Thursday, March 4, 2010

Threat to Sell Ballot Papers real; West Makira Constituency

Hello wantoks,

The People First Network website ( has reported recently that some voters at West Makira constituency have threatened to sell their votes (ballot papers) in the upcoming general elections for $200 per paper. This they say is because "people there feel that they do not have any elected member representing them in parliament" as there has been lack of tangible development throughout the years within the Constituency since the death of long serving politician, and former West Makira MP, the late Solomon S Mamaloni.

 This situation exposes a very delicate issue in the politics and governance of Solomon Islands, and especially in West Makira constituency for that matter. At the outset this scenario would be quite funny to some. But looking at it more seriously, personally, I am not at all surprised by these sentiments and why some of the people of West Makira constituency have given up hope on our governance system. As a person coming from the rural West Makira, I have also seen and experienced for myself these frustrations and hence could understand very well the frustrations of West Makirans.

 West Makira constituency has experienced a period of political instability since the passing away of late Solo. He was one of the longest serving politicians of his time until his death. During his reign as MP for West Makira, there was political stability in the constituency. However, since 2000, when he died, West Makira constituency has gone through a period of political scouting to fill the vacuum he had left behind. Thus there is very high political turn-over and as expected in such situations development goals are often set to short or medium term perspectives and are not long term. In situations where they do have long-term implications, they are often politicised to fulfil the aggregate goal of winning future elections.

This strategy has resulted in what West Makira constituency is now today, a constituency with no major development and is filled with frustrated people who no longer have any trust on the government and politicians. For them the democratic value of elections and voting does not matter anymore, for there is no difference in whether or not they cast their votes; there will still be no developments.

 In addition, this lack of long term development initiatives is also due to lack of visionary leadership. Well, at least long-term development goals are only cited and preached verbally and on paper, especially during campaigns but have never been implemented in any slight way. This is a major problem because the trend in West Makira has been that, most if not all intending candidates and MPs only focuses their plans and goals on "dead monies" such as Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF), and the Millennium Development Fund (MDF), the Rural Livelihood Fund (RLF), the Micro-Project Development Fund (MPDF) and the ROC Constituency Micro-Project Fund (ROC-CMPF). The named funds are money already allocated and made available to each constituency to utilise. The only task that is required to be done by the MP and his officers is to formulate sound development plans so that these funds are tapped and projects upraised, acquired and implemented according to a uniformed vision and outlook (plan); not in a disorganised and random manner as it is the case now.

However, I personally believe that MPs should also look for other development opportunities that are out there and not just to rely entirely on the named funds. I am sure that many donors are also genuinely willing to fund development initiatives but not on income-generating projects but social development projects that are not profit-motivated.

Hence, I would also envisage that West Makira MPs should not rely entirely only on the above named funds which focuses mainly on micro-income generating initiatives, but should also create development initiatives that would foster social growth and development in West Makira by working in partnership with donors and NGOs. This is important for we may have the entire "hard" infrastructure we need to have access to the basic social services, but if we lack intellectual capacity to manage development then we will never be able to achieve real change and growth. Therefore educating our young generations, and even the adult through adult literacy and learning is vital in ensuring that development is addressed and achieved holistically.

Undoubtedly, tangible and hard infrastructure is important for growth as it is the tool with which development is worked. But focussing on tangible infrastructure alone is not sustainable. West Makira MPs must also realise the human aspect of development, which arguably is the most crucial prerequisite to achieving real growth, progress and advancement. Without intellectual capacity and capability we will achieve nothing and people will continue to be frustrated and distrustful of their MPs and the government.

Consider this illustration to provide you with a clear picture of how important intellectual capacity is. Currently in West Makira, development activities are on-going. People are engaged in the production of cocoa, copra, timber, and logging operations are widespread. This has been the case since independence. But still looking around the constituency you will see only few development initiatives, and one of them is the ship building project at Bia Village, South Arosi. The question is; where does all the money from copra, cocoa and timber go? The answer is that they have been spent on food and other necessities and other luxury goods and beverages. Only few people do have the idea and thought to save money for the future of their children in financial institutions. I believe the main reason for this is the high illiteracy rate; that is the lack of soft infrastructure to boost and stimulate growth and development.

People do have the necessary resources to initiate major development activities, but since there is minimum or zero assistance from MPs or the government they have been left to struggle on their own. Hence, most of these individual efforts have failed or have remained stagnant or dormant. This situation is further exacerbated by the prevalent high rate of illiteracy in the constituency; a problem true for the whole of Solomon Islands, but is more true to some constituencies, like West Makira, than others.

Looking at the current situation in West Makira, it is a case whereby development is valued only on its political terms and tradeoffs and not on its economic, and especially social values and implications. In other words, development is so politicised that every project that is approved and paid out by the MP is often for an expected friendly gesture on the Election Day: "I approve your project now and in return please vote for me come the next round of elections." And in some occasions, if you are not a die-hard fan (supporter) of the MP you will not have your project approved. Or if you do, it will only be a partial payment. This is bad and stinky politics and a real obstacle to development and progress within West Makira constituency.

Mind you, I am not saying that this situation is true only for the current Parliament and MP. It is a prevalent situation that has been around for decades and has grown deep into the mentality of many rural people in West Makira constituency- that MPs only assist their supports and not all the people of the constituency. And who are we to judge them? This is a situation that they have encountered with their MPs for many years now and thus they have come to accept is as the political norm.

So to put it simply, many of our West Makira MPs so far have been too self-serving, dedicating all their time and energy only on maintaining their political strong-holds and grooving new converts, and in so doing ignoring the rest of the West Makira constituents. While some (MPs) may have tried tirelessly to initiate long term development in the constituency, the result and indication by far is that they have failed drastically and none of their ideas have worked. May be they have their own reasons for their failures but I for one strongly believes that the common attributing factor to this high failure rate to achieve real long term, sustainable development is lack of sound and pragmatic vision and plans, which often leads to "miss-prioritisation" of development needs. Above all another very obvious contributing factor is their personalised approach to political leadership, which is based on the goal of winning the next election. 

The irony however is that, West Makira MPs focus too much on how they can win the next election that they fail to realise that all they have to do is to perform and do what is expected of them. Listen to the people and hear what their needs are. This can only be done effectively if you make yourself accessible to the people by visiting them occasionally and discussing with them their needs at their level, like, around an evening fire back in the village; not around shiny tables at hotels or restaurants. The underlying factor is performance. Just do what an MP is expected to do: be a good law-maker at the national level; be a good representative of your constituency in parliament; and initiate sound, sustainable and positive change and development in the constituency through visionary thinking and planning. Like the Nike slogan says, "Just do it!" that's what you should be doing to win elections (or to be re elected). There is no need to be involved in tricky business or stinky politics.

 I am not implying here that West Makira MPs should be playing the role of government by becoming the major players and agents for development. What I am saying is that given the available funding provided through the government and NGO's (donors) sustainable development is not unachievable and impossible like what we see now in West Makira. Our MPs should be the bridge between the people and the government and other source of assistance such as the NGO's to ensure that development programs and projects are implemented in a coordinated manner that would ensure effectiveness and sustainability.

On that note, I wish to encourage my fellow comrades of West Makira that selling your votes will not solve the problem for us in the long term. It will only help to worsen the problem and hence making us to suffer even more. Instead, I encourage you all to vote wisely and do not vote for whoever you know is not visionary and lacks the ability to lead with a heart for the people and also who lacks the intellectual capacity to formulate and implement sound and pragmatic plans and strategies.

 We now live in a world where knowledge is important, though wisdom is also vital. The government system we operate under in Solomon Islands, the Westminster system of government, is a Western (foreign) concept. Therefore, if a person who is voted into parliament lacks proper understanding of it, the only result will be failure.
 So, go for the polls and vote for a leader that will be able to take West Makira constituency into the future with diligence, determination, respect, hope and vision. Let us not be disheartened by our current situation, for better days are still to come.

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