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Partners, Not Clients, Certainly Not Customers!

Partners, Not Clients, Certainly Not Customers!

By John Roughan
19 June 2008

The Grand Coalition for Change policy-framework document says it clearly: "it has to be a reform-minded, people-focused and rules-based" government. The document's language highlights a constant but basic theme--change must "occur at the grassroots level", be "people-centred", achieve "development through a bottom-up and holistic approach", encompass "the empowerment of the people".

When a person reads these words and phrases one thing leaps off the page: Solomon citizens must be recognized as partners! They are not primarily clients in need of certain professional services--medical doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc. Nor are they to be simply viewed as customers depended upon bureaucratic work patterns.

In past years, for instance the villager and the town person were viewed mostly as clients or customers with certain needs--they were sick, or uneducated or required transport, etc. What was completely forgotten was the fact that these same people actually own the country. Through their tribes and lines more than 90% of the land, trees, ground, rivers, lakes, reefs and fishing areas are owned and controlled by these very same people.

In other words although these resource owners do have some very fundamental needs and face serious weaknesses in their lives, at the same time, they bring to the development dialogue the very core that enables the Solomons to exist in the first place. In a real sense, then, the nation's citizens bring more to the development enterprise than any plan, fund or input that the politician, government official or aid administrator brings.

Rather than being a bunch of paupers, beggars waiting for the next handout or a hopeless mass in need of assistance, our people actually keep the nation glued together. Villagers proved this recently when they kept the nation afloat during its most trying Social Unrest years of 1998-2003. While the Solomons state dithered, faltered and failed its citizens spectacularly during five years of turmoil, the overwhelming majority of villagers just got on with life. In fact, even before RAMSI had ever set foot on our shores, the Governor of the Central Bank, in 2003, declared that it was the village person who jump started the economy. In 2002, our economy was performing below zero but by the middle of 2003 it had jumped up to 5.8%, much of it due to the copra, cocoa, fisher, food producer, etc. of the village sector.

The present Grand Coalition for Change Government, the first in 28 years of independence, has gone on public record that it wants to accent villagers' life (I prefer calling them village people than rural dwellers) and intends to shape the whole Public Service to work in that direction. I have been asked by the present government to dedicate my remaining years to making this new accent work.

One of the more important steps in this process begins this week. Shortly, the process of choosing a new group of Permanent Secretaries takes place. A special panel of senior officials, both within and outside government, will interview, short list, select and send to government a list of those managers whom the panel feels would best take government's commitment to the village people most seriously. These individuals, both men and women, would then be appointed to become government's managers of its many ministries and departments.

During the interview process these, the nation's newest managers, will be asked how they would gear up their respective ministries and departments to strengthen villagers' lives, bring "development with a human face" and present a vision "to give this country hope, prosperity and peace in a secure environment".

Solomon Islands is like a giant ocean liner. For years its boat's crew has sailed the Ship of State in a dangerous direction. One where the Ship of State hit the reef, almost sank and was only saved by village people while carrying out their duty of caring for the most vulnerable--children, olos, sick and women. Had that same Ship of State been responsive to and influenced by the passengers in a consistent and continuous way to their well being, it's hard to see how Solomon Islands would have suffered its years of social unrest. Village people, government is saying, are at the heart of re-vamping the Solomons.

The attitude of accepting the people of this nation as our basic partners in the quest of turning the country around must start with its newest managers, the new Permanent Secretaries.


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