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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Learn to unpackage CODE words!

J. Roughan
6 April 2011
Every language in the world uses CODE words. These are words which have more than one meaning. On one level, the meaning of a word is clear but it may carry other meanings. For instance, when I first arrived in the Solomons, people would might say that someone was a trouble maker. In my mind such a word meant what it said; the person labelled a trouble maker was making life difficult for people in the community. . . gossiping, showing public anger, fighting, etc. It did not cross my mind that this was really a CODE word, a shorthand way of saying that the person was sexually active and causing trouble among people sexually.  
Political life is also filled with CODE words .It would be most useful for citizens to unpackage these words to make sure all of us--politicians as well as the ordinary citizen--mean the same thing when we use them. No good that our servants, the Members of Parliament, mean something different when they speak in Parliament and what we the citizens of the country think they mean.
Take for instnace the word Budget. Over the last three weeks and probably for another two weeks more, Parliamentarians will discuss the Budget, a vital document which determines where and how the nation's money will be spent. Perhaps it would be worth while to once and a while rather than referring to this vital document as a Budget, it be called the people's money! 
Once the Budget word is unpacked and opened up to its fuller meaning, then Solomon Islands citizens begin to realize how important the Budget debate is for the whole nation and for their own lives. Thus, the current Parliamentary discussion on the 2011-2012 $2.2 Billion  is all about your and my money, not some financial numbers belonging to someone else. Citizens become extra watchful when someone other than themselves talk about and debate how their money will be used.
But there are other words, too often left unpackaged, which would do well if the whole nation takes the time and effort of looking inside the word and see what they find there. A favorite word of our political leaders is development. It's so used these days that it's basically lost its real meaning. Suppose rather than using the word development one would substitute the word people's well being.  So that everytime a citizen hears the word development, it would be replaced by the words people's well being.
Forcing our political leadership and those running the government to use the well being word in their speeches and tok tok, then much of  development discussion wouldn't make the grade. Can you imagine speaking of Casinos in terms of well being!  However, when Casinos were first introduced into this country, a number of politicians spoke glowingly about them being some sort of development. 
And of course the politician's favorite CODE word is rural development. Imagine if people of this nation insisted that the political elite drop using their favorite CODE word and start talking about villager well being instead. Priorities would begin to change! The services of quality education would happen, working and adequately staffed and resourced clinics would stand out, necesssary and repaired road infrastructure would be normal, etc. Service to people not things would be uppermost in the minds of decision makers.
But to accomplish this mind-set change, requires a recognition where the nation's strengths really reside. Of course a place like Honiara is necessary but far more important to the Solomons is the village which caters for more than 8 out of 10 of our people live their lives. As was written in this space two weeks ago, the rural numbers are going to remain pretty much unchanged for a long, long time to come. There is no head-long drive to live in the Solomons urban centres. No, the vast majority of our people still prefer to reside in the village and even though there is a slow drift to Honiara, for instance, our people still prefer their resource rich village life rather than any barren urban centre.
Part of people's preference to village living is the fact that that's where they get their daily kai kai, housing material, wood for their power needs, etc. So often when decision makers use the  agriculture word they use it as a CODE word meaning cash crops--cocoa, oil palms, coconut, timber, etc. Rarely does it spell out the backbone of the country's major strength, gardening. Of course once gardening is thought of we are really speaking about women and their contribtuion to the nation's well being.
And that kind of thinking comes near to the actual reason why our decision makers, political elites and politicians prefer to use CODE words . . . to hide behind the reality that is Solomon Islands. The nation is made up of an equal and competent number of people called women. Until that basic reality is accepted then the nation will continue to limp, be prone to violence and lack drive. Unpackage words, see what they are saying underneath and begin to use better descriptions of reality to make sure our nation grows and prospers for all.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Parliament needs- to catch up!

J. Roughan
1 April 2011

These past seven months, the months between the August national election until today, have not been light and sweet for the members of Parliament. Unfortunately, many of the missteps, difficulties and bad press have been of its own making. Members jumped from one side to another, from Government to the Opposition one week only to see the very same member jumping back to Government once again. Parliament's public image has taken a severe knock. People's respect and confidence in this institution has been badly shaken.  
Describing Members conduct to 'grasshopping' presents a false reading as if all this political meandering was being done to show a clear direction or purpose. What it did do, however, was to show that some members did not have sure and clear principles except what would benefit them personnally. Their actions had little to do with the people of the constituency.
Now, somehow citizens of the nation are suppose to forget all about this unseemly conduct, somehow put it all aside and take this week's House's deliberations on the Budget as the real face of Parliament. That's a big ask!
With so many serious problems face the nation--deep and persistent youth unemployment rates, few Adult Education programs, difficulty of women's entry into Parliament, falling behind in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, round tree logging coming to an  abrupt end, etc. etc.--the last thing the nation needed or wanted was to witness some Parliament members putting themselves first above  national interest.  
The present government--Philip's National Coalition of Rural Advancement--has basically wasted 7 months in office fighting off the Opposition and finding it difficult to create unity among its own members. Historically, at least in the period between 1978-2000 a new government enjoyed   only 33 months on average in office before being ousted in a motion of no confidence.. It's gotten worse, in this the newest millennium--2000-2011--, a Prime Minister's time in office has fallen from 33 months to 19 months on average.
If this proves true to the present NCRA government, then, no matter how well thought out and ambitious its development plans are, it has at the best a year's grace before having to face a successful motion of no confidence. This reality is the country's basic political instablity. The Philip- led government, unfortunately, wasted its first 7 months in office with much in-fighting.
Now during the Budget debate Members must begin redeeming themselves in the eyes of people. Game playing, press statements and public antics rather than real leadership qualities only reflect the years gone by--the last century, for instance--and are a far cry from what our people need and demand.  
Members, however, are in an excellent position to begin redeeming themselves this time around. Parliament is currently working through a $2.2 billion budget. The easiest thing to do would be to merely accept ways of spending such a whopping amount of money without seriously thinking about the impact it has for our future. Take the Growth Centre idea, for instance. The basic thrust of Growth Centres is to enhance people's knowledge, advance understanding and share local wisdom and insights. 
A first step would be to set up a FM radio station in each constitunecy for the member to be in constant contact with his people, Closely following should be local research teams searching out the weaknesses and strengths of the constituency, shared out on the FM radio and through a monthly newsletter. Not far behind, Centres should be experimenting with better ways of using, storing and transporting local foods,  profitable ways of harvesting timber and bush products, employing youth supervised by local experts in building leaf houses, trying out solar lighting, etc. etc.  
Economics follows on a society's knowledge base. The cart doesns't come before the horse. When Japan became the second most powerful economy after the devasting destruction of World War II, it's knowledge base became the foundation of its economic miracle. There are no short cuts. Investment in Japan's economic miracle came when the outside world realized that although Japan had limited natural wealth--few minerals, no oil deposits--it did have a well educated, eager population. Isn't it about time that our own majority--the 83% rural population--have a bite of the apple and not limit growth to the urban centre which has so disappointed the nation?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Villagers latest message:"We're staying home!"!

J. Roughan
23 March 2011

The Solomons latest Census--December 2009--could be published within the next month or so. This is an important public document, not only  to help government plan future national growth and prepare the country for the next ten years or so but for Solomon Islanders themselves to know where the nation is headed and how to prepare for a future different from the one we now live in.
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 
                                                                              1976                             12%
                                                                              1989                             16%
                                                                              1999                             16%
                                                                               2009                             17%
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

Jobs, Jobs and more Jobs! But what kind of jobs?

J. Roughan
16 March 2011
Government leaders in countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, etc. are currently kicking themselves for not acting well and strongly over these past few years. Their youth, especially those who have been out of meaningful employment for years now, have taken to the streets, are rebelling and actually destroying the old government structures. Within a twinkling of an eye, these so-called poor, frightened and powerless young people have ousted national leaders many of whom have dominated the political scene for more than 30 and 40 years. 
Other nations in the Middle-East--Suadi Arabia, Yemen--as well as those further afield--China, Zimbabwe--are pushing their own panic buttons. Yes, local corruption, growing poverty levels and mis-rule have contributed to the weaknesses of these countries governing systems but at the core, youth's lack of sufficient and proper job opportunities, lie at the heart of their troubles. 
Our own young people are also feeling the pain. They have spent years in the classroom, some have already gained an undergraduate degree, but meaningful paid employment escapes them. It's a cruel joke to offer them work which asks them to swing a bush knife, pick up paper and plastics and stuff the rubbish into old copra sacks. It's not that this kind of work is beneath them but an insult to their training, years of study and hard work. They can swing a bush knife as well as any one, clean Honiara's streets and roads but a youth doesn't need a degree or a Form 7 certificate to perform such tasks.
The face of today's youth job market must be the kind that can pull the nation out of its deep information/education poverty gap. For instance, although the last two national governments spoke glowingly and had public signings of villagers allowing their precious land holdings to be converted into palm oil plantings or opening up new overseas shipping ports, nothing has gotten off the ground. Of course land disputes are part of the problem but Olos Adult Education classes, for instance,  where these issues should be discussed, argued over and worked on are simply non-existent.
I go back to my 1980 days when SIDT began operating throughout many of the nation's provinces. For almost 30 years now, SIDT's emphasis has been to "Strengthen the quality of village living" which called for 230 part-time village animators who conducted hundreds of village level "Development Education" workshops, 13 full time provincil coordinators, 14 office staff who published bi-monthly LINK magazines, featured two touring theatre teams (one for men and another for women), ran an Eco-forestry team and finally an admin group which ran the organization.
Some of these workers have been with the orgnization for more than 20 years, extending SIDT's original work patterns and creating new ones like Radio Reachout, Restorative Justice Programs and others. The point in all this is to show a way where new, exciting and fulfilling work, jobs and employment opportunities can root.
With the present government's acceptance of the Growth Centre idea (Not economic Growth Centres, please! That's something else!) in many constitutencies with an emphasis on becoming communication hubs,.services locales, research teams base and FM radio broadcast spot then these information/education realities would attract investments. They would also become powerful magnets for youth's need for new and an expanding job market. Investments follow the information/education pattern!  
Growth Centres, as was SIDT's experience, act as job creators and most importantly, such jobs would not be found in urban centres but in rural areas where more than 80% people currently live. A distinct strength of rural job creation over ones created in the urban area is that part-time employment becomes a real option. The SIDT experience employed many part time workers because living in one's home village meant no monthly rents, the use of local foods, no water, power or transport bills on pay day. Although a village-based SIDT worker earned about $150 monthly, at the end of the month, he/she had almost the entire pay packet as disposable income. The urban cousin, on the other hand, earning more than $500 monthly, found that far less of his pay packet belonged to him/her since rent, electricity, water, food and transport expenses ate into the monthly income. In reality, then, the urban worker could count $100 of his $500 monthly salary as disposable income.
For social stability, youth must find worthwhile work in today's world. The Middle-East nations are learning this basic lesson the hard way. Our own nation need not go down that path if the present government remains true to the Growth Centre concept and places communication/ education with the highest priority. Failure to do so or to count on grass cutting, rubbish removal and clean up work as the best and only job for our educated youth will work against our national interests.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

RAMSI in photos! Only half the story?

J. Roughan
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

MDGs are everyone's business!

J. Roughan
3 March 2011

At the beginning of our brand new century, Solomon Islands as well as many other nations across the world vowed to do something clear, precise and do-able to reduce poverty, address major health issues and, in general, help the small people of the world become healthier and to live better and longer lives. In other words, produce a fairer world for all!
The 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDG), as they came to be known, were worked on by world leaders to reduce severe pockets of poverty, to help the weakest members of society to a better life and to produce a fairer world. These goals were carefully crafted so that the poorest nation in the world could achieve many of these goals within a context of each individual country..
And what makes the MDGs especially powerful is that each and every nation promised to do these great things by 2015 . . . five years from now. But this year--2011--is crunch year! Nation after nation is required to examine itself: How well have these 8 MDGs been achieved, how many are still do-able within the target date and how many are way off target?
In our own country, for instance, we are on target to achieve two goals--reduce infant/child mortality and improving maternal health. Six other goals are either in the 'worri worri' basket--underachievement in universal primary education, fighting malaria, AIDS and TB and reducing  poverty. However, we are currently way off the mark when it comes to empowering women and protecting our environment.
We have less than 5 years to hit our targets! The next few years are critical! What the nation is saying: most of our people are being left behind, the lives of thousands of them are wasted and the health of the whold nation lies in balance. The rebellion in Near-East countries--Egypt, Lybia, Tunesia. etc.--cry out to the rest of the world: Either all lives must be built up or in the long run, no life is protected. Colonel Gaddafi is currently learning this painful lesson in his own country, Lybia..
Solomon Islands' government's track record for raising people's quality of life since 1989 has been poor. That is how long SIDT"s Report Cards have been measuring people's responses to the governments of the day.  Over a 21 year period, then, government after government has proven themselves in capable of reaching out to the bulk of its people to produce quality education, adequate medical service, people's resource assistance and for people to earn modest amounts of money. These are all MDGs! 
If the nation is to successfully achieve its MDGs' goal by 2015, then a new working model must be created. Government, on its own has proven incapable of pulling it off. It needs nelp--organized, nation-wide and commitment.
First of all the largest and best organized and long standing structure--the country's many Churches--must be involved in a far deeper and more sustained way than they have been in the past. Each of them have a deep vested interest in having their own people's lives bettered. Which group, then, would be more than interested to see the whole nation not only reach the MDGs goals but surpass them?
But all the good will in the world is simply not enough! The private sector--large businesses (the banking establishment, communications giants, major and minor wholesale and retail houses)--must be part of the mix as well. After all, all their profits and business success, depends upon the very people who are the MDG focus. Without these small people, then each and every Solomons business enterprise would be forced to close up shop and head for the exits.   
According to a business' yearly turnover it should connect with a number of individual villages. A large business enterprise, for instance, should connect with two to three villages in each province while a smaller business house would connect with a single village in two provinces. This plan does not speak about sponsoring or financially supporting such villages but to enage with villagers to become more involved with the whole concept of what the MDGs are all about. These connections would be done through provincial authorities, churches themselves and the NGO sector.
Solomon Islands is a nation of villages! In past years and even in the present, the Solomons has been viewed as two nations: Honiara and a few provincial centres and the rest, about 85% of the population. This unfortunate state of affairs must cease for the good of all. Those with the most to loose must work at the forefront to change things for the better for the majority. If not, then the country will be known for its poverty rather than the Good Life.

Human rights security and peace!

J. Roughan

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?

Forget the big 'D' word! Focus on The Basic Life

J. Roughan

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

Egypt is telling us something!

J. Roughan  

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

Solomons Society and Political Life

J. Roughan

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

It's a two way street, gentlemen!

 J. Roughan

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.




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.

A second coup?

J. Roughan
19 January 2011
In June 2000 the nation suffered its first and until most recently its only coup. Misguided leaders of the time thought that by using the business end of guns, they could overnight right many long standing injustices, correct government shortcomings and gain a bit of loot for themselves on the side. Yes, that Civilian Coup certainly did achieve results, most of them destructive--dozens of Weather Coast killings, torture, house burnings, hundreds of displaced villagers, rapes, bitterness, etc. The Coup left the nation reeling in misery for the better part of 5 years. 
In the minds of most of our people the Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 seemed to be on the way out and heading for a happy landing. RAMSI had been invited in and now into its 8th year of presence, it seemed that the idea of people taking the law into one's hands and doing things the 'bush way' was slowly on the way out. But, unfortunately, last week's events put a stop to such thinking!
Last week's shady and underhanded way of freeing a self confessed criminal--James Lusibaea--from a court ordered prison sentence must go down in the nation's short history as another kind of coup. The 2000 Coup had focused its attention on the elected government of the day. It forced the Ulufa'alu Government, for instance, to vacate office and the Coup Masters installed a new one, something more in tune with its understanding of how a  'proper' government should act.
Of course rarely do such results come about the way we plan them! What the Solomons actually received, however, was a destructive social situation as stated above--killings, unrest, burnings, etc. What then can we expect from this, the latest of Coups, this one against the nation's court, justice and prison systems. The Law of Unanticipated Consequences, much like happened after the 2000 coup, will now darken our future. 
In the 2000 Civil Revolt, for instance, few Coup Leaders expected such dreadful consequences that occurred on Guadalcanal, parts of North Malaita, in the Western Province and a few other places. They were convinced that they would be able to contain most evil deeds because they alone had gun-power which they were ready to use. But once a group of poorly trained leaders think they know best, have guns at hand  to enforce their plans but are not truly formed by time-tested principles of good behavior, then all kinds of unintended evil begin to root in society. 
The recent Lusibaea Saga will bring about its own serious consequences. One of the first things that will hit us is the drying up of investment monies to the country. What international business house, corporation or individual won't be thinking twice about sinking serious money into a country where a small group of political elite play so loosely with court convicted criminals. Already many outside investors are running for the exits taking their monies to other shores where the return on investments is as good as here but where the Rule of Law actually operates for all in a fair and transparent way.
But of course the drying up of much needed investment monies will become the least difficulty because of this Justice and Prison Coup. What's far more serious, as actually happened in the 2000 Coup, are the social and community fall outs. The nation, some now believe, operates two kinds of justice. If a criminal doesn't agree with the way the present court system works, then he will get cronies to mount a campaign of intimidation, pressure weak politicians to bend to their will and have their man out on the streets once again. This can happen no matter how serious the crime committed.
If there are two criminal systems at work, the clever, well connected criminal, will opt for the easier way out. What criminal wants to spend years behind bars, deprived of freedom and live a strict life under supervision when with a bit of creativity freedom can be once again available. 
We in the Solomons are fond of practicing the strange doctrine of 'charity to one at the injustice to the many'. Mr. Lusibaea's freedom has been bought at a huge cost--placing in danger the well being of our society. Just like the 2000 Coup, a few dozen leaders and their cronies had convinced themselves that their way would be best for all. When the dust of the 2000 Coup finally settled, it became crystal clear that the majority of our people had become worse off, dozens of them dying in the process, while only a handful of coup leaders ever faced the courts for their attempt to destroy the nation for their own greedy purposes. 

Living on borrowed time!

When a tsunami, cyclone or earthquake hits the country, there is little the nation can do until the event plays itself out on our shores. We can just hope for the best! Have we prepared ourselves and the community well enough--heading for higher pieces of land, stocking up on food, water and other necessities, planning for temporary shelter, etc. etc? In other words, many natural disasters can and must be prepared for. Leaving everything to the last minute is a recipe for a greater disaster.
J. Roughan
13 January 2011

However, there are some disasters which are rarely forecasted on the radio or written about in newspapers. These are what we can call the 'silent disasters' which have a habit of sneaking up on us and literally killing many in a community. One such disaster has already claimed dozens and dozens of lives PNG and in this new year has already sickened almost 300 sick people in Port Moresby. It has an excellent chance of hitting us here as well. It's the cholera epidemic! 
In Haiti, for instance, more than 3,000 people have already died from the cholera epidemic which hit that poor island after the devastating earthquakes of January 2010. Its an epidemic that is far from over and the country is bracing itself for many more of its citizens to die. PNG recently received a helping hand from mainland China with a gift of several hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight this disease.
Cholera, a highly infectious disease features watery diarrhea, vomiting and cramps which can lead to death within hours especially among young children. One of the best preparations against this kind of disaster getting a foothold in groups of people is plenty of clean water, proper sanitation and taking care of solid waste. These are the very things that Honiara and most villages are in terribly short supply.
Honiara's new city council's top priority is to increase the salaries of its workers. That is a solid idea since many of Honiara's longest serving workers find themselves at the bottom end when it comes to monthly salaries. But not far from that payment priority must be doing something about the city's poor public health track record over the past ten years. Truly Honiara's citizens 'live on borrowed time'! 
Anyone staying in town has a first hand knowledge of the shocking state of our water supply. Add to that serious health condition is the fact that the Solomons only city does not have a single public toilet, its record on collecting rubbish from its 70,000 inhabitants has been dismal and its handling of solid waste leaves much to be desired. Each of these serious problems acts as an open invitation to the cholera disease to take hold and produce a lethal epidemic which would certainly overpower No. 9's ability to stop it. 
Currently we are sitting in the midst of a 'silent disaster' which could hit us at any moment. Cyclones, floods, earthquakes, etc. are beyond our  power to stop. All we can do is make the damage they will cause a bit less by proper preparation. But a disaster like cholera is some thing quite different. We can actually stop this disease in its tracks, before it has a chance to take hold, not by hoping for miracles, but by strengthening the basics of ordinary city life: insure a clean, abundant water supply, pick up people's rubbish on a daily basis and take care of the city's solid waste..
But one of the greatest defenses against a killer disease like cholera, however, has been totally forgotten by Honiara authorities for more than 10 years now. It is the city's duty to take care of human waste, to have a number of public toilets scattered around the town. Currently I know not a single public toilet that is working anywhere in town. 
Of course public toilets are an expensive proposition! People don't use them correctly. They waste too much water! City workers don't want to have anything to do with cleaning them! Etc, etc. Public toilets don't come cheaply. But try cholera! See how cheap that is. PNG has already lost dozens and dozens of its citizens to this dreaded disease which is preventable.
Please read what I'm proposing to Honiara's newest elected members to plan to do in this matter of public toilets in my column next week. Can the city make public toilets less expensive, in fact, a money spinner? What is your answer to the fact that we are 'living on borrowed time!'

A Dual Development strategy!

J. Roughan
6 January 2011
Every new year gives the Solomons a chance to write up a new page in our short history. A chance of starting over once again! To review what hasn't been working for us over past years and start doing certain things differently. After all, a fair definition of mental madness is to insist on doing the same action over and over again and expect a different outcome.
Each and every Solomons government, from its earliest days in power, has fervently preached the development message. Once in power, so  each successive government solemnly promises, people's development will be first and foremost on its mind. In fact, the word development is never far from its lips, it fills their programs of action documents and directs policy statements. Yet, when it falls out of power or is voted out of office after a few years, little is seen at ground level of any kind of development.
And people are well aware of this profound shortcoming and know all about this failure in their very bones. That is why they currently cry out for more and more of the constituency funding to go directly to them and not get lost in politicians' pockets. People's reasoning is clear, simple yet persuasive! For almost 33 years now millions and millions--at this writing development funding has already grown to BILLIONS--have been  handed over to parliamentarians, given to government ministries and spread among provinces and State owned Enterprises but the country has little development to show for the tons and tons of money so generously showered on them.
It has become so common that the ordinary citizen now thinks that development can only come about if and when people themselves get direct funding for their projects. Government's position, in this kind of thinking, is seen as being an interested by-stander but it is the village man and woman as the main and major agents of change.
But it wasn't that way in the beginning! Not at all! In the nation's earliest days--1978-1984--for instance, the governments of the day started their development plans off in the traditional way: enhance medical coverage, strengthen and extend educational opportunities, assist villagers with their agricultural production and help people earn modest amounts of income from small businesses, sales of produce and employment.
However, when Namu Cyclone hit us (1986), political thinking began to change radically.. It became clear to many leaders, our political masters and moneyed individuals that the traditional development strategies would take many, many years to accomplish, cost millions of dollars to  bring about and those very leaders would no longer be around to gain credit for the up turn and progress of the masses.
There had to be a quicker and more local way to bring about this fundamental development change. The answer to their problem was literally staring them in the face: invite southeast Asian loggers to harvest the nation's tree wealth so that millions of dollars would flow into the country. Such a profound money injection would allow the state to gain millions of dollars of revenue almost painlessly and with that money in hand, real development would begin in earnest. There would be no need to beg for donor money any longer since our round tree log exports would supply the necessary funding.
Many political leaders saw few negatives coming from such a great plan. None of them, for instance, realized that by 2015 the forests which were covering the Solomons at the time--1987-2000--would almost completely disappear from our shores. But even worse, society's social fabric would lie in tatters. Our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 are directly linked to this disastrous decision of allowing strangers from afar basically steal our tree wealth during the years following Cyclone Namu. 
It was during this period that citizens came to the conclusion that development--lifting up the majority of our people out of poverty by bettering their living conditions--would best be undertaken by the people themselves. Government had become less and less interested in raising the quality of people's lives.. SIDT's Report Cards, for instance, published since 1989, more than a twenty-year period--detailed how governments of the day consistently scored failing grades when it came to lifting its people out of poverty and strengthening their quality of life.
Those 8 Report Cards allowed small people of the nation a chance to measure how well or poorly their government was doing when it came to better medical attention, a stronger school system, assistance to people's cash cropping activities and garden production and the availability of ways to gain modest amounts of money. Unfortunately, in each and every Report Card people failed the governments of the day in their efforts to raise the quality of people's lives.
That is why the nation is witnessing a strange dual development strategy: people seeking funding for small projects to raise their quality of life while government busies itself with other concerns: foreign affairs, the state of the economy, large infrastructure projects, e.g. Tina Hydroelectric scheme, etc. etc.  Until government makes the people of this nation it's number one priority, then all its other works will come to nothing.

But it didn't happen here!

J. Roughan
29 December 2010

2010 was one of our best years in a long while! Compared to what happened to us during our Social Unrest Years (1998-2003) and the 2007 Tsunami we did quite well this year. Not that 2010 was perfect but what didn't happen to our country and what could have taken place plus what actually did take place made 2010 a year not easy to forgot! And especially to thank God for!
Just take a few natural catastrophes that struck the rest of the world but almost completely passed us by. In January this year, for instance, the poor people of Haiti were hit by a massive earthquake which killed more than 270,000 in a matter of days. Your heart would have to be stone not to be moved by all the pain, suffering and death that's still happening on this small Caribbean island. How fortunate Solomon Islands has been over the years that a similar earthquake hasn't hit us. What grace worked on our behalf to have been spared such a fate?
No two countries, of course, are exactly alike but some do come off being quite similar. Haiti, although on the other side of the world from us, sits on its own 'ring of fire'--earthquake zone--as we do, both of us are island nations of almost the same land mass dimensions: Haiti has 10,700 sq. miles while Solomons is 11,100 sq. miles. Haiti's land mass, however, is basically a single large island while our country is broken up into major and minor island groupings.
The similarity of social indicators for both countries, however, is striking. Both boast of huge youth populations under 15 years of age--Haiti, 38%, Solomons, 41%; life expectancy for both is low--Haiti, 57, Solomons, 62; there's little difference in Gross Domestic Product numbers:  Haiti, $1,300, Solomons, $1,900; and both have a Human Development Index (a way of measuring economic and social well-being) scores  that are almost the same: Haiti, .521, Solomons, .591. The biggest difference between Haiti and ourselves is population. The Caribbean nation has 20 times our number (almost 10 million) while we have only recently hit the 500,000 mark.
Had Haiti's devastating earthquake hit us much the same suffering, pain and death would have been our lot for sure. Yet, our Guardian Angles were working overtime to spare us that suffering. Even the destructive forces of other natural disasters, Pakistan's floods, for instance, were ours but on a very minor scale. Guadalcanal's northeast corner was hammered in March and April this year by torrential rains but nothing in comparison to those of the East Asian continent.
Our biggest blessings of the year, however, were on the social side of things. We experienced a national election--the 8th one so far--that went off without a major hitch. Overseas observers as well as local and domestic observers were pleased with our people's conduct. Such an accomplishment is a major step in the country's political maturing which many an African nation would give its back teeth to pull off.
At this very reading one African nation, Ivory Coast, is locked into two presidents, two prime ministers, each with separate cabinets. The country's national election went off smoothly enough but the losing candidate refused to gracefully accept defeat. Military action to get rid of the losing candidate is actively being considered. In the meantime, however, dozens of people lay dead and literally thousands are fleeing for their lives to neighboring countries for safety.   
Our own elections, on the other hand, went off like clock work and although some losing candidates did not fully agree with the final results, they didn't turn to the gun but went to the courts for an election review. Hopefully the misguided leaders of our Civilian Coup of 2000 have finally woken up to themselves and realize that the path of violence but breeds more violence and accomplishes very little in the way of social and political peace.
Even this year's severe international financial meltdown which brought so many nations, both big and small, to the brink of destruction was contained by our own institutions, leaders and traditions. The half-hearted Youth Riot which followed on the jailing of a government minister was quickly taken care of. Not only was the Chinese community wise in their way of protecting their stores--iron fences in front of a business as well as strong steel doors--but the police were quick off the mark to contain the few dozen rioting youth. There was no repeat of the 2006 Chinatown Burndown!
We as a nation can do little to change the course of a storm, stop an earthquake or to lessen torrential rains from hitting us. However, we do have much to say when it comes to caring for our social order. We can do one of three things. Leave it all up to God to make things better, try to do things completely on our own or finally, act in partnership with him. The last way, working in partnership with the Lord, is the way he has made the world to work. He doesn't interfere with us if we decide to take things into our own hands. These actions have a habit of self-destructing nor will he do things wholly on his own. But working with Him seems the best way to make good things happen. Perhaps in 2010 we were beginning to learn after all!  A peaceful and enjoyable New Year to all!

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 story.
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 for.
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.

A Solomons Stock Take!

J. Roughan
16 December 2010

Successful business people, to keep their enterprises healthy, normally conduct an-end-of-the-year Stock Take. The business owner--counts  what hasn't been sold over the year as well as the business' money already in the bank--to see whether his business has been a profitable one, or still struggling to survive or worse, failing. We as a nation would be well advised to do much the same exercise and conduct our own Stock Take to see how well we as a people have been doing over the last ten years. 
Compared to the nation's first decade of the 21st century, the Solomons has started its second decade off strongly, well and most importantly we are a nation at peace with ourselves. Recall that the nation's first ten years in the 21st century was filled with major unrest and dislocation to our normal island life. For all intents and purposes, during the first few years of the present century, Solomon Islanders found themselves in the middle of conducting a war with itself, a Civil War.
The roots of that conflict were not hard to find. Leadership, especially our senior political leaders, were caught up with searching for easy, fast money. Governing the nation was put on auto-pilot, something best done on its own. One needs only remember the folly of the Tulagi Gold Dig, the Musingku's (Bouganiville's own conman) billion dollar scam, plans to bottle bush oxygen, senior ministers jetting off to the Far East for 'free money', etc. etc. It was no wonder that although these easy money schemes didn't on their own create the Social Unrest years, they certainly added fuel to an already raging fire of national discontent.  
Our 2000 Coup, years of Social Unrest--1998-2003--, RAMSI's on going presence since 2003, the 2006 national election with the Chinatown Burndown, the most recent 2010 national election and the Lusibaea court sentencing have left a series of deep scars in our people's minds and hearts. Not that the rest of the world outside these islands we call home, has been all that rosy and tranquil. Far from it! The world's events have had.too often, direct negative impact on our own island home--the Iraq invasion in March 2003, for instance, made it that much easier for other Pacific Island nations especially Australia, to jump into our lives with the hope of coming here to help us sort things out.
What international events, already afoot in the Big Outside World, will have serious impact on our own lives here in the Solomons over the next ten years or so?  There are many examples of world-wide breakdowns: the many financial crises in Ireland, Greece, Italy and France; the strained relations between China and Japan; the threat of war between North and South Korea; Vladimir Putin's warning of a Russian nuclear escalation; the nuclear build-up in Iran; the deteriorating peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians; the pervasive corruption in Iraq, Afghanistan; Wikileaks embarrassing world leaders, disrupting international relations, endangering lives, and threatening candid diplomacy.
These world events coupled with our own home grown pains and difficulties have a strong tendency to make our next ten years or so more, not less, difficult. That is why it is important for the nation to conduct its own Stock Take, figure out where our next set of major problems are coming from and prepare ourselves to cope with them. 
Not many nations like the Solomons get a second chance to re-invent themselves and end up in a positive position. Africa's Somalia remains a failed nation even after 20 years, Iraq and Afghanistan are in the middle of a nine year war with more years of unrest to follow, etc. Our economy, although not the strongest in the Pacific, still functions well for the Solomons half million people with months and months of overseas reserves to pay for the importation of food, energy and goods.
No, our difficulties will come from an other direction.Climate change, for instance, will test the nation to care for those village communities which will experience the strength of the ocean which surrounds us, Our poor of food security is another areas of concern and one which will test our strength to assist those people who may not be wantoks but certainly are citizens of the country and must be helped when the time comes. 
But the most pressing difficult we face is our unemployed, bored youth who have been at the forefront of each and every riot since 1989. Last month's unrest at the delayed Lusibaea's court case is an example. Whether the unrest is unleashed by swear words posted on a market stall (1989), a failed football game (1993) or a tainted national election (2006), the major actors in each and every riots have been our youth. They are expecting that the new government will create a youth cadre willing and able to help the nation in its infrastructure building or other works that pay modest amounts of money so they can do something useful for the nation.