Solomon Islands Government Nine Month Report Card
Solomon Islands Government Report Card
By John Roughan
Nine Months in Office
Sir Allan Kemakeza's government took over the running of Solomon Islands in mid-December and is currently finishing its ninth month in office. From the very beginning, from its very first day in office in fact, his government did not have the backing of many Honiara nor many village people as well.
Yet, Sir Allan, to his credit, was determined to show the Solomon's world that he was in charge and right things would get done under his stewardship. What then has been the results for the nation? What kind of a report card mark has the present government achieved after its nine months in office?
Law & Order
Without the slightest doubt, the Solomon's major problem area as a failing state lies in its lack of law and order. Only two months into office and the country's security failures were severe and growing more serious.
Shoot-ups near the Police Headquarters in Gizo town, government minister accused of extortion, daily acts of intimidation on business houses and individuals, increasing number of home robberies, hijacked vehicles, murder of police personnel, etc. etc.
More recently the daylight robbery of the Treasury comes to mind. Guns not handed in will always cause headaches but the real problem is the very government itself refusing to abide by the rule of law. Honiara now experiences the ridiculous scene of razor wire surrounding both the Treasury building and the Prime Minister's office to keep thieves from stealing the little money the nation has managed to collect.
The razor wire was erected to stop thieves from stealing money from the Treasury. In other countries, however, when thieves steal the work of the police is to CATCH the culprits, not simply make it harder for a newer brand of thieves to steal money again.
The most recent deadline for the handing in of weapons (to be eligible for amnesty )--twice extended in the past--was 31 May 2002. Sir Allan's initial promise of securing the 500 guns within 100 days of taking office was wildly optimistic.
A goodly number of weapons, however, were handed in (little or no stolen property, however) and the present government should get full marks on this accomplishment. However, there remains still hundreds of guns which have not been handed in although every now and then a gun or two is turned over to the Melanesian Brothers.
But the most outrageous act has been the recent assassination of the Minister of Youth, Women and Sports, Fr. Augustine Geve, who was visiting his constituency of Guadalcanal's Weather Coast on a peace mission. He was shot at close range by a known militant leader who boasted of the fact to the government by radio. Fr. Geve's murder was soon followed by an ambush slaying of a young girl not far outside Honiara city.
Donors are willing to help the nation but they ask that the leaders do their part. If gun toting Rambos can hold up the Treasury, take money for whatever reason, why in the world should New Zealand, Australia, UK, etc. help. We're not helping ourselves.
Running off to Suva to share the pain of our slowly sinking canoe with our Pacific Island friends is a useless exercise unless the government is willing to change and get law and order in place. Government must order the police to actually to search for those that are murdering citizens, stealing the nation blind, bring them to justice and if found guilty, sent to prison. Why should other countries even listen to our pleas if the government itself is the biggest problem!
Donors continuously remind our leaders that until the Law & Order problem is settled it will be hard for them to transfer much needed assistance. Except for Taiwan, our traditional donors--New Zealand, Australia, EU, Japan--have only reluctantly donated small amounts of funds for basic services to continue. Hence,
Mark on Government's Report Card for Law & Order: F
Managing the Economy
The major problem of the current government is not so much a lack of money but comes from the ordinary person's reluctance to trust in anything the government says or does. Since the Coup of 2000, citizens have grown weary of what government promises on the one hand and what it actually does in practice. In the first months in power, the 'Duty Remissions' issue was a public slap in the face.
Over a few weeks time the present government waved aside more than $7 million it should have collected on beer and cigarettes. This happened after government solemnly informed by no less than the PM himself that these remissions were indeed revoked. These words were no sooner out of government's mouth than the opposite was done.
Side-stepping duty on imports still goes ahead but under a different name. Two weeks ago two containers filled with cigarettes got through the system losing the nation tens of thousands of dollars. The culprit, however, was identified, the goods recovered but he won't be facing court proceedings. Government keeps telling the Solomons' world that foreign governments don't want to help us. The real story is why should other governments come to our aid when government itself is failing to act responsibly.
Logging companies still import thousands of dollars worth of equipment, vehicles, fuel and spare parts without having to pay duty. Some of these logging companies have special MOUs . . . Memorandum of Understanding . . . which should have been stopped long ago. All of these imports come into the country without paying duty!
Sir Allan keeps asking donors to help and they say: "Sure, no problem but let's see what you can do for yourself." A delegation of 12 government ministers, PSs and other ministry type were planning to jet off to Johannesburg at the end of August for the Earth Summit. If one counts the cost of their airfares, accommodation, food and perdiem for such a delegation the nation is looking at almost $250,000 cost.
What about using that money for teachers' salaries? If a donor is willing to give government that much money, then shame on the donor for failing to understand the pain our people are suffering. Fortunately, the football-team-size delegation had second thoughts and the World Summit group now consists of three or four people only.
Early in July the Government informed its Think Tank Taskforce (a group of citizens set up by the government itself to listen to the voice of little people) that a number of its own ministries had overspent their six month budget by a whopping $33 million.
Four ministries or government units--National Parliament ($3m), National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace ($12.5m), Office of the Prime Minister ($3m) and Police and Justice ($14m)--had taken the lion's share of the national budget while other ministries like Health and Medical Services were more than $3 million underspent.
The Police and National Security has already used up more than 94% of its whole yearly budget by 30 June while Health and Medical Services have run out of oxygen, needles and other essential medical supplies and medicine. Yes, Medical has been forced to underspent its budget by $3 million because the four mentioned government ministries had eaten up all available money.
People in our hospitals are literally dying of preventable diseases while Special Constable's allowances, dubious compensation claims and outright intimidation demands on the Treasury go on daily. Buala, Auki and other provincial hospitals are laying off staff, sending sick patients home and are on the brink of closing yet politicians can trip around the world at government's expense. This national disgrace is not about politics but about people's sheer survival and the life of the nation itself.
Shifting ministers around is a sign of desperation. Past governments did much the same. When a financial crisis hit the nation in past years the first effort the failing government did was to shift permanent secretaries. They thought that by making a few political moves it would be enough to respond to a severe economic crisis.
We are currently experiencing the same kind of showboating: shift ministers to give the impression that government is really concerned about the economy and is doing something positive to respond to it. This kind of action is rightly seen as a desperate last effort but does nothing to resolve a serious issue. Shifting ministers around different ministries does not address the government's basic problem: OVERSPENDING and UNDER COLLECTING.
Mark on Government's Report Card for Managing the Economy: F
Services to the People
When Sir Allan Kemakeza was chosen Prime Minister on 17 December 2001, he made it clear that one of the top priorities of his government would be the people in the rural areas. When he was elected and was basically dismissed by the crowd outside parliament house, he said he was not worried by their reaction. He stated, "They are only a minority crowd in Honiara. The 95 per cent of the population whom my government represent are in the village." What, then, has been the fate of the villager since the Kemakeza government took over?
Currently the nation is bedevilled by strikes, sit downs and non-working workers. Schools have not been operating for the past seven weeks, medical attention in the nation's hospitals and clinics work on essential services only and many public servants have withdrawn their services because of a lack of payment of their salaries, in some incidents more than 2 fortnight pay periods. Hence, the very people whom this government promised to look after have been poorly served for more than two months now.
Mark on Government's Report Card for Service to the People: F
Hence, the three most important areas to judge the success or failure of any government: law & order, managing the economy and services to the people have all received a failing grade of F.
What is worse, there is no light at the end of this dark tunnel. In fact, donors across the world continue to speak with one accent: clean up your act or face the prospect of continuing to fail the people of Solomon Islands.
- John Roughan