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Election Fever, Honiara, Solomon Islands

Honiara, Solomon Islands Fri, 30 Nov 2001, Election Fever #27


It's the Economy, Stupid!
One of the more famous statements of the 1992 US presidential race when Bill Clinton won the presidency, was the above: It's the Economy, Stupid! These four short words captured the whole meaning behind the American presidential race. Other national issues, concerns and problems boiled down to one solution . . . a nation enjoying a strong, growing and dynamic economy. Given a strong economy then, a nation's other major difficulties have a good chance of being worked out. If, however, a nation's economy is weak, in decline and only half alive, other problem areas face impossible odds. To add misery to our already woeful condition, Solomon Island leaders, especially during the first half of the 1990s, focused their attention on politics rather than strengthening the economy as the preferred engine of growth.

Politics is the Economy

Worldwide, politics is understood as the basic framework to insure a nation's economy works properly. Over the past twenty years, however, national politics and especially the political elite have used the political process to position themselves to enjoy the nation's resource base. Politics has rarely been seen as the fundamental preparation for a healthy economy--enacting solid business laws, protecting investor confidence through proper legislation, training local personnel, just taxation policies, etc.--so that the Solomons could enjoy a strong, dynamic and growing economy. The fundamental reason to enter politics, however, was to insure the politician an easy access to money. At independence in 1978, for instance, there were few, perhaps only one, Solomon Islander who would be counted as a millionaire. Twenty years later, almost two dozen Solomon Islanders had made that list. Although these millionaires' bank accounts were difficult to obtain, their public assets like permanent Honiara houses, business ownership, vehicles driven and other obvious signs of wealth could be measured and counted. With very few exceptions, these new millionaires had all been high up in government especially members of parliament. How to get into national politics has always been a national pastime, certainly not the proper workings of the economy. When our nation faced an economic problem in the 1980s and 1990s, the government response was to automatically reach for a political solution. Change the minister in charge, or shift Permanent Secretaries around the ministries or come up with half-baked ideas like swapping our trees for Saudi Arabia oil, dig for gold in Tulagi, bottling bush oxygen, tripping to Hong Kong for 'free' money, etc. The assumption behind these actions was the thought that if parliamentarians can control the political process, economic power follows. In one sense, this is true. Money is gained but the economy which is far more than money suffers greatly. The police-aided Civilian Coup of early June 2000, although fancifully dressed up as a Joint Operation desiring to redress Malaitan compensation claims, was simply an extension of past governments' logic of governance. Over the years, different parliamentary factions had normally gained political dominance through no-confidence motions. However, during the last two years of the SIAC government's reign, no-confidence motions were failing and the opposition would not wait until a new election to gain power. The reasoning behind the Coup was to control the political process to more easily and fully access money. Politics once more became the economy. Many Solomon Islanders pin their hope on December's up-coming election for a new parliament, one that will finally have the people's backing. But in reality this election must be likened to a baby step in a long, very long, journey. Of course an election for new leaders is needed. But although absolutely necessary, it is not enough. As the care-taker PM has recently mentioned, whoever comes to power takes over a country on the brink of economic destruction, increased social discord and lacking unity. We are, as a nation, fast digging our own grave. Our own actions, or better the actions of a few, mostly our own self-appointed leaders, are hell bent on destroying the nation for their own deep greedy pockets and power. December's election will solve no problem because the problem lies deep within our hearts. A relatively small number of men are establishing a new way of acting. The gun and what it stands for--violence, intimidation, torture, power--is creating a society where the Culture of Violence rules. Anewly elected parliament inherits the nation's basic problem--restoring a dynamic, strong and growing economy. But two other areas of concern--restoring law and order and establishing ethical leadership--are intertwined and connected together. But fundamentally both depend upon a growing economy to be resolved. All three problem areas must be tackled almost at the same time.

National Economy Destroyed

Our country lacks an economy. We are bankrupt. Yes, money is constantly spent but it is supplied by donor nations compensation payments, education grants, medical assistance, etc. Only small amounts come from our own hands and brains. In the rest of the world, a national economy means that workers make, produce, mine, grow or create products that other nations want and are willing to pay money for. However, we no longer grow oil palm oil, nor mine gold or lure tourists to our shores. While we have begun to tin tuna once again, the industry remains small. Round log exports, especially from the Western Province, is our main and almost only export of note. Copra, cocoa and coffee help village people but the world price these products gain does not pay for the medicines, school books and services village people need. In normal times, any of the above mentioned problems would be tough to work on but the three problems reinforcing each other makes the task of governing almost impossible. Yet, the new parliament has no choice but to tackle all three at the same time. It is time for parliamentarians, however, to clarify for themselves as well as for the electorate that a strong, dynamic and growing economy for all is the best solution for all.

John Roughan

( from Solomon Islands Development Trust - SIDT ) mailto:jroughan@welkam.solomon.com.sb


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