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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.