Saturday, August 15, 2009

Leadership In Solomon Islands- topic from Solomon Times Letters to the Editor

Let's think about the issue: Leadership in Solomon Islands. What can we say about it? Much has been said in the media about this issue and it has become a subject of interest to many of us. Many contributors have blamed RCDF as the main cause of the poltical leadership problem we do have now. Others went steps ahead by suggesting that increasing the number of MPs might help improve the quality of leadership. I really don't get the reasoning behind this idea but I guess it is based on the logic that as more good guys are voted into parliament, the bad guys will become less influential and less dominant. But is it possible to separate the "sheep" from the "goat" once they are in the yard? Mi no save too. Ating iufala nao bae save. The way I look at it, to me that would be like trying to identify tears in a bucket of water.

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.

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