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John Roughan: Partnership, The Road To Ownership!

Partnership, The Road To Ownership!

John Roughan
11 October 2004

RAMSI, the Australian-led multi-nation intervention force, is now into its 15-month program to help the country re-invent itself. Solomon Islanders initially gave a resounding vote of confidence (94% approval rating). Even six months after the first troops landed on our shores, people still strongly supported its efforts. SIDT's March 2004 survey, for instance, indicated that 88% of citizens thought the intervention's security measures were travelling in the right direction.

But as weeks turn to months and then years, the supportive atmosphere is bound to slacken. One reason is that Solomon Islanders, especially its elected leaders, are not doing enough to own the process of restoring the nation to firm footing once again.

Parliament members get full marks for courageously passing the necessary legislation welcoming in RAMSI. Their official vote was the necessary first step in a long rehabilitation process. Now the nation must work in partnership with this same force and not simply sit back and allow it to work on its own with only slight nods of approval now and then to what it is doing. We have been given a golden second chance of focusing our energies on finally creating a nation.

At independence in 1978, for instance, we directed our energies towards creating a working state apparatus. At that time we had to set up and at times even create new ministries, pass laws, make regulations, begin institutions, etc. to allow our small state to function. Over the following years, however, we rarely invested energy into nation-building except for some of its trappings: flag, anthem, currency and such. We failed to weld together nine different provinces, dozens of language groups and thousands of people. We felt that this nation-building business would somehow take care of itself. RAMSI has given us the chance of doing something serious about this nation-building process by showing us ways to do it. The rehabilitation of Solomons' police force, for instance, is an example worth studying. The deep cleansing purge of its 'rotten apples' among its members and the step by step rehabilitation process of recruiting new police personnel is revealing. This whole process features partnership. Solid police officers joined force with formidable outside help--appointment of a new Police Commissioner, intense training and re-training exercises and strong donor investment, etc.--began the process of re-creating a new, healthier police force.

The compromised and demoralised police force had let the country down disastrously during the 1998-2003 Social Unrest years. Fortunately, even before RAMSI's first soldiers landed, the partnership process leading to ownership had already begun. The police used no magic formulas. They initially purged those who had proven themselves corrupt, got rid of much dead wood and allowed others to retire gracefully. At the same time, a rigorous recruitment process began. Recently the police force received more than 400 new applications and from that number only 60 new officers successfully passed the rigorous screening, physical testing and tough supervision process. But this step by step method needed help and support not only from the good officers but needed the backing by training courses, donor support and strong leadership. For the police force partnership has become the road to ownership.

The same process of partnership leading to ownership must take place in other sectors of the government machinery. Start at the top of the ladder. This writer has asked in the past that government become more active in leading the nation out of its worst years of chaos. Recently DBSI went belly up and bankrupted to the tune of $40 million. Could not Government have acted sooner to begin a fundamental clean up of the institution, a purge of inept board members and launch an inquiry why the institution had lost its direction? What of other statutory institutions? RAMSI greatly assisted the Solomons Police Force begin a new life. Could not that be the case of other institutions under government care? This is the kind of political action so needed in today's Solomons.

The Public Service, at the heart of all government operations, is in critical need of a clean sweep, a cleansing process and new recruitment much like what happened within the police. Certain sections of Public Service--Forestry, Fisheries and others--will soon feel the sting of indictment, arrest and probably prison. But there are other sections too which should experience a wholesale cleansing and soon. Rightly, investigations, arrests and court hearings will swing into action but shouldn't government show that it is an active partner with the justice system and therefore exert some kind of ownership over the process?

But make no mistake about it. If we don't take ownership of the deep changes happening in our country, then we don't stay still. Like rowing up a river, stop paddling and immediately the canoe floats down stream. Powerful forces are still work to get RAMSI to leave. Those serving long years in Rove know that they have little chance of leaving prison quickly so long as RAMSI stays in country. Others involved with serious crimes in the past know that they are on the list to face the courts and probably many months in prison. They too would love to see RAMSI's departure. Partnering in the rehabilitation process is the best way of owning its outcome!


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