic problems, how the candidate planned to work with other parliamentarians to solve them and where the money to tackle these problems would come from.
But Honiara got nothing along this line! What it got was a circus parade of cars, trucks, buses and taxis filled with young people shouting out slogans and indecipherable talk. All of this was happening while the rest of the nation was enjoying the modern miracle of cell phone technology and TV footage, our town politicians and their dull parties could only manage last century's technology: pictures of the candidates face, a few printed words and a circus of vehicles clogging up the streets. 

No wonder the $50,000 campaign spending limit seems so small for many candidates. They're spending money on the wrong things. People need to know, to be informed, made aware of and brought up to speed. The last thing they need are spectacles which belong more to the world of entertainment than political understanding and awareness.
SIBC has made great use of reporters travelling out to the Solomons far reaches and reporting back to its headquarters in Rove. The Electoral Commission's use of mobile theatre teams, travelling across the length and breath of the nation, is another good indicator of getting into the 21st century. Back in the late 1980s SIDT pioneered the use of Pijin Komiks to teach villagers complex and difficulty subjects.

What are our political masters doing? They publish pages and pages of difficult political text on their policies, their party's agenda, most of which their own members have failed to read. Why couldn't at least one political party employ some of our clever and gifted cartoonists, to come up with a Pijin Komik which would cover the party's manifestos in picture form?

Newly elected parliamentarians know well your own people have already entered the 21st century. What might have been effective for the 20th century is fast going the way of the dinosaur. Please look around you and listen to your people!

Paul Roughan
Islands Knowledge Institute (IKI)
Unit 17, NPF Plaza
PO Box 1682
+677 28642