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John Roughan - 18 Months To Make Good!

18 Months to Make Good!


By John Roughan
29 July 2004
Honiara

In February 2006 Solomon Islanders will more than likely cast their votes to elect members for a new parliament. That sounds a long way down the road but believe me it's right around the corner. The Kemakeza government, if it lasts that long, has a mere 18 months to make good . . . to direct this nation out of its social, economic and cultural tailspin. So far it has done a pretty miserable job! Much has to be done and not the least getting our young people back thinking and working for the country.

RAMSI's has been congratulating itself these past few days and rightfully so. However, saving the country and directing it to a better life still remains the main work of all of us, especially the members of parliament. RAMSI presented government and the rest of parliament a golden opportunity to bring the ship of state back to normal sailing. So far, however, it's been basically a RAMSI show. When do our own people kick in? When does cabinet, government ministers and the rest of government show their metal and present the nation with a vision, a dream to live by. So far we have been terribly disappointed by our Shadow Government.

Our youth, for instance, are strongly into kwaso and grass than working to create a new nation from the wreckage of the old one that local thugs, conmen and thieves created over the past five year period--1998-2003. We are well along the road of making a big stick to beat ourselves. Time is not on our side. Where are the jobs, livelihoods and means of making some money that our kids demand and so desperately need.

Don't talk about this time next year! At the rate we are going--a truly wasted year with a RAMSI presence on our very doorstep since 24 July 2003--and we have yet to create even a few dozen youth jobs. Our literacy rate remains one of the lowest in the Pacific. Each year our schools push 7,000 kids out of the system. Could these same gifted and educated youth be organized to conduct literacy programs across the nation to raise literacy rate to 50% within ten years? In 1959, for instance, Fidel Castro took over a Cuba that had a literacy rate much like that of present day Solomons. Currently, however, that small, poor island country has a better literacy rate than its much larger and richer neighbour, USA. How did Castro do it? Easy! Students wanting further study--Form 6, Form 7, post secondary, university, etc.--were obliged to teach literacy to older adults, especially their parents, brothers and sisters. If they did, then they would qualify for further study.

But government must get fully behind such a literacy scheme. Where are our parliamentary champions for literacy? I can't imagine a major foreign donor refusing to help a dedicated parliamentarian who really threw himself into organizing a structure dedicated to raising our literacy rates in a major way.

Honiara's elections are on the cards sometime before the end of this year. The city's three parliamentarians should be in the thick of preparing city people to register their names on the elective rolls and use their constituency monies to fund youth theatre groups, youth touring information-sharing teams and young people conducting election education workshops across the whole town. If Honiara's newly-elected officials aren't better than what we had to suffer over the past 25 years, then our national elections could easily turn out to be a disaster. An 18-month preparation is a short time period but one of the best ways of preparing for the national election would be to make strong Honiara elections.

Our next 18 months will be harder, not easier. Yes, recently government ministries informed us that the month of June recorded a $30 million surplus in government finances. Teachers, public servants and the ordinary worker are paid on time now and this has been going on for months. Revenue is up, more businesses are strengthening their bottom line and government is at last paying off its loan arrears. Fine! We hear the joy but not the misery! How many new jobs have been created? How many Honiara families feed, shelter and support a dozen other hungry mouths over and above their own family members? Have basic goods prices fallen at all or do they continue to march on higher as before?

These and other pressing reasons show us why cabinet, government and parliament must become more proactive in searching out ways of creating a new kind of Solomon Islands. All our efforts must be directed to strengthening the ship of state, uniting a people to pull together and petty politics and selfish attitudes are things of the past. RAMSI's presence makes it possible but without our work and effort, it will come to little. The next 18 months before the next national election is the time to work and not simply a sit and wait period.

**** ENDS ****

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