ARE SOLOMON ISLANDS READY FOR FEDERAL SYSTEM?

Commentary

By Frank Short

QUEENSLAND, Australia (Oct. 19) - As the Solomon Islands considers the introduction of a federal system of government which, if the legislation is approved and the constitutional changes adopted, will see a large degree of autonomy being exercised by the separate provinces, one must ponder (and leaving aside the practicality questions) whether the Solomons is ready for such a radical change.

At the central level, issues such as poor governance, unemployment, poverty, urban drift, population growth and corruption were clearly evidenced by high school students during a recent national speech contest in Honiara.

In my view, the core concerns shared by many and so clearly identified by the students are needing urgent attention by fresh government policies and concerted remedial action before changing the system of government.

An opportunity to address some of the issues raised by the high school students might occur during this week’s National Youth Forum when it is hoped ideas will be raised which will assist in drafting a new National Youth Policy.

The weeklong meeting must not, however, become another "talking shop" for all the arguments raised by several correspondents in recent weeks, including the article written by Dr John Roughan entitled "Engaged youth = national security," published in the Solomon Star on Wednesday, 11 October 2006, are all points that both I and the author of the Strategic Review of the Solomon Islands (a document released by the Australian Government following a review of the strategic interests of the Solomon Islands, and at the request of the Solomon Islands Government), first documented some eight years ago.

The Governor General’s recent speech in the National Parliament when he outlined a Government initiative to form a National Youth Commission to deal with youth issues, including sport, must be welcomed but only time will tell whether this proposal will provide the practical support the youth of the country desperately need.

What is clear, however, is much work will be needed by all sectors of the community with input and assistance from donor countries.

Nothing in the Solomons seems to generate more national pride than sport. It was appropriate, in my view, that the Governor General hosted the successful Bilikiki beach soccer team at Government House and appropriate, too, that he encouraged Solomon Islanders to represent their country with pride when competing in next year’s 13th Pacific Games to be held in Samoa.

If the country is to be fragmented under a federal constitution it is all the more necessary to begin encouraging a sense of pride in the nation and to foster a sense of unity and purpose and, given all the social tensions that beset the nation in recent years, work towards early reconciliation and healing.

Last week the villagers of Veruru, Tina, Haliatu, Marasa and Koloogauga on the Weathercoast came together in a reconciliation ceremony in a traditional manner.

This was a welcome move and much credit must go to the staff of the World Vision’s Peace Building Project and to the National Peace Council representatives. (The project was funded by World Vision New Zealand and commenced on the Weathercoast in July 2005. Funds for the project were raised by children and youths in New Zealand during a 40 hour famine).

A peace and reconciliation leader’s summit is planned for December this year in the Reko District of Guadalcanal and World Vision’s country programme manager in the Solomons, Stephen Harries, has said that World Vision is planning to initiate more reconciliation work in the East Weathercoast and on Malaita next year.

Much work remains to be done to reconcile the communities of Guadalcanal and Malaita and no effort should be spared in bringing this about.

A reconciled nation, communities prepared to put the past behind them and to trust each other again, and sharing a pride in the country, are some of the essential pre-requisites for successful constitutional change.

The government has much to do in all areas of good governance to restore public confidence and trust, to alleviate poverty, unemployment and the influence of corruption and it is hoped that all the servants of the Crown will further dedicate themselves to achieving these worthy objectives.

Unlike several administrations in the past, the present Government has the advantage of seeing the national economy rebound with the domestic growth forecast at nearly 6 per cent for 2006 and growth exceeding this figure projected for next year.

Frank Short is a former Police Commissioner in the Solomon Islands whose tenure, from 1997 to 1999, saw the rise of ethnic conflict between residents of Guadalcanal and Malaita. A founding member of the Australia Solomon Islands Friendship Association, he currently lives in Kuranda, Queensland.

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