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John Roughan: Political Leaders Re-Visit 2001!

Political Leaders Re-Visit 2001!

John Roughan
7 November 2004

The last few weeks of political theatre remind all how hard it is for the current government leadership to change its way of acting. The last thing the Big Man elite care to do is to listen to its people, to act on behalf of the voter or to assist a nation trying to re-invent itself. So much of public action swirls about how to serve oneself, to stay in power and to secure funding for the upcoming election.

It wasn't that long ago--2001, in fact--when most parliamentarians worked in overdrive mode trying to award themselves an extra year in power. The Sogavare government spent heaps of time and energy trying to convince the Solomons public that the nation was headed for a constitutional meltdown if it dared to hold fresh elections. Public lectures, newspaper advertisements and government decrees harped on the same message: members must be given an extra year in power to save the nation. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, the nation held a solid fair and free election in December 2001 and we had once again a constitutionally elected, although poorly performing, government.

The real constitutional emergency, however,--parliament's constant and continuous failure to listen to its people--continues to this day. This basic constitutional weakness--the chronic failure of parliamentarians to listen to the voice of its people--recently raised its ugly head. Parliament, in its June sitting, approved the setting up of a Special Select Committee to review the citizens petition about the development of the National Art Gallery. Yet, Cabinet, in its wisdom, simply rode rough shod over the people's petition and sold the site to the Heritage Park Hotel business interests from PNG

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Fortunately, the story doesn't end there. Mr. Sanga, member from East Kwaio, called upon the Speaker of the House, Sir Peter Kenilorea, to keep Cabinet's feet to the fire. Parliament, when in session, is the superior power to that of Cabinet. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Cabinet can lightly dismiss parliament's directives. Mr. Sanga is urging Sir Peter to re-instate the Special Select Committee to study the citizens case when it comes to the future of the National Art Gallery. If the Speaker's authority does not have enough power to force Cabinet to obey the rules, then the member from East Malaita is asking the Speaker to bring a court injunction to bear. In other words, the executive branch of government must follow rules and when it steps out of line the courts can and must intervene.

But the chronic inability to listen to the national voice is on us again. This week the nation will once again witness whether the people's voice will be heard or will certain groups' interests, the logging industry and its local cronies, will have the final word. Last week the Solomons' Cabinet after heated debate delayed making a decision. Vested interests--cabinet members with major logging companies in their constituencies--are determined to stop the government tabling the New Forestry Bill in parliament's sitting later this month.

Members are well aware that the current 900,000 cubic meters harvested annually is killing our natural forest cover. It produces about 250,000 cubic meters of harvestable timber in any one year. The present rape of our forests by southeast Asian companies with active assistance from our own people is almost 4 times more than can be sustained. No matta! What's more important to the round tree loggers is that these easy monies could well dry up if the New Forestry Bill were to ever become the law of the land.

All kinds of arguments are dragged out by those wanting to preserver their money flow for themselves. Landowners, they argue, must have more say. Bring the Bill back to them, let them debate it and if they think the forestry bill is a good idea, then bring it back to parliament at a later date. Of course everyone knows that this would take years to accomplish and probably would never happen.

Others argue that yes, there should be a slow down in harvest over a ten year period or so. Once again, time to save the forests is doubtful. At the present rate of severe over harvesting, commercial logging could come to an end before that plan meant anything. Still another pro logger, a cabinet member, states that the New Forestry Bill lessens villagers' rights and customs. If this is so, then bring those arguments to parliament's floor and make a convincing case. That's what parliament debate is supposed to be about. But the real reason, many believe, behind much of this posturing is the fact that members are worried more about their own pocket books than national livelihoods.

People's rights and citizens' just demands receive less and less attention from parliament members. The nation has experienced this continuous constitutional crisis over many years now. When members routinely fail to heed their people and make light of citizens legitimate demands, then we have the beginning of a dictatorship of the few.


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