February 2006 . . . Voters have their say!
By John Roughan - in Honiara
In 16 months or less, parliament members face their people at the poll. Do they stand half a chance at returning to the Big House on the hill for another 4 years or are they looking at certain defeat? The last two national election results--1997 and 2001--rightly fill them with dread. In the 1997 election, for instance, voters dismissed more than half of them. 2001 election turned even worse for sitting members. The voting public sent 32 of them packing, only 18 members made it back. The next election, I'm afraid, the same will happen . . . voters will dismiss at least 65% of current members. They're already telling them to look for a new line of work.
National politicians are already looking over their shoulders, worried, fearful with only a few, hopeful. However, campaigning for office will not repeat the 2001 tactics when guns and money powered in some while others bought their seats. RAMSI's presence makes gun power much too risky and vote buying is dangerous as well. But it's childish to think that other dubious short cuts won't be part of their package to insure success. The re-election campaign, moreover, has already begun.
It's difficult for most parliament members to run on their track record . . . they don't have any. Like politicians worldwide, they want the voter to concentrate on what is promised in the future. Reviewing the past with its litany of failures, deceits and corruption is the last thing a politician wants the electorate to think about. It's in the best interest of the nation, however, to review on a regular basis just what the member has done over the last four years. Has life of the typical voter been bettered by their member in the house?
In SIDT's 2003 Report Card (June 2003), the Kemakeza government achieved the lowest mark of any government since 1989. Education opportunities, medical attention, resource assistance and availability of money averaged out at a miserable 40%, Of course the survey was taken five weeks before RAMSI landed on our shores. We will see what difference government's out reach to people has been since RAMSI's presence when a second survey in late 2004 is conducted. I fear not much!
Voters, however, should be aware that campaigning for office has already begun. For instance, there will be much made of doing away with the test used to determine which student advances to Form 1. All Std. 6 students should automatically move on to Form 1. No test, no push outs, no failures! The Ministry of Education plans this to occur soon: all Std. 6 students to advance to Form 1 by 2008. The Ministry needs the next few years to insure that there are enough teachers, classrooms, material and other things to make this good thing happen across the nation's school system.
But our politicians view things through the prism of the February 2006 lens. They are unable to wait until 2008, voters would already have reassigned most of them to their villages to watch the grass grow. No, the change from Std. 6 students automatically moving on to Form 1 must happen next year for them to benefit. It doesn't really matter to them that such a time frame is an impossible one.
Such plans remind one of the great promise in January 2002 when the present government abolished secondary school fees. School headmasters, however, wisely informed students that school fees must be paid up front. If government monies came on stream at a later date, then school fees already paid at the beginning of the year would be refunded. Of course not a headmaster refunded a single school fee. Government money never appeared!
For the Solomon Islands voting public, it's necessary for them to put on the politician's eye glasses . . . look at all up coming political decisions and how these reflect the political leaders' preoccupation with the February 2006 election. Are today's political actions dictated mostly by the up coming national election or is something really good happening.
For politicians really worried about re-election may I suggest that for the next 16 months or so that they act like statesmen and forget about being politicians. The Report Card mentioned above makes it clear where voters want to see a difference. Insure that quality education really takes hold. Stock village level clinics well. Get extension workers out to women's gardens to increase productivity. Invest in village livelihoods like micro processing of coconut oil, honey production, paper making, ngali nut processing, eco harvesting of local timber, etc. For political survival the above actions concern all parliamentarians and not just the Ministries of Education, Health, Agriculture, etc. Members have the next 16 months to turn things around for themselves if they deepen their commitment to making the Solomons a nation it was suppose to have been more than 25 years ago.
J. Roughan 27 September 004 Honiara