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Is Solomons' Peace Breaking Down . . . Again?

Is Solomons' peace breaking down . . . again?

By John Roughan
25 May 2004

There's serious fist fighting going on in the Marau area once again. It's about the usual issues, land and logging. Ship passengers are also being beaten up if they come from the 'wrong' place.

Some of the same 1998 practices that pushed our country to the brink of disaster are currently making a strong come back. Logging, unsustainable and destructive of our lands-the Central Bank's Governor, Rick Hou recently stated we export more than three times than our land can produce--, continues unstopped. Practiced by the same people as before. After all, round tree logging exports remain a profitable livelihood to the very 'leaders' who practiced them in the years before and during our Social Unrest period. One does not have to look far for one of the major reasons why the insecurity of 1998-2003 'bad years' could soon return.

Private mobs are organized to protect logging areas in Western Province. North Malaita is rumoured to be turning out its own home made guns. Honiara's social indicators are not changing for the better but are weakening. Employment is not rising but Honiara's youthful population is jumping. Witness the recent football tournament. A crowd-a police estimate to be over 20,000-piled into Lawson Tama last week.

Other social indicators are curving into a worrying pattern. The number of 02s and 03s among both husbands and wives grows. Kwaso drinking and marijuana use are on the rise while normal family life is severely strained by wontoks-more than a dozen individuals, for instance-living off a family's single wage earner for months at a time.

When RAMSI entered the picture last July, it acted as a circuit breaker . . . it stopped much illegal activity and put on notice what happens to criminals. The thousands of guns collected, warlords jailed and youthful Rambos on the run sent a clear message: Keep the law or else. However, RAMSI didn't and couldn't change attitudes. Unfortunately, many who played fast and loose with the law leading up to our difficult years have yet to feel Rove's sting. They haven't changed behaviour much.

Parliament's work-it should start this week-is clearly cut out for it. Problems listed above are real-world issues. Rarely will these disappear on their own but require leaders' hard choices, slogging work and dedication. Parliament's talk-world makes no dent in them. It has to become grip with these real world issues if it is going to once again recover its authority.

RAMSI's presence gives parliament a golden chance to re-assert its authority. First step in this process is for members to accurately analyse for themselves what has gone right and what has gone wrong since the military intervention. Solomons still remains our country. RAMSI is but an invited guest.

There have been major positive changes . . . a justice system that once again works. But other areas of life are not so rosy. SIDT's recent survey (March 2004) shows that people search in vain for the peace dividend. Where are the restored services of quality education, well functioning clinics, reliable transport, adequate local markets, improved communication links and others? The national economy, although pulled out of its tailspin by the small farmer, villager and storekeeper, still limps along with few jobs for our restless youth.

Security means more than the absence of guns, warlords jailed and crime cut down. The reasons why these took hold in the first place must be part of the security package. RAMSI can not do that work. It belongs to our elected representatives to screw up their courage, take a strong look how far they themselves have been more part of the problem than the solution and map out ways of turning the nation around.

RAMSI's priorities are different from our own. It looks South to Canberra while the Solomons' leaders must look to their own people for direction. Australia's up coming national election--as early as August--is less important than Honiara's and our own national one in 2006. Security issues are wider and deeper than Law and Order problems but must root in the reasons why our nation so sorely suffered in recent years. Parliament has to take the lead in insuring that peace, not merely a truce, grows stronger.


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