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John Roughan: Silence Is Health!

Silence Is Health!

From John Roughan In The Solomon Islands
13 October 2003

Part of the fall out from our last five years of social unrest is to deepen the custom of our people keeping quiet when things go wrong. In fact, the greater the crime, the deeper the silence. Fr. Kevin Barr, a long-time Suva resident, writing about Fijian Melanesia, calls it the Culture of Silence. Solomons people not only practice their own Culture of Silence but have added an overlay of five years of intimidation. Keeping silent over these past five years has been good for one's health.

On minor matters, however, Solomon Islanders do speak out. The ill-fated demand in mid-May--a Honiara councilor wanting a law passed forbidding women wearing shorts in public--is a case in point Many women wrote angry letters to the newspapers rubbishing the idea. Their letters flowed into the Solomon Star for weeks. By my count, more than 20 letters, mostly from women, appeared--the majority complaining about the silliness of such a proposed law.

Women felt safe enough to complain and let the world know what they thought. Good on them! But this great outpouring of disagreement came during a period of our history when silence, keeping one's voice from being heard, was good for one's health. Few Honiara citizens wanted to be noticed and didn't make waves by complaining about corruption, serious theft of government property and many other dishonest practices. Better be silent and keep healthy, people thought, than open one's mouth and find yourself looking for medical help.

Unfortunately that same Culture of Silence still has a hold on tongues of many today. RAMSI knows, for instance, that its job is only half finished. Yes, the guns, thousands of them, have already been destroyed, each week a new batch of warlords wind up in jail, and our local Rambos no longer strut Honiara's streets. They are on the run in their villages. Great! But the "Big Fish"--corrupt politicians, crooked bureaucrats and dishonest business people, still walk around free, have not been detained and have yet to face a judge. Until that happens, and RAMSI knows this, its work remains only half done.

But the intervention forces, no matter how strong and well armed they are, can not and rightly will not simply come knocking on a corrupt politician's door unless there is plenty of solid evidence to prove a certain person has stolen the country blind. Evidence--clear, strong and solid--is needed before RAMSI arrests the ":Big Fish". That's when our Culture of Silence must be broken. We owe our children not to let those leaders who have lined their pockets with the nation's wealth to get away with their crimes.

If a citizen has solid evidence, not just a bunch of tok tok, about how a corrupt politician has robbed the country or a crooked public servant has enriched himself, then silence is not on! Perhaps your small evidence added to others will be enough to convince a magistrate to try a dishonest person. That's how the justice system works.

A Solomon Islander perhaps knows for sure or suspects a leader is crooked but the court system needs proof, witnesses and evidence to prove that the person has been dishonest. That's what it means when we say they must have fair trials with strong evidence and reliable witnesses testifying that the person has indeed committed a crime. One person's testimony might be too weak but when many witnesses swear that such and such a person has done a certain crime, then it's easier for the judge to pass judgment.

During our five years of Social Unrest many citizens practiced silence to stay healthy. Now those days are finished. It's time to break our Culture of Silence, for our children's sake, stand up and speak out the truth so we can all have our country back to us once again.


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