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John Roughan: Recognize, Celebrate & Then, Invest!

Recognize, Celebrate And Then, Invest!

By John Roughan
17 May 2004

Solomon Islands Central Bank's governor, Rick Hou, made it crystal clear last week. Our country finally snapped out of its economic down ward spiral and did it with a bang. It posted an almost impossible 6% growth pattern for 2003. The International Monetary Fund (IFM) was amazed that an economy so hard hit could turn itself around so well and at such a rate that it is "unprecedented and seen nowhere else in the world". What the Governor was talking about, however, was basically the village sector, the woman gardener, the small producer, ordinary Solomon Islanders all "when the international community already wrote off this country".

But the great thing about this staggering turn about was it started in 2002, months before RAMSI had even been thought about much less entering the picture. The little people, the Solomons backbone, didn't hang around waiting for the hand out, the grant, the donor gift but got on with daily life and produced exports--cocoa, copra, sawn timber, seaweed, etc. under hardship. These are the people the donors must not only recognize and celebrate but invest in to keep the fragile but growing economic 'pot boiling'.

Rather than moaning about their fate, listening to political tok tok, worrying what government would or would not do, or following failed leaders, the typical Solomon Islander got on with life. It is they whom the investor, the donor and those interested in this country must not only fully recognize, praise for sticking to the basics of life but especially invest in their lives to keep this country's economy humming.

But even before the economic turn around took place the signs of a nation able and willing to care for itself was clear. Yes, certain areas of the Solomons, e.g. Weather Coast, North Malaita, Marau and Honiara, suffered Law and Order problems. The vast majority of citizens, however, cared for their own security. Not a single island suffered mass starvation, or a disease scourge that carried thousands away or any calamity that tore at society's fabric. Village after village cared for its own physical needs, produced sufficient food and guarded its young, women and the old all with little or no assistance from the state. Again this basic reality must be recognized, celebrated but especially, for the healthy continuance of the nation, invested in.

The typical Solomon Islander looks not for development but The Basic Life. Development is an elite thing. It means overseas food, 24/7 entertainment, easy travel by private vehicle, expensive air tickets and especially tons and tons of leisure time. The Solomons villager, on the other hand, yearns for The Basic Life. In first place is peace, peace and once again peace! Once that vital part is well rooted, then progress in quality education, good medical attention and employment, jobs and livelihoods have a chance in their lives. When peace and progress are experienced for some years, then prosperity--a bit of extra cash for a new dress, affordable school fee, some 'luxury' items like sugar, tea, coffee, Taiyo, etc. etc.comes real.

That's The Basic Life dream. A dream that is not only do-able but affordable drawn from our land and sea wealth. We now know that without peace, solid and good relations among all people, even the basics of life are hard to keep in balance. Is it out of the question then for our people to demand quality education, one that prepares children for a Solomons life of harmony with our land and sea and not for some non existent job? Is quality medical service--clinics properly stocked, staffed by dedicated medical personnel--so impossible to dream about?

Development as has been preached and worked for is a con job. It is a myth, basically a lie. Only a handful of countries worldwide come close to having enough wealth to afford this myth. It is a foolish dream for the vast majority of Solomon Islanders to think of owning their own cars, jetting off to Brisbane for the weekend visit, building permanent homes with running water, electricity and eating imported food. That is an elite leader's dream constantly fed to people over the past 25 years, taught in our schools and backed by donors. Yet, it came crashing down around our ears. It is in fact part of the reason why the Social Unrest of the recent past almost permanently crippled our country forever.

Investment monies spent on basic education--including Adult/On-going education patterns for older men and women at the village level is where investment money must head. Village-level clinics regularly visited by medical personnel and well stocked is another investment priority. Transportation links for people to trade their goods, garden produce and travel to relatives, school children and friends are a must. Information linkage--community radio, affordable telephone connections in rural areas, efficient postal service, villager-made roads linking rural groups to each other are areas of special investment.

What would a Solomons future look like if modest amounts of investments primarily focused on the country's rural backbone! One can only guess! In spite of having few of these basics village people, as the Central Bank Governor stated, pulled the nation out of its economic tailspin. If The Basic Life realities were already working at our grassroots, then our recent Social Unrest years would have never happened!


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