Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
23 March 2011
Yes, the 2009 Census confirms that our population numbers have passed the half million mark (510,000) and also reconfirms how many or our citizens have decided to live in a growing Honiara city and our many provincial towns. But it also reminds us how many people have not moved to the Solomons urban sector but prefer living their lives at village level.
In the 1976 Census, for instance, our urban population had reached 12% and we were informed by experts of the day to expect that by the turn of the century, only 24 years away at that time, almost 1/3 of our people would have left village life to take up residence in Honiara, Auki, Kira Kira, Buala, etc. etc. The migraton from rural areas to the urban was unstoppable and happening all over the globe. Every nation was undergoing the same shift from rural to urban. Some nations, like China, were set to have in the 21st century a dozen or so mega-cities with more than 10 million people. Suva, for example, is already home to more than 1/2 of Fiji's population and still growning. How would the Solomons be any different!
Yet, our rural people were sending the nation but especailly government officials a different message! In 1989, the next Census already showed a slowing down of Solomon Islanders heading for town. In that Census only 16% of village people decided to take up residence in an urban setting. That meant a 4% increase of population in a 13 year period--1976-1989. The 1999 Census, moreover, confirmed that there definitely was a slowing down of people settng up urban residence when that Census showed a shift from village to town had been modest. Of course the Social Unrest period--1998-2003--made it difficult to secure an accurate count of what was happening nation-wide.
Hence the preliminary figures for the 2009 Census do not come as a complete surprise. It seems that rather than the urban numbers increasing like so many other nations currently experience worldwide, the percentage of our people leaving the rural area and those living in town has hardly moved. The 2009 Census shows that the urban population has gained only 1% over a ten year period to reach 17% for the whole of the Solomons. Here's a brief table to clarify the issue:
SOLOMON ISLANDS URBAN POPULATION GROWTH.
(1976 - 2009)
CENSUS % INCREASE
These urban Census figures cover a 33 year period--1976-2009--of national history and are unlikely to change much over the next ten years or so. These numbers mean that the vast majority--currently 83%--of our people continue to vote with their feet to remain solidly village bound, are quietly resisting the lights of town life and yet seek to be served with better education opportunities, adequate medical assistance and a modest portion of the national investment.
Yes, the Solomon's urban sector continues to grow (but at a much slower rate than previously predicted), more people have chosen to live city life but the best meaning of these figures is that most people are determined to stay close to their village resource base which guarantees a place to grow sufficient food and insures protection, security and peacefulness in their daily lives.
:Politicians of all stripes, both at national and provincial levels, have their work carved out for them. Unfortunately, as SIDT's nine Report Cards dating back to the Mamaloni era in 1989 have shown government after government have had terrible track records in assisting people in accessing life's basics. Perhaps if our political leaders became more interested in their people's daily lives, then when election time does roll around the Member's 50% failure rate at the polls could begin to change to something more positive.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
9 March 2011
Honiara's newest highrise--the mid-town Hyundai Building--currently hosts a great photo history of the RAMSI presence in Solomons from its earliest days in country. A couple of hundred pictures detail RAMSI's history from its initial arrival at Henderson Airport in mid-2003 to the present day. No matter what you may think of this intervention force, this picture-history makes for a worthwhile addition to national understanding of recent major historical events.
Historians, social scientists and Pacific Islands experts from different universities have flocked to our shores for a closer view of what actually happened here durng our Social Unrest period (1998-2003) and the RAMSI event (2003-2011). They have given themselves the task of more fully understanding why the RAMSI intervention event had been necessary to help not only Solomon Islanders grasp its full meaning but to learn what the intervention did right and what could have been done better.
The world's new millennium, not yet a dozen years old, has had more than its fair share of military interverventions. Three months earlfier, for instance--March 2003--just before RAMSI landed in the Solomons, America, Britian, France and other nations intervened in Iraq. In 2001, Afghanistan suffered its turn for military intervention. Currently, Libya with its Colonel Gaddafi, looks more and more likely to become a candidate for military intervention as well.
Scholars focusing on the Solomons RAMSI intervention eagerly search out what lessons could be gleaned from what happened in this neck of the woods to make other interventions more productive and peaceful and much less destructive. Over this 8 year period, then, only a single RAMSI soldier was killed in the line of duty. Yes, the RAMSI force suffered a few additional accidents but the outcome of a two-thousand military, police and admin presence, working in a strange and foreign context, has been so remarkably peaceful, one could say, tranquil. Where else in the world over the past hundred years has such an outcome been achieved?
And this question highlights the second part of the title of this essay: Only half the story? Are RAMSI's truly great accomplishments--quickly bringing peace back to troubled parts of the nation, rounding up, bringing to court and jailing many criminal militants, re-setting government's ability to once again function, getting the national economy back on track, etc. etc.--the fruit of the intervention force alone? Or have there been other forces, quite silent ones, working in the background which were as vital and critical to the very success of the whole RAMSI operation?
I speak of the typical Solomon Islands villager, the nation's silent majority, who seems to have been overlooked in the RAMSI photo history. Of course there are many photos of islanders in the picture-history but they are often portrayed as interested by-standers, as outsiders applauding the positive outcomes of the foreign presence. Factually the nation's Social Unrest period was basically confined to Honiara, Guale's Weather Coast, the Marau area, parts of North Malaita and one or two places in Western Province. Fortunately 95%+ of the Solomons were not involved with the disturbances of the Social Unrest period.
It was, however, the nation's little people who kept the country glued together, functioning and caring for the women, children, sick and Olos at the village level. For five years--1998-2003--village people with little help from central authority and less from a compromised police force kept villagers, who make up more than 80% of the population, fed, housed and protected.
These very same people too had suffered the pains of over a twenty-year period, poor political leadership patterns, inept delivery of basic services of education, health services and infrastructure work, growing poverty levels, rampant corruption, etc. etc. but they never took up arms, killed people different from themselves and caused the nation to fly off its social rails.
For every unrest and social dislocation that was found in Guale, Malaita and Western Provinces, these were more than matched by other the Solomons provinces of Temotu, Makira, Central, Isabel, Choiseul where little or no unrest rooted. RAMSI, in fact, didn't set a foot in these other provinces until more than a year had gone by since its landing.
I'm the first one to say that RAMSI has been a blessing to the Solomons. I make the point, however, that this great success depended a great deal upon the common sense, backing and cooperation of the 'silent majority'--the Solomons Villger. Yet, these have yet to be thanked much less duly rewarded with better political leadership and a stronger functioning state. The RAMSI photo history should at least recognize the place the Solomons small people played in keeping this nation alive.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
23 February 2011
Near-East countries—Egypt, Bahrain, now Libya, etc.—to name but a few are currently in deep social and political turmoil. Governments, decades in power are being swept away overnight like so many dead leaves on a tree. Strong men, kings, Prime Ministers, dictators and whole government systems are feeling the awesome strength of People Power.
Machine guns, even the use of heave duty mortars, rockets and anti-aircraft guns are being used to quell their own people who only last month cowered in their homes in deep fear. Now thousands, not just young men but women, older people even children in parents' arms continue to come out on city streets. Nothing stops them until they see and feel a new political order in their country beginning to take root.
This new order represents a full flowering of basic Human Rights where all—peasant, villager, worker, business owner, politician, ruler, etc.—are all equal under the law. Where corruption, no matter at what level, is tackled head on, people voice out their frustrations without fear of prison, a safe life becomes the fundamental part of all levels of society and not just for the rich, famous and powerful.
All of these happenings began in mid-January this year. Of course the peoples' frustration, fear and poor lives were rooted in decades of discrimination and government contempt of Small People. What could these poor, ordinary people possibly do? They had become so used to repression, without any rights and powerless to act that the only option open to them was to keep a low profile, pray a lot and hope for the best.
But this faded overnight! One young Tunisian had had enough! All he was doing on a daily basis was to feed and care for his small family by earning a few cents selling fruits and vegetables at the local market. But he refused to pay a bribe to the local police. They confiscated his meagre garden produce and refused to give the vegetables and fruit back to him until he paid the bribe.
Rather than giving into their unjust demands, he burnt himself in a public square rather than continuing a life of salivary. That was 25 January 2011, less than a month ago! Since that time, however, ordinary people of the Near-East have exploded in rage. After years of repression, lack of basic Human Rights and living in deep poverty, they exploded on the streets of many capitals.
No one could have predicted that such a minor happening—a street vendor's refusal to pay a bribe—could have caused so much upheaval. Yes, had a head of state been assassinated, or a government toppled by an army of terrorists or some kind of a natural calamity hit the region, perhaps that would have been enough to trigger off a universal rebellion.
In hindsight, however, the continuous government refusal to honour people's fundamental and basic Human Rights for many years must now be added to those events which have the power to change the direction of history overnight. The question we in the Solomons must now ask ourselves is: Will the continuous disregard by authorities to people's basic rights trigger a revolt among our own people?
Like the Near-East countries now burning out of control many of their people's grievances—growing poverty levels, youth unemployment, corruption at society's highest levels, poor delivery of basic social services of education, health and infrastructure building, etc.—are alive and well here in our own islands. Twenty years of SIDT's survey work is proof enough that village people and the urban poor are dissatisfied with government non performance.
Are we building a big stick to beat ourselves with by refusing to listen to our people and to their just demands on human rights, security and therefore peace? The utter nonsense of parliamentarians hopping from one side of the House to the other leaves the nation gasping for breath. When will it stop? When will our leaders take their citizens seriously? Must the country explode like the Mid-East nations are doing right now before we come to our senses?
10 February 2011
Since our first tentative steps as a nation in 1978, there hasn't been a single political part which hasn't drummed up the idea that what the nation needs, in big doses of course, is development, development and more development. It has become the big 'D' word! Yet, year after year it's been emptied of any real meaning.
Anything, so long as it talks loud and long about money, is called development. Honiara's casinos which regularly suck out money from the poorest people's pockets is labelled 'development'. That is why I'm calling on public leaders, politicians and business people to stop using the word development for the next three to five years. What the nation needs is much less development but loads and loads of The Basic Life things for all.
First of all The Basic Life is about the majority of our people living their lives in peace, harmony and tranquillity in their everyday lives. If various levels of fighting, discontent or discord reign among our people or worse still a gun culture controls ordinary life, it's hard to speak about advancing people's life, without a strong presence of peace and harmony. Our recent Social Unrest history—1998-2003—gives a potent example of what happens when basic peace is absent.
But most recently The Basic Life's peace, harmony and tranquillity got a severe jolt. A major part of any kind of peacefulness depends upon the proper working of the police, court and prison systems. Tamper with any one of these vital three pillars of a well run society and watch peacefulness fly out the window.
This is what happened last month when a government minister, although properly sentenced by the courts to more than 2 years of prison, was then set free with only a 'slap on the wrist' by some other government body. A major pillar of society which underpins The Basic Life had been trashed. Our court system has been made to look powerless—one set of laws for most citizens but another kind of law for the 'high and mighty'!
The second part of The Good Life are governments fulfilling their work to supply basic human services—strong education patterns,, working medical facilities and infrastructure projects—which the vast majority of citizens need for their well being.
Yet, SIDT's 8 Report Cards, dating all the way back to 1989, regularly show how the small people of our country fail the governments of the day for falling down on the job of adequately providing citizens with quality education, strong medical attention and a minimum of infrastructure projects.
Malaita farmers, for example, are constantly begging government to repair damaged, water logged roads. Our one and only referral hospital in Honiara has four operating theatres but is limited to two of them which actually work. Recently the Government earmarked $24 million for overseas students education but not a penny is allocated for Adult Education. And the list goes on and on!
The third leg of The Good Life idea is the chance for ordinary people to gain modest amounts of cash through the sale of their market goods, copra, cocoa, timber, fish, etc. Fortunately, most of our people work hard to make a success of this part. Local shipping agents supply the boats, truck owners do much the same and there is a strong network of local farmers—read women—who regularly feed Honiara's 70,000 population on a daily basis. Locally owned and operated busses and taxis take care of the travel needs of town dwellers.
If these three pillars—peace, government supplying services and people securing modest amounts of money—are allowed to flourish for a few years, then the big 'D' word could start to be used once again. At present, however, the big 'D' word is at best a distraction and at worst a way of fooling people.
Monday, February 14, 2011
15 February 2011
Egypt's 80 million people have been shouting at us lately. Local TV, radio and newspapers are filled with their recent happenings. In fact that country is sending warning signals out to many others not only in the Arab part of the world but to many other nations as well.
Many nations—Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, etc.—are seriously taking note of the Egyptian events and studying closely what it means for them and their leaders. If the mighty could fall and so quickly, what does that say to other nations, smaller and less oppressive.
Over the past three weeks, Egyptian youth startled the world. Basically, in non-violent ways—thousand-people marches, camping out in public spaces, chanting and singing—they have managed to topple a dictator of 40 years, send him and his family packing and put on notice that the high and mighty military as well, to follow its lead or face the same rejection.
All this political turmoil happened without a gun in sight, a bullet fired—at least not from the protestors but only from those desperate to hang on to power, privilege and wealth. The youth involvement showed People's Power at its best. Yes it was a close call. Certainly and definitely dangerous since people had no guarantee that the military wouldn't mow them down like so much grass. But their freedom and liberty was worth it and so they stared down the military and more importantly, the dictator and his cronies.
These youth, society's poor, had little hope of securing meaningful jobs although blessed with many years of education and in many cases much better than their parents ever had. The old Egyptian regime had grown brutal, even murderous. However, the one area where the youth were strongest—the use of the computer, Twitter, cell phone—were the tools they used to topple the Old Guard.
Many times those at the top of the political ladder—cabinet, parliamentarians, civil servants, lobbyists, the Old Guard-- can hardly make their way around the simplest of computer programs much less harness its power to enhance their everyday political lives.
Youth on the other hand pressed home their advantage. They organized marches, talked to each other over cell phones and kept messaging hundreds and hundreds of their followers on a minute by minute schedule. The Old Guard worked on the out dated theory that if the media was controlled and directed then those opposing the regime would find it hard to do anything meaningful against it.
How wrong they were! In less than a month, thousands and thousands of Egyptian youth had out foxed, out smarted and out flanked the powers of the state which the Old Guard thought was unbeatable.
But is the Egyptian scenario saying anything to us sitting in 'far away' Solomons? First of all we are not 'far away' at all! TV, radio and the print media bring local youth into the international picture quite quickly. Secondly, the Egyptian youth's situation—poor, unable to get jobs, representing society's largest sector, better educated than their parents—are currently duplicated here in these islands as well.
No, fortunately, the murderous, repressive regime housed in Cairo is far from anything here in the Solomons. However, our youth are terribly upset to be experiencing first-hand the non-governance antics of the present government and opposition. Many youth ask themselves: What can we be doing to get our nation out of this mess? Does the Egyptian event have lessons we too should be learning?
Is the no-confidence vote the only, it certainly is not the best way, of resolving our disagreements? Can't 25 level-headed, fair minded Parliamentarians be found to lead the nation out of its impasse, work together to better the country and lead the majority of its poor people to prosperity?
Thursday, February 3, 2011
2 February 2011
Over the past 33 years of Solomons political history—1978-2011—the nation has experienced 14 changes in central government leadership. On average, then, during more than three decades of our nation's political history, the leadership changes have been occurring at a frightening rate. Buy lately the pace of instability has grown worse, not better!
In our first 22 years—1978-2000--, the rate of PM change, although unacceptable, was at a much slower pace: only 8 major leadership changes. But during this newest millennium the change-pace has picked up considerably. In the 2000-2010 period, for instance, the rate of a new leaders taking the reign of government has climbed to 6 but all of this happened during a much shorter time frame: eleven years.
This kind of major overhauling of our top leaders indicates severe instability in our government system. On average, then, during our first 22 years of political history, each PM and his cabinet served approximately 33 months running the country.
Now in the 2000-2010 period, only half the years of our initial period, we have witnessed six changes of the top leaders. A PM's time to run the country has dropped from 33 months to 19 on average. There is a distinct possibility that there could soon be another shift in the PM who currently leads the country.
While our political class 'fiddles while Rome burns', however, the rank and file of the nation, the backbone of the country, the villager, is filled with life and is hardly waiting for members of Parliament to get their act together.
Our current mobile phone revolution is an example. This silent revolution, not in their ring tones, of course, are seemingly everywhere—not merely with the town's elite and business class but in Honiara's many suburbs and hamlets, villagers in Are'are, Kwaio,, Makira highlands, Isabel coastal places, etc. etc.—has quietly been transforming the nation's communications scene.
It seems that having and using a mobile phone has become more important than food. If a choice must be made between 'topping up' the mobile or buying a packet of fish and chips, often the mobile wins out. Solomon Islanders' need to talk, to keep in touch, to be part of the 21st Century. That is why the mobile phone business grows by leaps and bounds.
But the mobile phone revolution by the masses is but one aspect of a changing Solomons. Notice the number of students clamouring to enter universities and secondary schools. Their thirst for higher education is somewhat like the mobile phone revolution. People are not to be denied and will squeeze themselves in whenever and where ever possible.
I mention these two different major changes which currently shape the modern Solomons. Shouldn't our political class be thinking along this same line and get in step. Game playing, press statements and public antics rather than real leadership qualities reflect times gone by—the late 20th Century—and are a far cry from what our people need and demand.
Just as in the Social Unrest years—1998-2003—it was the so-called uneducated, inexperienced and politically powerless—that kept the nation glued together in spite of the political elites poor performance. So too now we are having a re-run of People Power who look in dismay at our current leaders. Basically, it is our small people who are saying to our political leaders: 'Shape up or Ship out!
Thursday, January 27, 2011
27 January 2011
Recently, the Solomon Islands Taxi Association proposed a serious hike in taxi rates . . . more than 40% above the present one of $7.00 per kilometre. SITA members are asking the travelling public to start paying $10 per kilometre at the beginning of February this year.
Certainly the rapid rise in fuel costs both petrol and diesel has forced taxi owners to review their cost structure and they feel the public must bear these new cost increases. However, it would be most re-assuring if other South Pacific nation's capital cities taxi costs were included in their discussions. How does Honiara compare to Port Vila, Suva, Moresby and other cities in taxi costs?
Is Honiara once again leading other Pacific cities as it does in the costs of telecommunications, electricity, water, etc. services? Fuel costs across the Pacific have gone up dramatically! Honiara is not alone in feeling the costs of higher transportation fuels. But have other taxi services across the Pacific asked their public to shoulder a more than 40% increase in one hit? Please, SITA do some basic homework, find out what other Pacific nations are paying and share the info with us.
But as important as the proposed rate hike is to the Taxi Association is, there are other areas of public concern which could be worked on and which would be a great help to Honiara's riding public. Let me share these concerns with you, how the Taxi Association could bring to the minds of the nine groups which are currently running the taxi service.
Although most taxi drivers do their best to make their cabs clean both inside and out, there are just too many vehicles which are not passing the test. It certainly is heartening to see the many taxis lining up along the cemetery road, getting washed down and teams of women brushing and cleaning out the interior of these cabs. But this cleaning station, unfortunately, is too often the exception. An increase in basic taxi fares should also mean a cleaned up and neat inside and out of every taxi as well.
DRIVER DRESS CODE
The taxi itself well might look in mint condition—clean, shinny, neat—but if the driver is dressed more like a Hollywood extra for a pirate movie, what kind of a reception is that?. His headgear has all the trappings of a bright flag wrapped around the head, his shirt would well be advised to be introduced to hot water and soap while his trousers are in need of patches in a number of areas.
Perhaps we in Honiara have grown used to such 'pirate' dress but believe me the overseas visitor comes with different expectations. At Henderson Airport, for example, where more than 90% of people visiting the Solomons for the first time come into the country, visitors need to be reassured by taxi cab drivers who are carefully dressed and driving cabs which not only look respectable but are truly inviting.
Of course before a taxi is legally allowed to travel our roads, it must pass the safety requirements issued by government. It's system of checking on the good working order of breaks, tires, signal, etc. of any vehicle before allowing it to work our roads, needs help from the Taxi Association as well.
Road safety calls not only for safe cabs, but more importantly, the taxi drivers themselves must be screened as well. The raw ability to steer a car, work the gears and step on the break is not sufficient training for drivers who are allowed to pick up passengers and are expected to transport them from A to B safely.
It is here where the Taxi Association could play a pivotal part in making taxi travel not only pleasurable but most importantly, safe. If the proposed taxi fare increase could also guarantee a cleaner vehicle, neater driver but most importantly a more competent and careful driver, then the increase of fare would be more than worth it. It's a two way street: fare increase must also mean cleaner, neater and safer taxis trips.