CHANGES, CHALLENGES AND POLITICAL ADVENTURES

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VIEWPOINT

March 25, 2002

IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS!

By Trix

It was with mixed anxiety that Solomon Islanders embraced the newly formed government. One does not walk away from the confirmation of a new Prime Minister in quietness and apprehension. Quite on the contrary, there would often be scenes of jubilation by supporters and sympathizers. Yet when the election result announcing the new Prime Minster was made, around parliament many awaiting citizens quietly dispersed. Is there any reason to challenge this as an indication of the people’s reflection of the government leadership?

Since the new government appointment, there have been many voiced opinions about the top leadership. At the center has been the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister blamed for their misuse of the country’s finances, and corruption. The ubiquitous corruption scandals, poor financial control, threats by criminals with high powered guns, and exorbitant cash payouts run deep throughout politics in the Solomon’s, without any concealing attempts. These are become normal, part of everyday occurrences. Criminals totting guns are regular customers at the Ministry of Finance office, demand money for any thinkable and unthinkable reason, bleeding the country’s economy.

Lack of Law and Order

In October of last year, the killing of an IFM commander put relationships between the Malaitans and Guadalcanal militants at stake. However, the conflict now does not seem to be over land or territorial claims, but personal differences, such as paybacks for atrocities committed during the civil war, and criminal activities. There have been no arrests, if so botch arrests have not seen any of the murders brought to justice, yet the easing of tensions were brought about by the intervention of traditional diplomats – chiefs and elders calming their boys down.

Still there are ongoing killings of innocent peoples, where some murdered victims’ bodies are retrieved and many others unaccounted for and missing. Two constables from Guadalcanal were killed earlier this year. And Guadalcanal leaders still refuse to attend a peace conference unless the perpetrators of these ongoing heinous crimes are brought to justice. Still the criminals roam freely on the streets of the capital Honiara. Everyone knows who they are.

Earlier this month two Malaitans were killed in Western Province after they threatened citizens there. This incident brought about retaliation by the same criminal elements in Honiara against Western Province people, and really anyone with dark skin. Two were reportedly killed with many Western Province families threatened. Roadblocks were set up at the time, and still harassment and intimidation of innocent citizens continue. The question arises: in the first place what were the two Malaitans doing in Western Province, threatening the people there? And secondly when roadblocks were set up in Honiara, against whom were these set? Where were the perpetrators of the crime that resulted in the death of the two Malaitans? Clearly not in Honiara; it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out! Intimidation of other ethnic races and people of other provinces continues in Honiara, destruction, and daylight stealing of property. All other provinces are fed up with the criminals of Malaitan origin harboring in Honiara. Even law abiding Malaitan citizens are tired and ashamed of the ongoing unabated criminal activities. It is clearly there for everyone to see.

Recently the death of the New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands brought shockwaves across the region. Apparently the murder was not linked to a Solomon Islander; still this no indication that we are guiltless.

As a Solomon Islander I am totally ashamed at the increasing acts of bold violence and disrespect by criminals within Honiara. This is the second New Zealand citizen killed in the Solomon’s within the space of two months. The first victim being a construction worker on contract with Fletcher, a New Zealand based Construction Company. The accused of that crime, a Solomon Islander of Malaitan origin, is still at large, unaccounted for, and living freely on Malaita. Most stolen property, vehicles, and housing materials, basically anything that can be transported by boat is removed from Honiara to Auki, capital of Malaita. The later is becoming a harbor for criminal gangs running from Honiara. One thing is evident, law and order and the overall security issue is non-existent. Government seems to have no control, at least not within Honiara.

Principals at Stake

In an incident this year, the Minister of Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment, while intoxicated, assaulted a taxi driver at the main Honiara market. The incident being witnessed by many was reported in the media. Two days later armed men sent by the minister arrived at the media office responsible for the editorial, demanding compensation of SBD$ 5,000 (US$ 934). Although the editors tried to reason with the armed men as to why the incident was reported it was obviously futile. The editors then requested to see the minister, which was granted them. Thinking they were to be taken to the minister’s office, instead they were led to an industrial area, where to their shock the minister responsible was found drunk. And during working hours. The minister was not impressed with the media report and demanded the $5000 as compensation for embarrassing him as a government minister. The compensation was paid as threats were made to the media organization.

What has the government achieved in the first few months, its first 100 days? It is definitely not the founding of an administration that will salvage the country with stringent economic, political and social reform. Nor is it the taming of the political arena, where politicians are at bay, scrutinized and held responsible for any changes – better still accountable for their actions. Neither is it the restoration of law and order in a society that so desperately longs for it, but the mingling together and working of criminals and government leaders. How can the criminals be expect to be arrested when they and the leadership are one, operating in different spheres of influence? But the same, one cannot antagonize the other when they constitute the same group, with the government of the day making no concealments of their interaction with illegal elements of society! These are the leaders of the country; these are the ministers and caretakers of the nation voted in by trusting citizens – a Minister of Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment!

With this incident among many others, greater principals are evidently at stake. Notions that destroy the very essence of democracy and liberty, where freedom of expression with the individual having the right to voice an opinion is taken away. And in its place principals of the absorption of the individual, where there is total enslavement to the state or men in power (whether right or wrong). In any democratic government, or any government for which liberty is supreme, there is to be no intrusion into the freedom of expression nor authority, jurisdiction or right for which civil powers or individuals have over the opinions of others. And accordingly the press has freedom to express its opinions in the manner for which it views the facts. Hence in the matter of individual opinions as is the case of the media editorial run by this media company, each person is sole sovereign of their thoughts and ideas, and have the right to express them in whatever way. Taking that away, takes away the freedom and right of individuals, which is the case here.

Corruption and Greed

The economic crisis has long brewed within the country, due mainly to poor management, corrupt politicians, lack of transparency, and personal greediness.

As the ethnic crisis led to the closure of Ross Mining Ltd., and the palm oil plantation on Guadalcanal, this further crippled the government, which was already experiencing slumping economic problems. Not only were there loss of jobs, but a fall in the currency, transport problems, lack of goods and services affecting the whole country. Economic woes are really no stranger to the Solomons, and I do not wish to delve into this aspect – it is too obvious.

The previous government handed out absurdly large amounts of compensation payouts, trying to diffuse the conflict. Yet, as demands poured in, many genuine claimants that lost property missed out, as the so-called military leaders and government helped themselves to cash handouts from loans given mainly by Taiwan. And still these practices continue. The largest (by far) takers and beneficiary of the countries finances are the so-called law enforcement agencies, such as the police, (so-called) security personnel, and special constables composed of former militants and hard-line criminals.

 

A Culture of Asking & Taking

As a result of considerable amounts of compensation money payouts, a culture of "asking and taking" has emerged - thinking that there is considerable money out there, somewhere, where all one needs to do is tap it. And sadly this occurs with both the common people by continuously demanding money from the government, and the government repeatedly asking for money from foreign donors and basically anyone willing to give. As a matter of logic it is understood that anything borrowed, especially money, must be repaid – and with interest! Parameters must be in place to secure that financial returns are made. Yet many seemingly fail to see this simple logic. So besides the genuine compensation requests by families who’ve lost property, many untruthful people and many more former militants force some very queer demands for payments. What makes any normal person uneasy, is failing to understand the sheer acceptance and transparency to which these former militants parade the cash payments they receive. They are receiving what is clearly not theirs. They never earned it, they definitely don’t deserve it, but because of the guns they get what they want. This clearly disempowers other people, and continues a system pervaded by greed. The widespread social and economic ramifications are undeniable. Shame, shame, shame!

Current Movements

Unlike many other Pacific Island country’s, where people travel and migrate seeking better opportunities and jobs overseas, Solomon Islanders have close connections to family and ancestral lands. Migration and even working overseas is seldom heard of. However, recently there has been a marked change in movements, as migration flows and movements out of the country have increased. Those leaving have their reasons for going offshore, mainly due to lack of opportunities, some because of direct threats, others tired of the continued breeding of criminal activities, and corruption in government. Whatever their reasons, the fact is, professionals are leaving the country. Economic and social discontents have a habit of spreading and many have also left the capital, Honiara, to live in their respective provinces.

Within the professional field, many doctors and nurses and educators have left the country to seek better job opportunities elsewhere. Doctors leaving the country have caused cutbacks in services in the hospital. Some have been offered jobs in Australia and New Zealand, while most now work in health sectors in other Pacific Island countries.

Many have gone for further studies, pursing postgraduate and specialization studies. In Fiji alone five new doctors are pursing postgraduate studies at the Fiji School of Medicine, with others working in hospitals. And already a few after completing medical studies in PNG refuse to return to Solomons, unimpressed with government’s services.

Overnight we have awoken to realize that if we don’t sort ourselves out, we will sink deeper and deeper in despair. The gap between the "haves" and "have nots" will increase, and just when we need our professional citizens to help rebuild the country, and improve medical services, and all services for that matter, no one will be there to assist. The government says it’s trying its best to better conditions, in the hope of drawing local doctors and foreign doctors back. So we know what we should do! But the real dilemma still looms – as gun wielding men still rove the streets having the upper hand. And as long as they do so, the climate will not vest interests. None at all!

Challenges

What the country needs if it is to bounce back from its miserable state is peace. But that can only come when a stable and honest government is in place and in control. So here’s where the leadership plays a most pivotal role. Again for any administration to fully function effectively, it needs honest leaders possessing "hands knowledge and head knowledge" – practical and intellectual abilities. A former parliamentarian of Vanuatu speaking of good governance in Melanesia simply stated this as, "Truth and justice are prerequisites for good governance, social security, economic self-reliance and political stability." It is most unfortunate that the leadership displays neither, with a lack of seriousness of thought and purpose, but a prevalent political myopia throughout the national government, beginning with poor leadership qualities. The will to make changes seems to be there, but the effectiveness of carrying out the intent is distant, without which there will only be ‘wishes.’

Is there any indication that the present administration will rise to meet the challenges the country is facing? There seems to be a change in government. But the present leadership with remnants of the old have yet to re-establish confidence not only internally but also with foreign governments. Challenges stare us each day in the face, the worsening security situation, crimes and murders. Will the government and law agencies rise up to the challenges, clean up the system and the streets, tighten up security and protect law-abiding citizens instead of harassing them? Or will it entirely continue its political adventures? Besides prattling over economic reform plans, decided action needs to taken place. Action must take place immediately, arrests need to be made, and criminals must be brought to justice, as the international community and Solomon Islanders abroad continue to vigil that ensuing promises are not broken. Put another way how bad can things get, and how much more will ordinary citizens tolerate?

Trix is a pseudonym for a concerned Solomon Islands university student.

Email: triquex@yahoo.co.uk 

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