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New Direction - Old Attitudes - Deadwood = ?

New Direction
- Old Attitudes
- Deadwood Personnel
= ?


By John Roughan
29 May 2006
Honiara

Solomons’ newly elected government is to be congratulated on its determination to turn the fortunes of our country around by focusing the state’s many and varied resources on rural people’s daily lives. But it’s completely out of character for me to simply roll over, heap lavish praise on government’s latest initiative and not mention a number of serious stumbling blocks along the difficult path it has chosen.

The above title says it all! No matter how wonderful and long overdue this new direction is, focusing major finance, plans, investment, personnel and other scarce resources to revitalize the lot of villagers (I much prefer calling them villagers, not rural people!), the proposed plan fundamentally operates within an atmosphere that will certainly kill the new direction before it takes two steps.

Old attitudes die hard if at all! For more than a quarter of a century the Solomons’ political elite and the bureaucracy have fondly held on to the basic belief that Honiara and all it stands for—the best of services, easy life, rich and varied food, expensive housing, lavish entertainment, sports, education, comfortable transport, etc. etc.—is what is meant by The Good Life. Now the new government is asking, no demanding, that that attitude must change and it must change NOW.

The Sogavare government states in no uncertain terms that it is determined to drag our nation out of its economic, social and political tailspin by requiring new thinking, a retooling of vision and revitalizing of understanding. Government personnel especially its political elite, for instance, need recognize that the nation’s basic wealth producers—copra cutters, cocoa growers, farmers, fishers, wood workers, real estate developers, home builders, family producers, etc.—are village people mostly.

The nation’s political elite, government personnel and bureaucrats, on the other hand, currently eat up this hard earned wealth production through a lavish life style, demands for greater services and living far beyond what the nation can afford. When belt tightening is called for, it’s the national elite that must raise its hands first. Ministers’ new cars, overseas trips with lavish grants, plush accommodation in first class hotels, never-ending requests for special allowances for gardener, house help, driver, etc. all help boost MPs and Cabinet members salaries far above the typical Solomons’ wealth producer.

Over and above the deadening effect of ‘old attitudes’ is the leaden weight of deadwood personnel. They are found at all levels of government bureaucracy, from the very top—MPs—right through to the Public Service to those at the lowest rung. A government worker fronting up at the office at 8:00 in the morning, really putting in a full eight hours and clocking out at 4:00 is a rare sight. But it is this very type of person who government expects to carry out its new-direction policy.

Government’s new direction policy—focusing national resources on improving villagers’ lives to create greater wealth—is bound to fail in an ‘old attitude’ and deadwood personnel climate. However, a regime of speeded up rural investment and substantial villager participation may be the best and only conditions for the policy to work!

Already New Zealand dollars flow to support rural education. EU pledges itself to the rural infrastructure of shipping, wharfs, roads, airfields, etc. Other donors must be convinced that a strong health sector of rural clinics, aid posts and touring ‘barefoot doctors’ are absolutely needed for the government’s new-direction plan to successfully pull through. Telekom is a vital ingredient as well. A cell phone culture reaching out to hundreds of villages and dozens of community radios speaking to people in language are the minimum vital communication links people need to get this nation humming once again.

The equation for government’s new direction policy to really take off is easy:

New direction
+ Rural Investment
+ Villager Participation
= The Basic Life for Solomons people.

ENDS

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