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John Roughan: One Year On!

One Year On!


By John Roughan
19 July 2004
Honiara

This time last year Solomon Islanders waited in great expectation. On 24 July 2003 the nation accepted a multi-nation military force of more than 2,000 armed personnel to land on our shores. It was the most important event since our independence 25 years previous and arguably the most influential event since World War 2, more than 60 years ago. Now with one year under our belt are we able to make any kind of a judgement on the whole intervention. Who are the big winners? Who lost big? And what does it all mean for the nation in the coming years?

First of all let's be quite clear. The biggest winner in this whole exercise has been the Solomon Islands people. Over the previous five years--1998-2003--the nation had been held at ramson by a few hundred thugs, conmen and opportunists. The vast number of people--villagers, town folk and their families--got on with life, fed themselves, few died of uncontrolled disease outbreaks and almost 98%+ led secure lives guarded by people's own traditions and customs. These accomplishments took place with little or no help from the state, its police force nor its economic masters.

Last year the SIDT Report Card survey on the Kemakeza government's work for its people showed how poorly it had served the nation in the 18 months preceding RAMSI's armed intervention. Of the four categories--health, education, resource assistance and availability of money--which people scored the government, not one area scored more than 42%. In other words, people had literally given up on government, had taken greater charge of their lives and hoped that the future would get better. Most figured it couldn't get much worse.

People's fervent prayers were partially answered with RAMSI's intervention. In a six months follow-up survey of the intervention force in February this year, for instance, respondents (2,341 town and village people) gave RAMSI high marks (88%) for its security work but a bit lower for Justice System Working (74%). However, RAMSI could only achieve a much lower score for the other two areas so important to people's lives: Service delivery--education, clinics, transport, jobs, etc.--66% and lower still the expected but yet to be delivered national economic re-birth (64%).

On the whole, then, Solomons' people, the big winners of the military intervention, remain optimistic and hopeful but wary still as the above survey indicates. This leads to the question of who then were the big losers in the military intervention. People 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. In the minds of 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 significant falling away on the other three issues. The Justice System Working, for instance, drew lower results than security partly from the nature of the justice system. Collecting guns, jailing warlords, and restoring basic peace produced quick, dramatic results. Justice system proceedings--police investigations, court processes, sentencing and jailing--are a much more drawn out affair and work at a slower pace. But people were not shy to observe that few senior politicians have yet to feel the full sting of the law and their rightful place in a Rove cell. Crooked politicians, unsavoury business men, coup plotters and their cronies have yet to see the inside of a court house and until they do, then the nation as a whole continues to be the big looser!

What is the Solomons future? People seek The Better Life! They search for a modest increase in economic well being, increased employment both in town and the village, a definite reduction in store prices, lessening of transport costs and a growth in the ability to pay modest school fees. Most of those who were surveyed understand that a year is a short period of time compared to the years that the Social Unrest grew and spun out of control.

However, The Better Life doesn't come on its own. There is no magic bullet. People want and need constant massive information, education and awareness-building campaigns on the causes and solutions of our recent Social Unrest. Citizens appreciate greatly the new levels of security ushered in by RAMSI. But that's history!

What is needed now are programs geared for The Better Life for the poorest which is not happening. Pouring investment, energy and time into Big Time Operations--Gold Ridge, SIPL, Honiara itself, etc.--as necessary as they may be can not be paid for at the expense of the village and the villager. It's these very past policies that carry much of the fault why so many suffered so much at the hands of so few.

ENDS

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