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Honiara: Poor people are not the enemy!


Poor people are not the enemy!

By John Roughan - Honiara

Honiara City Council leaders see poor people as the city's number one enemy. If truth were known, however, it is these very poor who keep Honiara alive. Hundreds of these poor feed the city's 60,000 (I don't buy the 1999 Census of 49,000. There are more than 60,000 now inside and close up Honiara.) It is the poor with their trucks, cars, taxis and buses that are the backbone of the city's transport system. And it is the miserably paid poor who keep the town humming through their work. Their reward!

First of all the one, and in many ways, their only recreation place, the sea front, has been stolen from them and peddled off to foreign business people. In Suva, Port Vila and Moresby, ordinary people can walk along the sea front to get a bit of fresh air. Not so in Honiara! Our sea front from Rove right through to Ranadi is taken up by hotels, small stores (as if the town needs another 20 small stores selling the same Taiyo, rice, biscuits, sugar, etc. etc.) and fenced in areas owned by the rich and powerful.

If the poor are still not sure that Honiara's elite see them as the enemy, they should think about what the betel nut sellers have suffered over the past few months. Let me be clear here. I personally can't stand the taste and smell of belel nut but I hate with a vengeance what the rich elite is doing to them. With RAMSI help they drove the betel nut sellers out of Rove, from down town areas and from many parts of the city. They forced them to set up shop in Ranadi--far from their customers.

The Honiara authorities set them up for failure: little water, no sanitation and on a swampy site. Has there been any effort to meet with representatives of the sellers to see if some kind of compromise could be worked out? Couldn't a half dozen sites away from down town, policed by the sellers themselves and paying a just charge daily to Honiara City Council be worked out? Why the heavy-handed approach to a problem that has deep social roots?

If poor people are still not clear that the Big Boys look down their noses at them, then think of the way the poor are treated when it comes to supplying town water. The town's rich make do with their large tanks and pumps when the water supply is short. The poor, on the other hand, get a polluted stream or two to bathe, wash and drink. To drive the point home again and again that the poor are considered a general nuisance and best that they return to home village, HCT hasn't collected town rubbish for more than three years to make it clear what they think of poor people.

If a group of poor people--local women selling fresh, nutritious and ample food along the streets--threaten rich business interests, however, then they are closed down. Now HCC demands that food-vending women take a course on how to cook hygienically. Great idea! How many foreign fast food outlets have had to do the same? Has any one of these foreign-owned fast food joints been closed down because of dirty kitchens where cockroaches as big as mice happily run around?

But this year the poor have an excellent chance to turn things around. Let's call 2004 the Year of the Poor! Let's help them change the system that has been fixed against them for a long time now. City elections come up soon. Candidates are already roving Honiara's streets looking for votes. When candidates ask for your vote, say this to them. Promise that the town's rubbish will be collected, water will be provided equally to all people and give the betel nut sellers a 'fair go'.

And that's just for starters! Demand that women who successfully complete the Food Hygiene course be allowed to sell clean, nutritious food along Honiara's streets, especially close to where people work--offices, shops and schools. Women will police and keep clean their food areas if given half a chance.

Remember the one thing the political elite fears more than guns are an organized people. RAMSI can take care of guns, militants and looting. An organized, mobilized bunch of people is much more powerful and much more feared. The poor lift themselves out of their poverty if and when they organize and mobilize to stop those who rip them off in the name of "government, authority and "big men". The poor will save our nation, not the rich!

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