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Solomons: Building Capacity AND Changing Attitudes

Building Capacity AND Changing Attitudes!

By John Roughan
5 September 2004
Honiara, Solomon Islands

Solomons' need for capacity building for individuals as well as institutions, groups and organizations is the current 'hot ticket' plan to turn the country around. It's strongly believed that many Solomon Islanders and their institutions don't have sufficient capacity to adequately fulfil the requirements for a successful nation.

Outsiders and not a few locals forcefully argue that individuals/organizations must deepen their knowledge base, require new and stronger skills, need more experience or are weak in other aspects-too few structures to work out of, insufficient energy or motivation-before gaining enough capacity. It goes without saying that the major reason for government inaction over so many years, for instance, is a serious lack of capacity. However, it well might be the case that some other fundamental reality needs serious review.

While few disagree with this analysis, the need to examine closely what attitudes are brought to the work place is critically for success. Deep and all pervasive attitudes fuel much of what goes on in the Solomons and these must be surfaced, for individuals, for organization and for the capacity suppliers as well. For instance, no matter how well an accountant knows his work, unless he has a bedrock conviction that honesty, integrity and transparency are vital to a well ordered accounts system, then all the capacity building experiences comes to naught.

There are a number of serious attitudinal problems currently plaguing the Solomons. One of the more dangerous ones is a belief system that there is such a thing as 'easy money'. It has taken different forms over many years and unfortunately still remains strong. In 2001, for instance, 18,000 Solomon Islanders-10% of the adult population-eagerly handed over $250 to a pyramid scheme hoping to reap $1.2 million within a few months. In spite of the scheme leaders recent convictions, victims still firmly believe their fortune lies just around the next corner..

In 2002, the Solomon Islands Cabinet convinced themselves of another easy money scheme. A Bougainvillean conman hoodwinked Solomons' Cabinet members that for a paltry $10 million Solomon dollars the country would gain $2.6 billion United States dollars. Of course nothing came of the ploy but the damage to the country's reputation was serious.

These latest schemes only confirm a pattern of belief that there really is 'easy money'. In past years various Solomons governments dreamt of finding gold bullion in Tulagi, bottling bush oxygen, swapping local trees for Saudi oil, etc. All the capacity building exercises in the world will find it difficult to compete against such a deep rooted belief system.

This 'East Money' attitude pops its head up continuously. Last week, vanilla vine planting became the latest version. Of course vanilla is a worthwhile crop. Yes, its world market price is tempting but vanilla cultivation is a delicate crop and needs constant and careful cultivation over many years. It's not like dropping a dozen or so pawpaw seeds on the ground and returning in 8 to 9 months later to gather some fruit. It is not a get rich technique!

Three months ago the country was told that planting teak trees was the way to go. Yes. a teak tree plantation is a great investment . . . for one's grandchildren. Teak's greatest value comes after 50 years of vigorous growth. A teak planter must consider 5 decades before seeing a return on his work investment.

RAMSI offers Solomon Islanders tons of capacity building experiences but it can't touch attitudes. That's our work and it's not being done! On the contrary, our elected leaders actually teach people that there is such a thing as 'easy money'. Y. Sato, Member for West Honiara, revealed that backbenchers and ministers sign themselves into $300 a day sitting allowances only to disappear for most of the day. There are other 'easy money' schemes as well! Government delegates run off to overseas' trips and knock down US$200 each day-worth more than SI$1500. That's money over and above accommodation and other expenses. They're teaching that there is 'easy money'!

Capacity building is more about techniques, skilling up and technology. Important to operate in a modern day environment, but they don't touch our core attitudes. 'Easy money' is but one trouble area. There are others! Our leaders carry around an 'entitlement' attitude-amnesty is a natural right, for instance. Others are convinced that men alone are fit to govern the country in spite of the disgraceful track record compiled since independence.

Attitudes lie at the heart of how we as a people think and how we believe the world works. If we are convinced that there is such a thing as 'easy money' no amount of capacity building will bring about the necessary changes needed in society. Outsiders can't do the job, only we ourselves. And it must start at the highest level! This kind of warped thinking and acting is part of the leadership crisis that grips us still. Are we big enough to face up to our difficulties and change?


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