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John Roughan: They Don't Listen!

They Don't Listen!


John Roughan
13 June 2005
Honiara

Last Saturday morning's SIBC Talk Back Show said it all. 9 of 10 callers bitterly disagreed with Government's recent sale of the National Art Gallery to a foreign buyer. Callers gave strong reasons why the Art Gallery should have never been sold--great setting for local artists to show place their talents, convenient entertainment spot, prime land for future local investors to use, historical site, etc.--but their reasons were cast aside. People once again realise that our political elite have learnt little from the five years of Social Unrest.

The Art Gallery sale is another incident where people's insights, desires and needs came last on the list. First comes government's interests, then private concerns (read money people) and way down, in fact, the list's last place, people's needs. Even critical departments like the police who are at the centre of law and order now find themselves shoved aside.

Witness the eviction notices handed out to Kukum Traffic Control officers. Police families are given 40 days to vacate their homes by the 'developer', Lucky Enterprises. Ten to one this 'development' is about small stores rented out by locals selling Taiyo, sugar, soft drink, rice, tea, coffee, etc. etc. Already more than 20 new stores line both sides of Prince Philip Highway selling the very same things. This is 'development"? No, this is the fast buck road for the 'developer'!

But don't place all the blame on the money people. No, our political leadership should shoulder the major blame for this short sightedness. Honiara's city leaders have been selling off, piece by precious piece, the city's prime real estate. We have already lost our whole beach front so that less than one mile of ocean front is left for the city's poor people to enjoy a day at the beach.

From While River west of the city out to Ranadi at the eastern end, huge chunks of prime seafront are now lined with casinos, clubs, private residences, small shops and foreign owners holding on to their land waiting to build or re-sell for a handsome profit. Only a few spots are left for Honiara's 65,000 to enjoy.

Government's sale of the people's Art Gallery in March this year travels much the same road. Cabinet's decision was a blatant disregard of people's desires and wishes. This $8.2 million deal--a prime piece of ocean front property in mid-city, probably worth $8 in US dollars--to a PNG firm proved too big a temptation. The nation heard, however, that government plans to build a new art gallery. Where? When? With what money? All left unanswered! What ever you do, don't hold your breath waiting for this new art gallery to appear.

But the sorry thing about this sale is its leadership failure. This same conduct continues the patterns of old that brought the country to its knees in the first place. No matter that RAMSI has been here more than 22 months, our political leaders have learnt little.

Our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003 was a wake up call for the whole nation. Our very existence as a people was on the line during those years. Fortunately, we called in friends from afar to help us out of our deep and serious troubles. They came, rescued us and poured millions into safeguarding our lives. But they did ask that we learn from our close call with death.

Most people recognize how close we came to disappearing as a nation. Were it not for villagers and their ability to withstand the difficulties and also RAMSI's presence, the nation would certainly have drowned. But out political masters, decision makers and educated elite alone seem to have not learnt much. They find it hard to listen. To really find out what it is people need and want.

Rather than bending over backwards to take the ordinary person's view of things, they go out of their way to make life difficult. Since 1989, SIDT's Report Cards surveyed people's feelings on how to better their lives. Yet, government after government rarely paid much attention. Although voters increasingly throw record number of politicans out of office, still leaders find it hard to listen, to take people's views into account. When will they listen?

ENDS

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