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Solomon Is. Poverty and Power!

Solomon Is. Poverty and Power!

John Roughan - Honiara

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Powerful people are never poor. The poor, on the other hand, never have power. No matter how poverty is spelt out--badly paid job, poor or no education, constant illness, decaying homes, unsafe surroundings--the root cause always leads back to a lack of power. It follows as day follows night that to root out poverty means a shift in power. Merely tinkering around poverty's edges--better paid jobs, quality education, well stocked clinics, better homes, cleaner surroundings--as good as they are as starters, do little to destroy poverty's roots.

Poverty is not God-given. It doesn't just happen by accident. It's not merely a bit of bad luck. No, society's understanding how the world should work is the major architect of poverty. Man, and it is usually the male dominated, male oriented way of looking at the world, determines who is rich and who is poor. Geography, cultural values, structural issues and even personal factors play a strengthening role in poverty making, but at its root, poor people's powerlessness has the most to say why they are poor.

Solomon Islanders' poverty levels have grown since Independence Day in 1978. The nation started off well, not rich but certainly not poor. But after years of practicing inept policies--over spending on tertiary at the expense of basic education--, overseen by a bloated and inadequate Public Service and directed by corrupt politicians--round logging scandal, Solomons' citizens grew poorer. At its birth, the country had no war torn infrastructure to re-build, UK gave the newly created nation a $35 million golden handshake and its young citizens were both eager and hopeful. In a word, at independence the nation had started off well. Within a few years, however, we were sliding down poverty's slippery slope.

Although our economy at that time could not point to a single Melanesian millionaire, the nation's finances were solid. Solomon Islands currency was on par with the US dollar--currently, it takes $7.60 to buy a single US dollar. Internationally the nation enjoyed a reputation as a solid place for the overseas investor and our poor were much fewer than we have today.

Yet, by 1992 when SIDT conducted its Social and Economic survey among 1200 urban and rural people, they correctly predicted that the new century would see their lives poorer than they had been during the 1980s. The Mamaloni Government of 1994, for instance, also recognized the growing poverty problem. It asked the Asian Development Bank to fund a study to find out the causes of the growing poverty problem. Unfortunately, at the very last moment, Indonesia's Social Science Research and Consultancy was asked to cancel its study visit.

An important part of Solomons strengthening poverty can be traced to government's low service performance--health, education, resource assistance and availability of money--over many years. During a 16 year period--1989-2005--for instance, through a series of seven Report Card surveys, citizens judged each government-of-the-day as abject failures by wide margins.

The question must be asked: How did a nation with such great potential, obviously rich in resources, with a vibrant and resourceful people suffer so severe a social meltdown? No foreign army had invaded us, no dreaded disease attacked thousands of our people and the country's weather conditions and environment had remained much the same as they had over a quarter of a century!

Perhaps the table--Power/Poverty Link--may help readers understand how the Solomons nation went from dream to nightmare in less than two decades. Why in a land of plenty, have the poor grown in number? How could a handful of the political elite manage to capture the bulk of the nation's wealth at the expense of the majority.

POWER/POVERTY LINK


Power 20th Century 21st Century

Source of Power Money Food Security

Focus of Power Honiara Village

Power Users + Men + Women & Youth

Result of Power = Social Unrest Peace & Prosperity

The 20th Century's basic foundation-blocks led directly to the nation's recent Social Unrest. Money dominance, focused almost completely on life in Honiara by a male dominated political system basically destroyed the country. Success in breaking down and rooting out the poverty that this system let loose in the country calls for a new dream, a new vision.

A 21st Century dream, however, must replace each of the 20th Century's failed building blocks. Money, usually other people's, must be replaced by national food security which the bulk of people are good at. Village-focused investment must take Honiara's place as the centre of a new Solomons world. Finally, in order for our nation to achieve peace and prosperity for all, then 75% of the Solomons citizens--women and youth--must become major decision makers with men. Then, and only then, will poverty's rate slow down because then there has been a major shift in power.

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