Friday, 15 February 2008 2:12 PM

The Government should pursue bottom up approach with caution and objectivity

Demand driven approach to development is increasingly popular amongst donors on one hand, and developing countries: the recipients of development assistance on the other. The approach is increasingly popular and seen effective because it channels funds to projects or sectors which the beneficiaries think will have the greatest impact in solving a problem or removing a development constraint in their locality. Beneficiaries decide what is best for them rather than having outsiders imposing on them. In this way beneficiaries will have a sense of pride and ownership over a project, and will help the project to be successful. The buzz phrase for this in Solomon Islands is the "bottom up approach". (BUA).

In reality even though a development may be said to be demand or BUA driven, the process of picking a project involves a lot of consultations. This is usually the case between Solomon Islands and its development partners because (i) the assistance has to satisfy certain criteria of the donor, (ii) Solomon Islands may not have the expertise to translate an idea into a well designed project that best satisfy its needs, and (iii) consultative process brings wide ranging experiences, best practices, and new approaches to solving our problems. I support this approach and commend the Government as it values consultation with its development partners.

Domestically, there have been a lot of initiatives submitted or expressed to the central Government from the Provinces and other interest groups such as the ex-militants. For instance the Western Province has been very vocal that it should be accorded appropriately because of its biggest share to the national purse. Guadalcanal also argues on the same line as it is home to major international companies (such as GPPOL and Gold Ridge) and contributes significantly to the national economy. Other smaller and distant Provinces have been echoing the hardship they face due to their remoteness. Malaita and Honiara are now joining force to elevate the needs of the Province as there is very little development and that Malaita makes up the largest share of both the work force and the unemployment force. Most recently the ex-militant submitted that it would be a mistake if the Government ignores their rehabilitation package.

These initiatives can be nicely packed under the BUA as they are demand driven and reflect the aspirations of the beneficiaries. However, when they are proposed to the Central Government outside official channel of communication, and in an adhoc basis, the manner in which they are presented is un-protocol and disrespectful to the Central Government, and to a certain extent can be read as bullying. In this context Mr. Sasako was correct to say that the medium through which the recent communiqué by Malaita Province and the Honiara City Council was submitted was wrong. One can sense that other Provinces are now processing the same. The next thing that will follow is unrealistic list of development needs and wants submitted to the Ministry of Provincial Government, Ministry of Rural Development and Indigenous Affairs, or the Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation.

It is usually difficult to coordinate development when they are pursued on an adhoc basis because they are done through and may generate pressure and anxiety in the system. For example, coupled with the last minute syndrome, Politician and officials in the Central Government will have great difficulty prioritizing the list into the national development plan or budget. Added to this is the pressure sometimes exerted by vocal Provinces to gain favor. This sometimes happened in the past and usually the result was those who bark more got more. I trust that the Central Government will be wise and objective in its approach to all Provinces. There are a number of good initiatives proposed through the BUA by the provinces; however, not all are affordable, economically feasible, and technically sound. More pruning needs to be done. As it trod on a consultative approach to development, it would be good to see the Government do more consultation in its quest for rural advancement.

The Provinces must start to be professional and realistic in approach. By this it means that when the Central Government puts forward its policy framework they should not immediately bombard the Government with a list of problems and desires that fall under the policy framework. In parallel, the outcome of a week meeting as in the case of Honiara/Malaita meeting is not in the form that help translate Governments policy framework into implementable activities. I read the 18 points and agreed with the Premier that they are not new, but are old and still in raw form. Further consultations between the Province and the Central Government should be organized to discuss the problems, review provincial plans based on the problem issues, and design and prioritize necessary project that will be realistic to address the problems in the context of the provincial plan.

These are no easy task; nonetheless that's what it takes to ensure solutions to rural problems are effective, affordable, and manageable in design. Because of weak capacity in all Provinces, the Ministries responsible for rural development, planning and provincial government will need to triple their efforts and consult with the Provinces more meaningfully and not just for the sake of consultation. It should instead aim at achieving an outcome, for example, a development profile of a Province. In doing this the Ministries must be objective and strategic with theirs eyes on the nation as a whole. This could be an area to which RAMSI TA could be seconded to support. The Provinces on the other hand should put aside the old attitude of accusing the Government of not doing enough, but must dialogue positively and amicably. They must be truly the second tier Government that helps to implement a national policy framework.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Judas Gelu and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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