John Roughan: Wrong Ones Got Christmas Gifts!
Wrong Ones Got Christmas Gifts!
21 December 2004
Parliament's last meeting for 2004 disappointed many including members themselves. With almost 18 months of RAMSI presence under its belt, with a level of security and hope not found since the early 1990s, people hoped for the re-birth of a new, revitalized and dynamic Solomons, led by its most senior elected Big Men. What the nation got was so much less! Solomon Islanders expected their Christmas stockings filled with a great future, new hopes and a new beginning. But what they got was a poorly attended meeting, wasted time and a nation still waiting for a new and dynamic brand of leadership.
Parliament's recent session lasted less than 14 working days and many, many of its members were too busy doing other things to bother showing up. On some days, 7 December, for instance,19 members, that's 38% of the chamber, didn't make it to the House on the Hill at all. Some were overseas although fully aware the exact date of parliament's budget passing meeting months and months before hand. Others didn't make it to Honiara from their home village on time. Some just didn't bother to show up on a daily basis for this the most important meeting of the year.
Thank you STAR newspaper! You kept a daily running record of those who couldn't be bothered to come to the meeting and were conspicuous by their absence. Next parliament meeting, please do the same thing but also include how many members actually stayed for the whole day's sitting and name those who skipped out of the chamber after morning tea break . . . or before!
Of course when so many parliamentarians continuously failed to show up for their most important work, how could any one expect a Christmas gift. Many people nation-wide expected the Forest Bill to be debated. But foreign loggers had done their homework well, had pushed the right buttons and Solomons' citizens were once again denied their right to hear members debate this important piece of legislation. The loggers, their friends and cronies walked away with a nice, fat Christmas gift.
It could have been a great Christmas gift for the nation's people had their members debated, discussed and sank their teeth into something so vital to national well being. As it is, this year's log harvest will be greater than any year in our history. Rick Hou, the Pacific Man of the Year and Governor of our Central Bank, predicts that "we might reach 900,000 (cubic meters) at the end of the year". In other words,while foreign loggers frantically ship out our forest wealth at a faster and faster rate, the government insures that debate doesn't take place.
Some might argue that the Ministry of Education's promise of fee-free primary schools is a great Christmas gift. If primary school fees are truly abolished not only for 2005 but beyond as well, yes that would rate as a great Christmas gift. But don't hold your breath! Some head masters are already stating publicly that primary school children's parents must front up with school fees on 17 January 2005.
If and when government monies do appear, then paid school fees will be returned to parents! in 2002 parents remember only too well the broken government pledge of no secondary school fees. No government money ever appeared although the Minister of Education had officially informed parents that all secondary fees were abolished. Many headmasters, fortunately, correctly read the writing on the wall and demanded up front school fees. How wise they were!
The PM showed every sign he was afraid of letting parliament debate the government's own Intervention Task Force Report on RAMSI's first full year in country! Parliament's debate over the last few days were rushed and shortened. What's the big rush! Christmas was still a week away. What a pity! This bi-partisan task force report presented government with great insights, useful additions and help to a stronger future nation. The task force Report as well as the PM's own Cabinet Committee and the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee reviews truly reflected the considered sentiments of a cross section of 'our best and brightest'. The PM simply put them on hold! The nation is told to wait for a government response until a group of outsiders--Eminent Persons Group--gives its stamp of approval. Since when do strangers outside, no matter how well gifted, take a privileged position over our own elected members!
There's still time for a late Christmas present, however! Make sure that primary school fee payments go out early in the New Year, certainly before the school year opens in mid-January. Secondly, order a total logging moratorium until cabinet gets around to studying the Forestry Bill and parliament has a chance to examine this important piece of legislation. These two issues--our youth and our forests--lie at the heart of a strong Solomons future. Present the nation with a late but most welcome Christmas gift.