Sunday, August 30, 2009
I want to draw your attention to the draft Federal Constitution which was released not long ago. The draft Federal Constitution was reviewed by the Constitutional Congress (CC) and the Eminent Persons Advisory Council (EPAC) of the Constitutional Reform Program. For more information regarding the work done by the Constitutional Reform Unit (CRU) who administers the work done towards the new Federal Constitution, check the website: www.sicr.gov.sb. Hence, you will see the draft Federal Constitution on that website.
You might have your own views on what the Federal system is and whether it is the ‘right’ part for us to undertake. However, I believe if we are to adopt the Federal system, Solomon Islands will not be the same as it is since independence. For instance, the nine (9) provinces will become nine (9) separate states with their own constitutions unless the provinces agree to merge as one big state as provided for under section 151 (4). It will need human resources to fill the positions in those respective states to be and even a change of mindset to the idea of state and nationhood. For instance, according to the Former Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Solomon S Mamaloni, he decribed the Solomon's as ' a nation conceived but never born' ( Mamaloni, 1992: 14). In addition, he stated, "Solomon Islands....has never been a nation and will never be a nation and will never become one" ( Mamaloni, 1992: 10). These sentiments were echoed during the 10th Independence aniversary of Solomon ISlands. It was ten years after what Mamaloni asserted that we had experience the ethnic tension and now ten years after the ethnic tension moves are now progressing towards Federalism as the alternative to the existing system we have enjoyed for the last three decades. The question is, will this Federal system create the idea of nationhood and make Solomon Islands a nation that Mamaloni seem pessimistic about? However, the former Governor General, George Lepping stated in support of the new Constitution that,'it will help prevent [future] ethnic tensions' (Solomon Times online, 17th August 2009). This suggestion might be presumptous bearing in mind what Mamaloni had professed regarding the framentation and the ethnic divide in the Solomon Islands.
I hope by reading the draft Federal Constitution, this will give us an insight of what the federal system will be like for us. Hence, this will provide the bases to which we can critique the content of it and understand what the likely implications will be for the Federal government and offcourse the individuals states that make the sovereign nation of Solomon Islands. I understand that the draft Federal Constitution need public feedback before the second draft can be released but i personally think it needs to be scrutinise throughly by the public before pursue the Federal system.
Friday, August 28, 2009
As reported in the media, the $50 000 spousal grant awarded by the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission (PEC) to MP's spouses has been referred to the Parliamentary House Committee for inquiry and/or review. This procedure is provided for under Section 70 of the Standing Orders of the National Parliament of Solomon Islands, which allows the Parliamentary House Committee "to consider and advise appropriate authorities on such matters that are connected with Members' terms and conditions of service" and "to examine and make recommendations on any matters which are connected with the provisions of sections 62 and 69 of the Constitution" to name but a few of its functions. Also the Attorney-General on behalf of the government has also referred the matter to the courts for clarifications. These are two totally separate processes and the decision of the court will not affect the outcome of the parliamentary inquiry into the matter, and vice versa.
Thus I hereby wish to share my layman's perspective on the issue and hopefully generate some discussions and in so doing we can all share and learn from each others thoughts.
My layman's view of the $50 000 terminal grant for MP's spouses is that it is unconstitutional and does not serve as a good precedence for the future of Solomon Islands in relation to responsible governance and sound democracy. I will present my argument based on Constitutional provisions related to the following:
(1)The purpose and function of the PEC and,
(2)Factors of consideration required for the determination and/or amendment of parliamentary entitlements by PEC.
The purpose and function of PEC .
As you are aware, the PEC is established under the Section 69A of the Constitution of Solomon Islands ... "to determine the entitlements of the parliamentarians and to amend them by yearly review..." [Section 69B (1) of the Constitution].
Entitlements is defined by Section 69C (2)(a) to "include salaries, allowances and such other benefits, services or facilities, whether in cash or otherwise, as the Members of Parliament (Entitlements) Commission may consider it necessary to be provided to the Parliamentarians to enable them to maintain the dignity of their office". A parliamentarian is defined by Section 69C (2)(b) to mean "the Prime Minister, Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Independent Group, the Deputy Speaker and all other members of Parliament, whether or not, Parliament is in session or in sitting".
Hence, obviously the main function of PEC is to determine the entitlements of parliamentarians who, as defined are elected politicians. That responsibility is exclusive and only people who fall under the definition of being a parliamentarian are eligible to 'receive' or 'benefit' from the entitlements. Sections 69B (1), 69B (2)(b)(iii), 69B(2)(c)(i), 69B(2)(c)(iv), 69B (3)(b), 69C (1) and 69C (2)(a) of the Constitution all used the word parliamentarian and never in the Constitution has the word 'parliamentarian's spouse' appeared. The only provision that comes close to including a parliamentarian's spouse is Section 69B (3)(a). However, the use of the word and in 'parliamentarians and their families' instead of or to me implies that their families are not mutually exclusive of the parliamentarians and hence they can only 'receive' and 'benefit' indirectly through the parliamentarian. It emphasises that in between the PEC and the family is the parliamentarian and the family is related or connected to the PEC through the parliamentarian. Therefore, it is wrong for the PEC to directly award the 'family' which includes the spouse with any benefits without channelling it through the parliamentarian entitlements. Any benefits that the family should receive must or can only be awarded and considered as part of the 'parliamentarian's entitlement'.
In addition, awarding the spousal terminal grant would create a dangerous paradigm that by being part of a parliamentarian's family equals automatic qualification for direct benefits from the PEC. It would mean that even the sons and daughters of a parliamentarian can be given terminal grants if approved by PEC. And by directly awarding the terminal grant to the spouses outside of the normal parliamentarian's entitlements payment the PEC literally recognises the spouse as a parliamentarian. This judgment is made based on the understanding that at the end of the term the spousal terminal grant of $50 000 will be paid directly to the spouse and not through the parliamentarian as this is totally separate from the parliamentarians terminal of $100 000. Obviously, in the long run the current spousal grant will only create more controversy and confusion by the public in the functions of the PEC. A spouse is a 'wife' or 'husband' and not a parliamentarian as defined by Section 69C (2)(b) of the Constitution and the PEC only determines the entitlements of Members of Parliament, as clearly stipulated by Section 69B (1). The law as it currently stands does not regard a spouse of a parliamentarian as having similar privileges as the parliamentarian himself hence they are not entitled any direct benefits under the PER.
Factors to consider by the PEC in its determination and/or amendment of Parliamentary Entitlements.
I will now move on to the second ground of my submission, which is based on the factors provided for by the Constitution for the PEC to consider in its determination and/or amendment of Parliamentary Entitlements.
Section 69B (2) (a), (b) & (c) of the Constitution outlines a number of factors that the PEC has to consider in exercising its powers. Section 69B (2)(b) (i) & (i) includes:
(i) the state of the national economy and the financial position of the Government;
(ii) movements in the level of the pay and other entitlements admissible to other persons in employment;
Sections 69B (3)(b) stipulates that (3) "In making or amending the regulations, the Members of Parliament (Entitlements) Commission shall –
(b) secure that the salaries and other entitlements of Parliamentarians increase at no less a rate than the rate of increase, if any, of salaries and entitlements (taken as a whole) of the public officers.
When looking at these constitutional provisions in relation to the PEC's award of spousal terminal grant, it is to very obvious that the members of the PEC have not complied with the above factors of consideration.
Solomon Islands is still recovering from the experience of the ethnic tension which has brought chaos to the social and economic systems of the country. Hence, the fiscal position of the economy is far from being stable and the peace and security in the society is still very fragile. Additionally, it has been predicted that in the 5 to 10 years time logging revenue, the economy's biggest earner, will drop due to depletion of our trees. The fishery industry continues to struggle financially and the challenges faced by the tourism are far from over. Above all, with the current global economic crisis, there has never been a time in our short history that our economy needs salvaging. Therefore, obviously the state of the national economy does not warrant for the award of $50 000 spousal grant, let alone further increases to the parliamentary entitlements.
Since 2000 the parliamentary entitlements have increased to almost 100% in total. Comparably, increases in the minimum wage of employees, the COLA and other salary/allowance adjustments/entitlements of public officers have not even reached 10%. The SIPEU log of claims and other outstanding claims by other peoples within the country have been long ignored by successive governments. Yet the PEC has seen it fit to approve the $50 000 spousal terminal grant, which in itself is a total payment of $2,500,000, to be paid out from public funds. This amount, added to the current parliamentary entitlements will create a massive burden on the government and economy of the country when the current parliament dissolves and all the payments are due.
Given these considerations, it does not require much effort to figure out that the above factors of consideration, provided for by the Constitution to the PEC in the exercise of its powers have not been adhered to by the Members of PEC when the spousal grant was determined. Hence, in my layman's view I strongly believe that the award of the spousal terminal grant of $50 000 by PEC is not only unconstitutional but sets a bad precedence for responsible governance and sound democracy in Solomon Islands. Thus, it must be nullified and the PEC's decision revoked.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Once upon a time in the history of Solomon Islands, the JM saga was the sweetest talk among the people. JM or 'Julian Moti' was the name most spoken and written about in every radio, newspaper and internet news sites in Solomon Islands, Australia and regional media. This was the period when the person bearing the name, JM, was appointed and served as the Attorney-General of Solomon Islands.
In Canberra, JM was the worst enemy, the most wanted man. Details of his past and present years in life were analysed, scrutinised and explained in relation to his strengths and mostly weaknesses. All aspects of his life were put under the x-ray. Standing out of all these were the child sex crimes he allegedly committed in Vanuatu in late 90s, which according to media reports were thrown out of court, as the presiding magistrate ruled that he had no case to answer. A Fijian-born Australian citizen, JM had spent most of his time prior to his appointment as Attorney – General of Solomon Islands travelling in and out of that Australia. All these time he was unnoticed and ignored by Australiand authorities. His appointment as Attorney – General however ignited Canberra's interest on JM. Australian claimed that it has found new evidence of the case and the media reported that the Vanuatu magistrate who heard the case against JM had been bribed by JM to dismiss the case in exchange for JM's paying for the magistrate to study at the University of Western Sydney. The report cited university records and evidence obtained by the Australian Federal Police in September 2004. His appointment as Solomon Islands Attorney-General by the Sogavare-led Grand Coalition for Change Government (GCCG) therefore was heavily criticised by Canberra, and a mad media campaign was launched against this government decision. On several occasions, the then Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon. Alexander Downer even wrote open letters to the Solomon Islands media, explanation Canberra's stand on the matter.
Among the Forum Island states, JM was the common denominator of their rows. Because of JM Melanesian solidarity was tested. Papua New Guinea's (PNG) Grand Chief and Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare was implicated in a 'Delta Force-like' airlift of JM from PNG, where he was being released on bail and was awaiting court on charges relating to breach of PNG's immigration laws. He was dropped at an isolated Munda Airstrip by the PNG Defence Force Plane that airlifted him to Solomon Islands. Both Prime Ministers of PNG and Solomon Islands immediately denied involvement in the 'airlift'. Vanuatu was also dragged into the JM saga as the child sex charges, which Canberra now has new evidences to put to retrial under its own laws, were committed there. Through the Pacific Islands Forum, Fiji and the islands of the region were involved in the saga as the Forum, then chaired by the Prime Minister of Samoa, strongly criticised Solomon Island's boycott of the Forum Meetings in 2007. The Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare decided not to attend the Forum Meeting in protest of what he sees as "heavy Australian influence on the sovereign affairs of an independent state" of Solomon Islands relating to the MJ saga.
Sogavare's own course of actions and decisions in relation to the JM saga, himself being a personal friend of JM, may have cost him his grip of power and common political support within his coalition government and among the people. Many members of his government expressed displeasure in his decision to boycott the forum meeting in Apia and on how he has handled the JM saga. The Prime Minister's Office was raided by police, led by members of the Participating Police Force under RAMSI and the office fax machine was confisticated to seek evidence of the Prime Minister's involvement in the 'airlift'. The Minister of Immigration was also arrested and questioned for his role in the matter. For Canberra a shift in the political 'status quo' in Solomon Islands and a change of government was the greatest wish at that time. They must have been wishing too hard- but with little measurable collateral such as the expulsion of their High Commissioner- as in December, 2007 this wish was granted. The GCCG was removed from office on the floor of parliament through a motion of no confidence, moved by the current Prime Minister, making it to be the first no confidence motion to succeed in the history of Solomon Islands.
I can still clearly recall that day, it was the second Thursday of December 2007 and JM as the Attorney-General was also in parliamentary attendance. A very unwavering individual, despite the obvious shift in numbers to his disadvantage, the then Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was quite content to see it through to the end and defied the practice in Solomon Islands whereby Prime Ministers tend to resign on the floor of parliament in the eve of a motion of no confidence they were certain to lose. The motion was passed and it was obvious that the outcome of the no confidence vote was a shock to JM. That day unlike any other, he remained in parliament hours after it was adjourned, basically I guessed just to allow time for him to really come to terms with the reality of the situation. He was laughing but his face showed it all that it was indeed not the best day of his entire life. That day, Thursday 13th December 2007, marked the beginning of the end in the sweetness of the name "Julian Moti" in the taste of the media in Solomon Islands and in Australian and regional media.
Not long after the current Coalition for National Unity and Rural Advancement (CNURA) government took office JM was deported to Australia to face justice. For me personally, that was the last time I have ever heard of the JM saga.
While the outcome of his case is nothing of a concern at all to me, my uneasiness lies on the current silence of the media on the case. Why the sudden lose of interest? Mind you, I am not saying that the media has stopped reporting on the issue. What I am saying is that it is evident that there has been significant loss of interest on the case. This turn of events is quite disappointing because for me the JM saga has just reached its most interesting segment. This is where the media has been trying to justify or show otherwise; the outcome being that the alleged culprit is finally put to justice or whether the conspiracy that many commentators have sought to believe will be proven to be true- Canberra hated JM because of his strong criticisms of Australian foreign policy and did not want him to be the Attorney-General General of a 'fragile, weak neighbour'.
On reflection, the JM saga has indeed tested the potency of many aspects of regionalism in the region, exposing weaknesses and reinforcing strengths. It has contributed to the fall of a sovereign government and to an extent reemphasised Australia's neo-colonialist 'police state' approach to foreign policy and regionalism in the region.
I think you will agree with me in support of the CNURA government's move to appoint the Commission of Inquiry into Land Transactions on Guadalcanal. Reading from www.solomontimes.com the Commission is expected to start soon, its Members having been appointed by the Prime Minister, Dr. Derek Sikua.
On the composition of the Commission, I think the decision by the Prime Minister to appoint members from various Melanesian countries is wise as they may have experiences relevant to our case. For instance, Fiji has a very comprehensive land tenure system in place administered by the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB), thus the inclusion of Pastor Manua Rabuka is encouraging. Other members include Stephen Tahi from Vanuatu and Mr Brenton from Papua New Guinea who is the current chair of the Commission and former Chair of the Commission of Inquiry into the April rioting in Honiara in 2006.
Land issues in Solomon Islands, especially in Guadalcanal are complex, especially when dealing with alienated lands and customary land issues within or around the Honiara town boundary. I recalled in mid 2008 when the then Leader of Independent Group, Hon. Peter Shanel, moved a private members motion in parliament to look into the same issue. However his motion was defeated, as the government voted against it on the grounds that that issue if land is a sensitive issue. Now that the Commission is established we do hope and pray that outstanding issues related to land and settlements will be resolved.
The Commission of Inquiry is part of national reconciliation policy to resolve problems which are perceived as causes to the ethnic crisis. It is part of the current peace rebuilding process which includes the establishment of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The issue of leadership in the Solomon Islands is not a new phenomenon. We have leadership crisis in the past whereby leaders are accuse of not showing signs of good leadership. Since independence, leaders were accused of corruption. As discussed in the other topic on corruption, it comes down to the issue of leadership as well. Therefore, it is part and parcel of what we call leadership 'crisis' where leaders involved in corrupt practices for their own interests and gains.
If we look back in history and try to figure out attempts made to address the issue of leadership, we’ll see that there were attempts being made to address the problem. For instance, globally the issue of 'good governance' that came into the spotlight in the early 1990's after the World Bank had identified a crisis of governance in sub-Sahara Africa, the underlying issue was leadership. For instance, aid money aimed to address development ended up in the hands of corrupt leaders. As government is one of the actors in governance therefore it is integral to have good leaders. If leaders are corrupt then how come do we expect them to make legislations and decisions in the interest of its citizens? Therefore, good governance in this case has a lot to do with leaders or for us to have good leaders that are accountable to their actions and transparent in their dealings.
In the Solomon Islands, what does ‘good governance’ mean for our leaders? Is it a new concept for them? No, I don’t think so. Do our leaders attain trainings or workshops that emphasis the importance of upholding good governance in the past? Yes, I believe they do and our leaders know what is expected of them to do. But why are they not performing to the standard that is expected of them as leaders? That is where the problem lies. I suggest the book authored by Kabini Sanga and Keith D.Walker entitled; ‘Apem Moa Solomon Islands Leadership’ should be the guide for our leaders. They should read and digest because we need our leaders to improve on their performance if they reflect on their performance for the last years or so and had failed miserably then they need to adjust in order to become good leaders. Otherwise bae end up same same nomoa. Well though the book is not confine for national leaders only but one in which it covers leadership from the village, schools and organisation, it should be seen as a guide to remind our leaders of where they are heading.
It is sad to hear people are talking about ‘good governance’ and now are making fun of it. For instance, ‘umi always talk about good governance nomoa bata no anything happen nomoa’ (we always talk about good governance but there is nothing happening). What does this imply? Who’s not doing anything in this case? Is it the people, the government or the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)? In the Solomon Islands, I think the problem is that we are not working together. For example, the NGOs (TSI), the government and the people are not working together to enhance good governance. Why is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee (FRC) during the RAMSI review hearing held on 19th September, 2008 question the Chairman of the TSI about the definition of the good governance? I see that as an absurd question for a leader to ask. This is a clear demonstration of how our leaders see the TSI and now with the later calling on the MPs to throw out the Parliamentary Entitlements this will make it more complicated to assert good governance in the Solomon Islands. However, it has been noted that “good governance is an ideal which is difficult to achieve in its totality. Very few countries and societies have come close to achieving good governance in its totality”(http://www.unescap.org/pdd/prs/ProjectActivities/Ongoing/gg/governance.pdf). Therefore, if we are to take Solomon Islands, we will end up with the many countries where the achievement of good governance in its totality will be far remote. Hence, the way I see it is that we are not getting anywhere or maybe at a snail’s pace.
I am optimistic that we can address the leadership problem facing our country. Although I understand that there is no 'quick fix' and 'one size fits all' to address the leadership crisis in the Solomon Islands, I believe there is a way for us to deal with it. The question on who will take the initiative in addressing our leadership problem is none other than us, Solomon Islanders. It is not RAMSI or those from the ‘outside’ to tell us what we should do and shouldn’t do, although I acknowledge the fact that we listen to their advice but again it is us who decides on what is best for us. We are the ones to address our leadership problem. The challenge is on us to do something positive to address the problems we have experienced in the country for the last 30 years. You might ask, 'ma osem hao na ba umi duim ia?' Well in my view let’s pull our resources together in building a better Solomon Islands for us in the future. We have people with the knowledge and experience in how things work such as those with the knowledge in development, planning, economics, education, lawyers, academics and so forth (think tanks). Also not forgetting to consider our indigenous knowledge in looking into how leadership can work and do work better for us.
In addition, with those of us aspiring for higher knowledge in the various fields we are trained for, the question is, how can we utilise the academic knowledge we aspire or acquired to help address leadership in the Solomon Islands? Hence, this brings me to the issue of RCDF. As Derrick had asserted that the idea is good and i for one supported the intention of RCDF. It is for people in rural areas and they are the ones who suppose to benefit from the RCDF. Is it a new fund for rural development? No....hem too wanfala olo samthing ba. Rural development in the Solomon Islands comes with the idea of decentralisation. That is shifting development away from the centre to the periphery or from the predominant practice of centralisation to decentralisation. It started with the Small Islands Community and Provinces Special Assistance (SICOPSA) grant by Mamaloni in 1989. However, prior before that Mamaloni introduced the Provincial Government Bill in 1981 which was later passed by the Parliament and became the Provincial Government Act of 1981. That was a significant step towards rural development in the Solomon Islands. In 1993, under the Hilly regime, they abolish SICOPSA grant and replace that with RDF. In 1995, the SINURP goverment led by Mamaloni reinstated the SICOPSA grant and increase the CDF [RDF] based on the size of the population. Note that at that time the number of constituencies was still 38. Since then the CDF (now renamed by RDCF) was the under the discretion of the MP up till now. What does that mean? Ma MP na boss....who he/she wants to give as part of rural development in his/her constituency is up to him/her. The usual practice is to thank those who voted for the MP(supporters of the MP-either funding development projects or giving cash handouts to the people is under the discretion of the MP) As such it is up to the people to do what they want with the cash money. Whereas others in the constituency would to wait and see whether there project proposal will be considered. But why is it that people nowadays seem to be more critical about the use of RCDF? Why there was silence in the past? Is it because of the amount that involves? For instance, in the past it was based on population meaning that a constituency with a small population receives less than what a constituency with a big population receives. Is it because of lack of information about all these things (RCDF) that prevented people from talking about these things in the past? Is it the level of education that prevented people from questioning what they see as not right in their constituencies? These are broad questions but if we are to translate the relationship of leadership to the RCDF then we might say that the failure is on the part of our leaders themselves. For instance, they are the ones who supported the idea to increase the RCDF on a level playing field regardless of the population of that particular constituency. Is it fair to have the same amount of RCDF for a constituency with a small population and a big population? The answer would be logically no. It doesn’t need rocket scientist to figure this out. But why insist on having the same allocation for the 50 constituencies as the case we have today? Well ansa lo olgeta boss ia na. They are the legislators and they are the only ones who can change it. But what happen to the motion tabled by the MP for Temotu Nende to regulate the use of RCDF by the MPs? Is it now in practice when the Taiwan only releases RCDF to MPs that submit receipts of how the funds have been expended? Maybe someone with the knowledge on this area can enlighten us in this blog. However, I am just interested to know, how many of the receipts submitted for retirement by the MPs for the next payment by Taiwan is ‘genuine’? And now with less than a year to go, the rush will be on for ‘quick’ retirement so the next payment. Ba luk osem straight ia.
To conclude, well it’s a challenging task for us. I have discussed the issue of leadership, the problems and the challenges to leadership. I have also discussed the issue of RCDF and raise some important questions to ponder further on. However, one thing for sure is that it not a new fund and the idea is good except the way in which it has been misused form its intended purpose has been a long overdue problem and the discretionary powers that MPs have over RCDF. Lastly, it is obvious that there is a link between leadership and the RCDF. What can we do about this problem? We always refer to the famous words from John Fitzgerald Kennedy (the 35th President of the United States of America), in his inauguration speech to the American people saying; ‘ask not what your country can do for you [but] ask what you can do for your country’ (http://www.famousquotes.me.uk/speeches/John_F_Kennedy/5.htm). Taking that line of speech and reflect upon on it, what does that mean for us? Umi practicem too? Or we are just impersonating JFK to tell others to follow that line of speech and umi do duim in practice and by example? I guess that is biggest obstacle facing us.
Mi stop lo here fastaem and ufala moa, what do others think?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Anway, before I rumble further I would like to state that as we know, in Solomon Islands politics, development and government there are no quick-fixes. Short term actions aimed at addressing problems are often short-sighted and would impact only on the periphery of problems. Hence it is always wise to formulate mid- or long-term actions in follow-up on short term solutions, so that prevailing problems are addressed in conformity to societal development. Secondly, there are no 'one size fits all' solutions to political issues and problems. All situations are unique and different in thier own context and a particular practice that may work in one place or system may not work in another. Thirdly, given the two factors, I believe that totally relying on 'text-book' solutions to addressing prevailing issues is dangerous and often misleading. The grass in the field is in fact much taller than it is anticipated from the air. Hence, pragmatic and home-grown solutions drawing from "what has worked and what has not" are the best problem solving approaches.
For now the issue at hand is 'Leadership in Solomon Islands' and it is indeed sad to see how complicated things are for us back at home. Many people have argued that RCDF is the prime cause of all these corruption and lack of development and they have their arguments to justify that. In some countries in the sub-Saharan Africa, they also have constituency development funds and surprisingly they are also expressing similar development complaints like us. So sad, isn't it? In addition, the availability of the fund has made people to treat their MPs as delivery outlets, replacing the role of government. As we know, MPs are not the government, but are law makers. They are elected by us to be our democratic voice in the chamber of parliament, to represent us in international issues and to make laws for peace and good governance of Solomon Islands.
The intention of RCDF when approved by parliament in 1993 was genuine. And in constituencies where the RCDF has been used properly by their MPs, people have really benefitted as the money has been properly used to initiate viable development. The problems related to RCDF are only prevalent in constituencies where MPs are not honest and transparent in their use of the fund. So the question to critique is whether RCDF is the real problem or is the problem more of a human kind? Indeed many would argue that it is the money that tempts the human to be corrupt. But if the RCDF is removed, will corruption end and will development occur as expected? Well we may never know until that is done. It may or it may not but I personally believe that not much change will occur and people will still suffer. The politicians will still look for other means of abusing public funds, if not through corrupt ways then through legal channels such as the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission. Hence, I am of the view that instead of removing RCDF there are avenues that should be addressed- such as in relations to the administration of the fund, its increased monitoring and scrutiny etc- before we resort to that last option of 'weeding it out'.
As argued by many contributors on the subject, RCDF in Solomon Islands has also affected voter behaviour and as mentioned intensified pressure on MPs. And as some have argued it has created greater dependency on MPs. Personally, I do sympathise with MPs at times when they are being harassed by their voters for money, knowing that RCDF is there. On the outset, while the usual cause of such pressure is due to ignorance on the part of the voters, more often it is due to the MPs themselves not living up to their promises made during campaign times. Recently an MP was even physically assulted because of this. However, personally I believe the main problem here is very much related to the low adult literacy rate in Solomon Islands and our deep rooted traditional notions of leadership. In many of our societies, we have chiefly and big-man systems of traditional leadership whereby leaders are expected to accumulate and later redistribute their wealth to the people at certain times. In the contemporary Solomon Islands that time for redistribution has become the time when RCDF is due to be released to MPs.
In spite of that, I still believe that abolishing RCDF will only serve as a short-term measure to lowering expectations of Members. It may stop leaders-dependency in the short term; but I think the socio-economic situation of our society is one that dependency of our leaders is one thing that will for sure remain for some time. Wantokism is our social safety net and our leaders are perceived as major providers to that safety-net. If they fail, they are sure to be voted out in the next election. And even without RCDF aspiring politicians will still make promises and people will still expect returns from them.
The most tricky question to ask ourselves is this? In practical sense, with the current pool of politicians, how is the RCDF going to be removed? For it to be removed requires it to be passed by parliament. But how can you expect the MPs themselves to vote for RCDF to be removed from their use and benefit? I think to themselves it will be an ask too big to accept. Even the thought of making being a Member of Parliament unattractive will only create a situation more susceptive to corruption. A person who is lowly paid is more likely to steal and be corrupt than a person who is not. The long-term solution therefore is to encourage our children to go to school, and make education compulsory. Though the pay-off is slow, in the long run the trickle-down effects of education and having an educated society will sure create a more socially, economically and politically proactive and informed society that would produce good leaders, visionary politicians and government, and a brighter future for all of us.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Recently, the Leader of Opposition in Solomon Islands, Hon. Manasseh Sogavare stated in Parliament that Solomon Islands needs good leaders. Given all that has been happening back at home, many if not, all of us could not help but agree with him on this.
Thinking about it more thoroughly, I was just wondering , why do we have this leadeship problem when many of these politicians are well qualified and very good leaders in thier own right? I mean, we have a Prime Minister who has a Doctorate (PhD), and a couple of the members are MA or MBA graduates, at least 5 of them to be exact. And we also have at least three pastors, some chiefs and many degree holders who are current MPs. So why the leadership crisis? Is it because because of our many diversities in culture, religion, belief systems, practices and so forth? Or is it something to do with individual and personal attittudes and characters, or is it because of our economic status, and being weak in the face of the world?
The question is, what makes a good leader, or a political leader for that matter? Does qualification matter at all? If qualified, does ones area of specialty matter? Can a religious leader become a good political leader? Can a village chief or elder make a good politician? Can a medical doctor, a teacher or a lawyer make a good politician?
Have your say and share what you think. What makes a good political leader?