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John Roughan: 2005 . . . the year of the voter!

2005 . . . the year of the voter!

ByJohn Roughan - Honiara

This time next year Solomon Islanders head for the polling booths. Voters will vote in 50 members to the nation's new parliament. If the last two elections--1997 and 2001--are anything to go by, however, most parliamentarians are in for a rude awakening.

In 1997, for instance, more than half the sitting members were shown the door. The 2001 elections proved even worse. In that national poll, 2 out of 3 parliamentarians, were sent packing. Next year's elections may well prove to be even more of a 'blood bath'. Up to 7 out of every 10 members of the current house could be forced off the national stage.

The signs of the time make it clear that the 2006 national election could see 35 to 37 new members and only 12 to 15 old ones returned. And it could go even worse for those currently occupying the seats of power!

People are clearly fed up with parliament's present membership. But that disappointment goes much deeper than simply getting rid of tired old political faces. It's more a deep distrust of the very political process. Our political elite seem to have learnt so little even after five years of social unrest.

The villager with his/her economic activity, social cohesion and sheer determination saved the nation. RAMSI's intervention was absolutely necessary but it basically saved the government, its institutions and especially the political elite's life style. The villager, on the other hand, pulled the nation through its worst years. Yes, there were serious pockets of social collapse--Guale's Weather Coast, parts of North Malaita, Honiara itself, Gizo--but for the most part it was the village sector that kept the nation ticking over. From tiny Tikopia in the east to the Shortland Islands in the far west life went on with little help from the outside. Abandoned by central government, with no security force, a shattered economy and a compromised political system, villagers were the major contributor to the nation's 5.8% economic growth before RAMSI ever appeared on the scene and their work in social peace and harmony lasted 5 years.

But rather than our political elite recognizing these great achievements, the people's accomplishments are hardly spoken about. An exception is Rich Hou! The Director of the nation's Central Bank in his 2004 report underscored the village sector's achievements. But the government goes out of its way to dismiss the people's strengths.

Witness the sorry spectacle of three Cabinet members, one of whom currently languishes in a Rove cell, while two others have been arrested, charged with serious criminal offenses and now face criminal court proceedings in the not too distant future. Not one of them has had the courtesy to step aside from their cabinet posts while the courts deliberate on their guilt or innocence. Current legislation does not demand a cabinet member to step down in a serious criminal case. However, common sense should be at work.

Of course these three men are innocent until proven guilty! I speak here of the seriousness of their case and question their ability to carry on ministerial work while at the same time worrying about how they are to defend themselves in a serious criminal case. Their individual constituencies as well as the nation deserve more, much more. This is what is meant when I said above that government does not only fail to recognize the people's worth but goes out of its way to dismiss people's accomplishments and achievements over the five-year Social Unrest period.

That is why 2005 must be the Year of the Voter. Parliamentarians who hardly visited their people over the past three years must now face the voter. Embarrassing questions concerning people's money--the Rural Constituency Development Fund, $400,000 yearly--must be raised: which village profited from the Fund? what person gained from the RCDF? Villagers will demand explanations how the member represented them in parliament, what legislation--to bring in youth jobs, up grade rural life with better schools, stronger clinics, strengthened communication links, etc. has been passed? Although the member may have disappeared for almost three years, now is the voter's chance to demand straight talk, serious answers and an accounting of the member's stewardship.

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