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John Roughan: Lessons From The Chinatown Burnout?

Lessons from the Chinatown Burnout?

By John Roughan
8 May 2006

Burning down Chinatown during Solomons Black Tuesday was an awful way to teach. But our lawmakers, have over many years, grown deaf to people's pleas. Since the early 1990s, the voting public have asked, no, begged, Cabinet and Parliament not to sell off the nation's Cultural Centre. But to no avail! Two times, Cabinet and Parliament, sold off this valuable piece of property and historical heritage. Yes, not once but twice people begged their leaders and still they wouldn't listen but sold it off to foreigners.

In the more recent past, these same bodies refused to protect people's tree wealthy by failing to pass legislation to reign in the overseas loggers. Also, the country had to endure almost three years of misery before our national law makers got around to stopping the Family Charity Fund pyramid scheme. There are many other examples of our national leadership's inability to listen to its people.

In other words, our parliamentarians historically find it next to impossible to listen to the constituent voice. Once elected the last person they ever listen to are the voters who put them into the seats of power in the first place. Black Tuesday's Parliamentary vote was, for a number of people, the last straw. People had had it! The public had made their feelings quite clear about corruption scandals, about money politics and still parliamentarians voted in Synder Rini. Once again people's deepest feelings were trampled on, disrespected and disregarded. Parliament followed its normal pattern and simply refused to acknowledge people's part in the running of our country.

Of course what the mob of riotous youths and not so young did--looting, stealing and burning people's homes, businesses and stores to the ground--was the worst way to go. But our national leadership's continuous failure to listen and pay attention to people's most basic feelings explains much why the rowdy crowd turned into a howling mob. It didn't, however, excuse the rampage at all.

One would have hoped then that with Black Tuesday etched so deeply into our minds and consciousness, that the new government's conduct would be doubly sensitive to public feelings in its first 100 days in office. But that wasn't to be! In its very first act of business on its very morning in office the Sogavare Government miserably failed its people, the weakened nation and the whole international community so wanting us to once more prosper as before.

While other countries' leadership think long and carefully about which parliamentarian is truly worthy of cabinet rank, we traveled a completely different road. We literally reached down to the prison population and nominated two men who would soon face court proceedings on the serious charges of 'intimidation, threatening, inciting to riot, etc.' Of course the two parliamentarians are innocent until proven guilty but the judges who heard the initial evidence against these two men thought the charges so serious that they refused to grant bail. Shouldn't such considered judgments give our present leadership pause!

More upsetting in this our period of national strain and uncertainty, what kind of a message does the Sogavare Government send by nominating men who are facing serious prison time? Australia, to put the best spin on it, is terribly upset and has already voiced out its misgivings. But much more important are the ordinary people's understanding about such an inept and unprofessional move. If these men are duly judged guilty and are sentenced to months in prison, the PM will be forced back to the drawing board, he would have to revoke their appointments and chose others to take the postings. Why get ourselves into such a mess in the first place!

I present two possible solutions to this profound mess. First of all the two parliamentarians could refuse their appointments as being inappropriate and sending the wrong signal to Solomons people and the wider world. However, I doubt very much that either Charles Dausabea or Nelson Ne'e will take this honorable road. The other solution left is for the Prime Minister to suspend these appointments until the courts have passed judgment on their cases Then, if the charges are not proven, the PM could re-appoint these men but at least in the mean time, the Solomons good name could be slightly salvaged.

But what does this ineptness say about the life of the nation for the next few months? If these happenings have taken place in less than a week of the new government taking office, I dread to see what the next six months will bring us! If ever prayer, sacrifice and fasting were needed, now is the time for them to kick into overdrive. Perhaps then the Chinatown burnout will not stand forever as a total disaster but could teach leaders the need to listen to their people a little bit more carefully.


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