National Recovery Plan . . . misses the point!
By John Roughan
The Solomon Islands government has recently unveiled its recovery plan--National Economic Recovery and Development Plan (NERDP)--to get this country out of its current mess and once more stand on its own two feet. This plan is a seriously important document. With it, government intends to convince international donors to help the nation with millions and millions of dollars to get the country moving again.
Filled with clear graphs, strong statements, alarming statistics and hopeful predictions yet it seriously fails to address our fundamental illness. Of course the national economy has been terribly beaten, almost destroyed over the past five years. To achieve an economic cure, however, one must start at the heart of our people, especially our flawed leaders. It is not simply a matter of stricter financial control, balancing government's budget, increasing revenue and a host of other vital financial steps. None of these are wrong. In fact, they are right on target. But, on their own, they do not tackle the heart of our problem . . . our own people's destructive rebellion.
A credible recovery plan must be based on understanding that any movement of Solomon Islands towards a peaceful, more self-reliant stable nation has been severely disrupted by conflict and instability. Our Social Unrest has had profound political, economic and social repercussions across all sectors of society. Deep seated tensions continue to this very day to haunt individuals and groups of people which in turn contribute to an atmosphere of fear, reduce community confidence and weaken social cohesion. There is a belief, for instance, among some Guadalcanal leaders that all the land they have over many years legally sold to others--individuals, church groups and government itself--will now come back to the original owners as before. Neither this plan nor any other economic plan can solve this root issue!
National recovery should foster increased communal engagement, strengthen civil society's formal and informal bodies and empower individuals, especially women, to participate in decision making and peace building efforts. In a nutshell, our beloved country has had its social fabric rent from top to bottom and no economic revival, on its own, will heal this profound disaster. The economy can't do that work. A massive education campaign, serious awareness work and a constant and consistent information outreach to the bulk of Solomon Islanders is but the first step to stitch this wonderful country back together again. The economy, no matter how well conceived and put into practice, can do it!
Of course economic recovery must be part of the picture but a robust, business revival guarantees nothing more than a 'business as usual' future. Our national soul-sickness can be no more cured by economics than a seriously ill cancer patient rallies to good health because government no longer has a cash flow problem. These are two different realities.
Of course a strong business climate, growth in jobs and more money in people's pockets will assist the nation getting back on its feet. Our enemy has never been a bad economy but poor leadership. Bad economic conditions didn't destroy the nation--people did. Our national economy faltered because people--especially national leaders--waged war on society through their lawlessness and showing little respect for people's basic rights to life and security. The cure for a livable society centres on people understanding the root causes to their soul-sickness and not glibly jumping to the conclusion that if we get a good handle on the economy the roots of our social unrest will be cured as well.
A major step in a people/community recovery plan is a massive, continuous and consistent education and awareness campaign which uncovers the source of our recent Social Unrest and how the country can now begin to cure itself. Government's NERDP assumes its citizens are basically consumers of social services rather than dynamic partners searching for and seeking a NEW Solomon Islands. Think of citizens as a hard working truck. Of course the truck needs service: diesel, oil, air, lubrication, care, etc. to function properly. But once well fueled and cared for, the vehicle creates hundreds of income generating jobs. So to with people serviced with quality education, basic medical attention, strong transport system, web of local market outlets, robust leadership, etc. the country will then hum with energy and dynamism.
Partnering with Church communities is a must.
Working closely with the churches must be prominent in any
recovery plan. These institutions' unparalleled national
assets--network of dedicated workers, mission stations
dotting every major island and their significant web of
influence--must be part of any recovery plan. Invest in
these dynamic people and structures to work closely with
different government ministries to search out the causes of
our recent problems, come up with workable solutions and
trail ways of putting them into practice. RAMSI has given
us a golden opportunity to re-invent Solomons! Let's not let
this golden chance slip by us . . . there's no second round.