John Roughan: Solomons' Voice Returns!
Solomons' Voice Returns!
22 November 2004
The least noticed but most welcome change in public life since RAMSI's arrival in mid-2003, has been the flood of questioning, critical and insightful writings by the Solomons public. During our recent Dark Age, the country's Social Unrest years, the Solomons public voice almost completely disappeared from newspapers and was rarely heard on the radio. Now we read and hear that voice once again. A sample of the last few week's Letters to the Editor makes the point.
This time two years ago, for instance, it would be the brave Solomon Islander who dared take pen to paper and publicly question government actions, a local MP's financial dealings or publicly discuss an institution's questionable acts. Had the infamous Family Charity Fund begun these days it would probably be quickly questioned and dumped. Before RAMSI's intervention, then, only a few topics were safe to write about.
The famous case of the Honiara Councillor declaring women in shorts against custom, unnatural and be stopped brought out an outpouring of letters. More than 20 women response-letters made it quite clear that the Honourable gentleman was out of his depth, didn't understand that Honiara was not the village and women would no longer simply fold up and disappear when a male made silly and unsupportable remarks.
But as wonderful even delightful, as that exchange of letters was--really there wasn't any exchange at all since the Honourable wisely chose to keep hidden after his initial outburst--the controversy focused on an issue that didn't rock the political establishment. Unlike today's letter-writers--questioning MPs on the use of the Constituency Development Fund, seeking to find out how the PM himself spent Taiwanese funds, showing their displeasure at parliamentarians' public morals, etc.--current writings focus on what makes a country tick. And for the first time that I can recall they raise these searching questions with humour and good grace.
Take the writer who used humour to such good effect in his Letters to the Editor (Star: 15 Nov). I wish I could write as well! He calls himself Professor S. Cam, listing all his degrees but making sure that all know he had (failed) them. With tongue in cheek he mentions that his university--Conwell College (Rove Campus) a great spoof--majors in subjects like criminal law and advanced gullibility. While never mentioning the actual names of the two recent seriously questionable universities, he makes it quite clear that the reputation of his own institution of higher learning had been negatively affected by such bad publicity. Whoever you are, please keep up the humour to puncture these Big Men's balloons.
Politicians world over love their faces plastered on the front page--well, if truth be known, any page would do--of newspapers, their words quoted daily and seek serious public attention. What they hate, however, is to be doubted, to have their dubious actions second guessed and to face embarrassing public questions. Really, no one likes public embarrassment or humiliation but most of us have little to worry on that score.
However, during our Social Unrest years serious things happened. Many in Honiara knew what was taking place, perhaps not in detail but the 'coconut wireless' was pretty efficient when it came to dishing up local dirt and what evil was taking place. Of course few of us had the guts to voice out our disgust, to let the world know, at least our little Solomons world, what was really happening out in Ranandi, on the Weather Coast, in the Marau area or in North Malaita, etc. Even as I write these words there are individuals who remain mum and keep a low profile about what has happened and in reality what is still happening in parts of our country. How long RAMSI stays is their big worry!
In fact there are still areas of concern which rarely make the papers or SIBC except in special circumstances. It took an outside body, for instance, Amnesty International, to blow the whistle on the many rapes, sexual attacks and bodily hurts local women and girls experienced these past years. These ugly actions filled our Social Unrest days and in fact still go on today. As one women said, 'we more easily tell about a murder, a bashing, a theft, a case of arson before daring to speak about sexual crimes against ourselves'.
But while we currently enjoy RAMSI's protection and have once more found a public voice, to ask the sensitive question or to present alternative ways of looking at the same problem, let's not allow the current opportunity pass us by. If only a few people voice out their opinions, or question authority or present alternative ways of looking at a problem, then those with vested interests to keep things as they are, win out. Those in power never willingly give up their hold on power without struggle.
Once in power, the powerful look for ways to stay there--look how some of our current MPs, some more than a dozen years in power, strive mightily to stay there no matter how poorly they have lead the nation. It's up to each of us to make waves, to act the pest, to hold authority's feet to the fire so as to make a better world for all. Social peace at the expense of justice is an illusion. Learn to be a gadfly and make those in power squirm when they fail miserably to lead the country. Allowing them to continue their injustices now just insures that injustice continues into the future.
Solomons voice now makes the front page. Let it long remain but grow stronger!