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John Roughan: More About SIG Than RAMSI!

More about SIG than RAMSI!

By John Roughan
11 July 2005

Last week a major study about RAMSI, authored by the Pacific Forum's Eminent Persons Group (EPG), was made public. The Solomon Islands Government must be congratulated for publishing this critical study done by the three-person team--Pacific Forum's Director, Fiji's Foreign Minister and Samoa's Ombudsman. In past years, studies critical of government failures and/or poor track record, e.g. the nation still waits the study about the 10 Kwaios killed on Guadalcanal's Weather Coast and further back in time, we still wait for the study about the 15 people killed in the Mount Nasuha (Marau) plane crash in 1991, etc. never see the light of day.

It was a healthy thing for government to get this most recent report out quickly for people to read. It was released less than a week ago by those who had done their research from 10-17 May. That's less than two months ago! Would that other government reports could claim the same!

The EPG 36-page report quite clearly worked hard at its task: "assessing the impact of RAMSI and the challenges facing Solomon Islands in the future." There were few groups, institutions, organizations, persons of note, etc. that the Group failed to speak to. The team travelled to the Weather Coast and North and Central Malaita to achieve as wide a representation as possible. They did their best to touch as many bases as possible, canvass all opinions and assess many shades of thinking. On that score alone, the EPG Report is worth reading and studying.

At the end of the day, however, the study is more about the Solomon Islands Government than RAMSI and rightly so. As has been said in these columns before our biggest difficulty is not what RAMSI is or isn't doing but our own government's failure to take ownership of bringing the country back into peace and harmony. RAMSI is less our problem! Government's lack of leadership certainly is!

The EPG Report asks in a number of places for government to become 'more proactive in facilitating the work of RAMSI' (Recommendation #15), 'strengthen public service, Parliament, Executive and accountability institutions' (Recommendation #16), 'develop a counter-parting arrangement' to work more closely with RAMSI (Recommendation #5), 'setting up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate cases of ethnic tension' (Recommendation #9) and so on.

The Report offers 25 recommendations, 17 of them are directed at SIG while the other 8 are about RAMSI or other groups, etc. e.g. media strengthening (Recommendation #25). It is clear that this study focuses readers attention on the basic causes of why Solomons suffered so badly over the 1998-2003 period. As well it offers solutions, practical ways of doing something positive about bringing the nation back to normalcy.

Of course RAMSI is also directed to review its own work. For instance, the report asks that Pacific Islanders be encouraged to take up leading positions (Recommendation #2), locate the PPF in the provinces (Recommendation #6) and RAMSI to monitor criticism of itself (Recommendation #8). The Solomons labours under an unacceptable double police force--RSIP and FFP, It notes this several times and the report cautions that there is a danger of undermining our own RSIP if there isn't a fresh and comprehensive re-look at both police forces.

But other recommendations are critical to the long term peace of the nation. It notes that the Forest Bill of 2004 which Cabinet failed to get to parliament should become government's attention immediately. Government is also advised that the provincial system needs careful review and that the move towards a federal system must be studied carefully, especially its financial costs.

Unfortunately for the Solomons, parliamentarians especially Cabinet and MPs have eyes only for the General Elections in March 2006. The Report accepts "that the people did not fail Solomon Islands and in fact, it was the people, the churches, the chiefs and the NGOs that kept the communities together." The same paragraph goes on to say: "There is still a lack of trust in leaders, including the public service. The people of Solomon Islands look to RAMSI for leadership."

The EPG Report should be read, studied and acted upon at all levels of society. On the whole it is upbeat, positive and practical. Of course it's critical and rightly so but this team of experts is on our side. These practical men dream a worthwhile future for the Solomons. They want us to win! Now it is up to government to tackle its recommendations immediately. Don't wait until the next election. Please turn people's energies on by solid leadership towards saving the Solomons.


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