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John Roughan: The Village Is The Private Sector!

The Village Is The Private Sector!

By John Roughan
15 November 2004

This week Solomon Islands plays host to a two-day conference of its Development Partners, those generous nations that are keeping us afloat with funds. Without their assistance, our small nation would have already sunk below the waves. Yet, it this a true? Recent history, however, paints a rather different picture.

Certainly, during the years of our troubles, the nation's treasury was flat broke. To make matters worse thieves in and outside of government stole, sometimes through the barrel of a gun but more often by outrageous demands for false allowances, unjust compensation claims and quick money schemes, the few dollars still within the government system. But at the same time that the national treasury was being looted by those that had more than they needed, another section of the nation--the village--was getting on with life.

During the country's five years of Social Unrest--1998-2003--the nation didn't have one food riot, hundreds of our people were not carried away by disease and in spite of having no police presence or any other kind of security village people protected the women, children and olos. Unfortunately Guale's Weather Coast and a few other areas around the country did suffer serious societal breakdown. But they were the exception! 98% of our people took care of themselves with little or no help from government or any other authority.

As the governor of the Central Bank, Rick Hou, said "once again the economy had benefited from the perseverance of the productive sector. These are the Solomon Island firms and private informal groups and the many hundreds of individuals who just chose to get on with their daily lives." Because of their work the economy grew by about 5.8% which the International Monetary Fund has "seen nowhere else in the world". It is this kind of statement that makes the title of this essay so true: The Village is the Private Sector.

This economic growth boom took place long before RAMSI was even thought about, really in 2002 when the international community had already written us off as the Pacific's first 'failed state'. Small producers--fishermen, copra cutters, cocoa farmers, women gardeners, food producers--and other small economic players returned to their daily lives; did not take "a wait and see" approach; did not wait for donor handouts and certainly didn't wait for government policy direction. They just got on with it.

in face, just the opposite was happening. Instead of investing in people's lives by supplying basic services to its most important people, the villager, these weakened and over a fifteen year period could only average a bit more than 50%. The following table lists the six national Report Cards people (about 13,000 participants in the six Report Cards) across the nation marked their governments.

Solomon Island Governments Report Card Summary

1989 - 2003









Health Services

Education Opportunities

Resource Assistance

Availability of Money

Average Mark

(Source: SIDT)

Now if the small people, the woman gardeners, fisherman, etc. could do so much with so little just imagine what would have happen had major investments occurred in their lives. Back in 1997 the Ulufa'alu government asked SIDT to conduct an investment survey to find out what people across the nation would put investment dollars if given the chance. The survey of almost 14,000 people was an eye opener.

For instance, villagers spoke about garden investment . . . not for labour help but for more information, newer techniques, better seeds, etc. And closely behind that request were two other investment priorities: reliable and affordable transport and local markets. Last week when visiting West 'Are 'are villages, I was told in no uncertain terms that they needed better communication links. They were sick and tired of the isolation--in this, the Information Century,--left in the dark and at the end of the line. They said, 'we're not part of the nation'.

In a very unscientific survey I asked 8 village groups, if they could have a single communication tool--computer, fax, telephone, 2-way radio or community radio--which would they choose? With an almost unanimous voice the 2-way radio was the tool of choice. Many liked the idea of more than one tool but their overwhelming vote was the 2-way radio. As one woman said: "I've got two good ears and I know four languages. I can understand almost everything that comes across on the radio."

Our Development Partners must tune in and be on people's investment wavelength. These are modest, quite clear and more importantly, investing in their every day lives powerfully cures the nation's growing poverty levels that lie at the root of our recent Social Unrest. Of course uneven development practices, land issues, poor management, corruption, etc. are critical but had villager's felt their lives growing stronger rather than weakening since 1987, we never would have experienced our destructive Social Unrest years.

**** ENDS ****

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