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John Roughan: It Ain't Over Yet!

It Ain't Over Yet!

By John Roughan in Honiara, Solomon Islands
22 February 2004

Last week at the end of Mike Hora's trial, the Family Charity Fund's last convicted, the Solomon Star ran a large, black headline: ''It's over!'' Unfortunately, it's definitely not over. Yes, for those responsible for the fraud, jail time has ended their careers. But the thinking, the belief system which fuelled such a fraud, that there really is money --big money--to be magically gained is definitely not over. People still believe that if only one knows the special secret, the right formula, the correct ritual, then riches are certain to flow to them.

Many duped by the Family Charity Fund believe to this day that the $1.2 million promised is still around some where. It's just hidden away. Someday, somehow that money will finally arrive. These people's belief system is as solid today as it was when they first gave away their $250 to the FCF. That has not changed! The FCF story has taken on a life of its own. It will never cease until Solomon Islanders come to grip with a belief system that is as old as these islands. This belief system has taken many forms in the Solomons recent history.

In past years, for instance, the easy-riches route promised 'free money' in Hong Kong, or swapping our tree wealth for Saudi oil, digging for gold bars in Tulagi, bottling bush oxygen, etc. None ever panned out but that didn't stop our leaders and people in believing that it was all possible. Most recently, just two years ago, our highest elected officials informed citizens that the Royal Assembly of Nations and Kingdoms (RANOK) would donate $2.1 billion dollars for a mere few million thank you payment to a known conman wanted in PNG for fraud. Hard on that terribly embarrassing incident, the Solomons cabinet approved the importing of tons of toxic waste from Taiwan. Once again for the so called 'easy' money.

All these schemes are linked. There is a deep-seated belief system at work. The idea that there can be great wealth without work has deep roots within Melanesian's cargo cult mentality which is strongly linkage to its world view. Certainly such thinking doesn't reflect village life which, at the best of times, is hard, physical and full of long hours of labour.

Women's experiential knowledge, for instance, --the daily garden-grind to produce food, the never-ending care of children, sick and elderly, house cleaning, clothes washing and a thousand other chores needed to keep village life ticking over--puts full stop to any kind of great-wealth-without-work idea. But when the Melanesian male enters the modern cash-economy politics, the wealth-without-work belief begins to shape up and takes control of lives.

Do I get a whiff of this same kind of thinking going on with the rush to plant teak trees? First of all, let's be clear. Increased teak tree planting, a really valuable species, is a solid idea. My difficulty is that some think the teak tree is a magic tree . . . able to fetch more than SI$2,600 a single cubic metre on world markets. Yes, it can but that money won't be in people's pockets until after the present tree planters are long dead and buried. Teak is for the long haul, for one's children, really for one's grandchildren. Teak planting strengthens a great idea to help present-day Solomon Islanders think about a two to three generations time span.

Teak's first 30 years is quick and vigorous. However, its next 20 years when tree growth slows, is the time for putting on its special strength and usefulness. That growth period gives it the value that international markets look for. So today's teak planters are actually looking at 50 years to achieve the real worth of their teak plantings. And simply planting teak is not a great idea unless other trees--vasa, rosewood, etc.--high value trees in their own right, are also part of the planting schedule.

Our last five years of unrest should have taught us valuable lessons. Not one quick-rich scheme has worked out for anyone except for those who set out to defraud. Some of them are now in Rove wasting out their lives in prison while others are still to be caught, convicted and sent to prison. There's no such thing as 'free money'! Get rich schemes are just that: schemes--ways for others to steal your hard earned money. The Solomons has been built on the sweat and tears of its people. If a sweet-talking conman says he has a plan for easy money, just walk right past him, stop up your ears and tell others that he's temporarily passing through town but on his way to Rove! Unfortunately it ain't over yet!


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