John Roughan: People Speak To RAMSI!
People speak to RAMSI!
8 March 2004 - Honiara
Seven months ago in mid-July 2003, Solomon Islanders gave the foreign intervention armies of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, etc. a resounding vote of confidence. A Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT) survey completed three weeks before the first troops landed in the country found that island people (2,100 town and provincial respondents) marked the intervention force with a 94% approval rate. After five years of severe social unrest, failing security, weak peace and little economic advance, people across the nation had become soul-weary with the gun-totting criminals and their henchmen. People's almost unanimous thumbs up for the 'invading' force (later called RAMSI: Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) showed how desperate people had become.
After more than six months of experience under their belt, what are Solomon Islanders now saying about the intervention forces living in their midst? How does the typical Honiara dweller accept the overseas soldier, foreign police personnel and public servant? In the rural sector, how does the ordinary villager view this fundamental shift in the country's history where large parts of the government are in the hands of strangers? SIDT's recently completed survey provides an inside look at their mixed responses.
The survey results are tabulated in the accompanying table. During the whole of February SIDT's workers fanned out among Honiara residents (1,253 responses) as well as to most of the provinces (1,088 responses) asking participants to answer a series of questions. The first one was to be sure that the person asked actually had some knowledge about RAMSI: "Have you heard about RAMSI?" Then they turned to special issues like Security, Justice System Working, Services (schools, clinics, transport, etc.) to the Better Life (basic economics of living in present day Solomons).
Six months after troops landed in Solomon Islands
Source: SIDT Survey Results 2004
Survey takers made a special effort to contact men, women, young men and young women in almost equal numbers to get an even response from different sectors of society. Also, Honiara's respondents (53%) was slightly higher than those from the provinces (47%).
It is clear from survey results that the almost unanimous acceptance rate of the intervention force in early July 2003 had slipped by February 2004. This was to be expected. In the most recent survey, Solomon Islanders rated security issues highest with an average mark of 88% given by the 2,341 respondents. Many quoted RAMSI's success in collecting a large number of guns, named some of the warlords behind prison bars and how they now enjoyed a high level of personal and community peace and order. In the minds of the great majority of people, RAMSI's most outstanding success has been to bring the nation a level of peace and order badly missing over the previous five years.
However, there is a falling away on the other three issues. The Justice System Working (JSW) drew lower results (average 74%) than that of security because of the nature of the justice system. Collecting guns, jailing warlords and restoring basic peace produce dramatic results while the justice system proceedings--police investigations, court processes, sentencing and finally jailing--are a much more drawn out affair and work at a slower pace. Also, some respondents asked the survey takers why so few senior politicians have yet to feel the full sting of the law.
In the survey's following two sections--Services (average 66%) and the Better Life (average 64%)--RAMSI rated poorly. However, it must be asked whether these two areas of the ordinary life of Solomons' people are not more the work of government, its agencies and personnel and less, much less, that of RAMSI. Unfortunately, in the minds of many people surveyed, they felt that the return of basic services--quality schooling, functioning clinics, adequate transport, etc. are RAMSI's work.
The Better Life--a modest increase in economic well being--received the lowest rating because employment and jobs are few and far between, the price of shop goods grow out of reach, transport costs skyrocket daily, school fees can't be met, and so on. Most of those surveyed accepted that RAMSI brought back law and order but other parts of daily life--return of basic services and the Better Life--seem as far away as before.
Six months of re-rooting peace and order is a short period of time compared to something that has been growing out of control for more than 15 years. However, the constant need for a massive information, education and awareness campaign for Solomon Islanders is more needed now than ever before. Citizens appreciate greatly the new levels of security ushered in by RAMSI. But that's history! What is needed now is the beginning of the Better Life for the poorest which isn't happening.