Thursday, 18 June 2009 7:56 AM

Why federalism for Isabel?

I am drawn to the question of Ysabel province becoming a state of its own from the letter titled 'Ysabel state' written by Drummond O from Suva in response to Ernest K. and I would like to share my perspective on the issue.

Personally I believe the issue of statehood is clearly misunderstood by those who are keen on seeing our lovely Island, Isabel province and many others of those who might follow on in the same lead, become a state. Before we assume solutions to our economical and political issues and problems faced in Solomon Islands and Isabel province today, let's decide first to understand what it means to be self governing and to be called a state in the sight of other nations.

To be self governing, encompasses an entirely different challenge altogether and is a totally different concept to manage along with a federal system in place. Those who wish to see Isabel province become a state should understand what "state" means, before taking another step on debating and deciding the issue of whether or not, statehood provides the solution for all our economic and political problems.
To be a state means to have a government in power that has the authority over a national population living in a specific area. It is a concept that asserts political, legal and administrative power centralized in a government.

When an Island like Isabel province becomes a state, that Island automatically becomes a nation. What this means for us seeing Isabel province as a nation is that it has the following; own constitution, own government that controls its own territories and guarantees the security of its citizens, maintains the rule of law, promotes human rights, provides effective governance and finally has a system in place that delivers public goods to its population such as economic growth, education, healthcare and etc. setting up a self governing system for the Island may not be easy as it seem for other Islands. To impose a federal system in place means, to bring established political communities in Isabel province with the wish to preserve their identity and to some extent, their autonomy in a legal, administrative system of authority. What this means for Isabel province is that, all the local communities and villages possessing a distinctive political identity and set of traditions, has to have the same responsibility and desire to say, our distinctive political identities along with our resources and set of traditions are to be preserved in this more centralized constitutional framework under this federal system.

Ultimately by discussing our ideas on the topic 'Ysabel state' there is a chance that what we might be saying indirectly, the current system in place governing our country Solomon Island, has failed to promote our human rights issues and also failed to provide us with the basic goods and services we need, the security we need, along with maintaining rule of law. This can also add up to say, our current constitution has failed us, from becoming entirely implicit towards addressing and solving the current issues and problems every single province is facing. Ultimately, ending up with the idea that federalism is the best approach at solving our economic and political problems.

However successful Isabel or any other province is, at managing its own resources and ensuring a steady growth in development, is not the only pointer to reflect upon, when considering establishing statehood and imposing a federal system or government. There is a lot of needs to be addressed, changes to be done that cannot be simply made overnight. People must be informed about the effects of statehood, new laws would have to be created, new political institutions set up, bureaucratic ways of ensuring accountability maintained, political control guaranteed against corruption along with deep public-service ethos respected and established. These are just some of the many factors to consider when pondering on the notion of statehood but the issue runs deep. However these issues are handled successfully by each province is not a concern for me here; the only issue I see that will create more problems for all our islands in the near future is that of wanting a federal system in place.
My personal opinion about the Isabel province state idea and the federal system idea is a question about whether or not our constitution has granted enough power for our smaller vulnerable provinces to be heard in broader political debates and equally recognized with their provincial neighbors, in the areas of wealth distribution and development. Seriously, this idea of wanting a federal system, can stem only from an institutional problem of responding equally to societal divisions and diversities, that our current government and those in the past have tried yet failed to address, when administrating the equal distribution of wealth, developmental packages and the maintenance of effective political control over our bureaucracy, in terms of maintaining high levels of transparency before the government and to the people.
I personally wouldn't want to blame our constitution for the need to establish a federal system of government. If our constitution has provided for the equal distribution of power for our smaller vulnerable provinces to be heard in broader political debates and recognized as equals with their provincial neighbors, in the areas of wealth distribution and development, then I see no reason why the constitution should be blamed for not responding entirely towards addressing issues at the local governments level in relation to those of national significance. Should this be the case then our constitution is not flawed but we as human beings identified with our own separate provinces, have cultivated a misconception of our neighboring Islanders when governments in the past and present take each island interests, needs and wants into consideration. Moreover, there could be a need for government officials to seriously evaluate their performance at carrying out their specific designated duties and orders. We should be asking these questions continually; is there a need for more political control over our bureaucratic officials or should we focus our attention to the unequal divides we may have felt or developed over the course of our country's development.

The most observable questions to consider could be the following; has our government been fair in its measures of distributing economic wealth to our respective provinces equally? Or is there a need for appointed officials to be in some way accountable to politicians who in turn are accountable to the general public? Or do bureaucrats themselves fail to keep their strict imposed professional standards and deep ingrained public service-ethos's, that they tend to entrench a lofty arrogance based on the belief that 'bureaucrats know the best'.

All these questions further point's to the problem of whether or not strong political control over bureaucrats is the key issue to be addressed here or that state actors themselves, have exercised the arbitrary use of power in causing the bad administration over resources, biased application of rules, failure to follow procedures or just simply incompetence.

Apparently the only obvious reason to imply the necessary use of a federal system is to ask ourselves the question; has our government in the course of distributing political and social wealth have been unfair towards each province respectively? The reason for why this question stands out to me, is because, geographically there is no reason to defend the idea of wanting a federal system based on major tribal religious language or even cultural differences. As a nation consisting of nine small provinces, we are so interconnected geographically, politically, historically, culturally and socially and thus as a result we should find complications at understanding one another. We as a people have to understand that due to the fact that we are small and interconnected, we should not be experiencing strong pressures for decentralization, because we have a constitution that fosters cooperation and understanding between national and provincial levels of government at addressing significant issues of importance that affect our daily lives.

Charles sisimia comments, on strengthening the relationship we establish between provinces and developing national unity in diversity, has to be supported seriously by political actors who are willing to see our nation and government accountable to our own constitution and people for the success of our future endeavors together as a nation. The approach to maintain unity and appreciate our diversity in expression is significant to address the issue of unequal distribution of wealth in the present, which may have fueled the idea for a federal system of governance. Our differences can be used as tools to help one another out of problems instead of tearing one another down and dividing us up further. It is in our best interest as a nation recovering from a recent ethnic unrest, to emphasis the need of not creating a future shaped by our own selfish desires based on our own political ambitions and personal gain and also, to not have the overconfidence in the resources each province possess, that eventually would run out if they were not properly managed in the future. Why we shouldn't base too much confidence in our resources is because this creates an environment for the discussion of a type of politics that can be detrimental to maintaining unity and peace from which I would like to call as ethnic politics.

However I do agree that, yes, we do need to decentralize wealth equally in order to broaden the scope of political participation and development and also to bring government closer to people. Indeed this would help to make political decisions more intelligible, ultimately fostering check and balances within the government, which is an effective means at restricting corruption on all levels of governance. This idea of 'detribalization' used by Lise Taheliohu Wate in her support for Andrew Noris stand on unifying Solomon Islands, should be taken seriously by all citizens of Solomon Island who wish to see progress other than territorialism in the future. However I will not support Lise in her overconfidence with Isabel's potential to become a state, because we are interconnected and highly dependent on each other. Not all circumstances for all provinces are the same. A recent example of our interdependence on one another as we saw just recently Gizo province, could not survive on its own during its Tsunami crisis, but in a lot of ways depended on other provincial support and help by people who saw the need to help others than the difference in ethnicity or the difference in political and economic standards of development. I also disagree with the idea that free movement of citizens must be regulated. This nation Solomon Islands for many obvious reasons have inter-ethnic marriages which can never prohibit future kids with multiple ethnic identities from going back home to their respective provinces simply because we live in a democratic country, that protects the freedom of individual rights to socialize, interact and identify with a province based on ones own preferences. We cannot allow to be regulated as well because of the different branches of Christian denominations spread around our country that provides the bridging of ideas and shared values amongst our own people. I do however acknowledge the need to reallocate squatering but I must admit that those who are squatering in our towns are also those who are able to influence MPs due to what we all want to call the power of 'wantok' connections which cannot be easily reformed by simply imposing a federal system. Again attention from the government must focus on the welfare society first before these fellow citizens of ours who we like to easily call squatterers, can elevate their sight towards achieving better dreams which would get them out of the poverty cycle and direct them to become self sustainable before they can be able to play a role as helpful useful citizens in terms of our nations development one way or the other. I also disagree to promote this idea of chiefs allocated with the appropriate powers to deal with their respective local communities in terms of maintaining law and order. Largely, due to the depressing need for money which distorts chiefs from maintaining the vision of a stable political community. Solomon Islanders moral will to keep Christian and even cultural values, have been prostituted in exchange for money nowadays in a lot of ways and I do not blame my respected fellow country men who are the chiefs, yet this form of hypocrisy cannot be tolerated anymore by titles of cultural significance. Respect nowadays for ordinary Solomon islanders is becoming an issue where money plays an important part in mutual relationships as opposed to loyalties to values of moral significance. Moreover, the issue of only suggesting malaita leaders giving attention to squatering should be an issue that all provincial leaders tackle together seriously, even those of Isabel province. It is true that such matters should be taken seriously by the government and the malaitan leaders, but to highlight malaitans specifically for the cause of squatters in Solomon Islands is not a good constructive approach to argue the case against a fully functioning federal system in the near future.

Given these few comments I would fully agree with Lise that to reconsider a federal state system would be the best option for Solomon Islands. I believe that the idea to have a federal system in place has been fueled by a frustration from provincial governments towards the national governments delays on prioritizing the provinces economic and political goals, in the process of central policy makings. This frustrating attitude adopted by all those provinces who wish to become states subsequently asserts a view about the government. This view portrays the central government to be favoring other provinces over others, thus creating diffusion and political competition from all provinces at considering an alternative system, the federal system, as a means to providing effective liberal democracy. How effective this system would be at creating a distinction between the relationship of a provincial state and a central federal governing system, allows for an equal opportunity to not only voice out and push up goals of individual provincial states on the federal agenda, but also to deal with the issue of equal distribution of economic development through the capacity of the self-governing provincial states themselves.

Personally I totally disagree with the idea of a federal system of government and I call upon leaders of our civil society to not support any agendas relating to the call for a federal system of government because the future implications for such an action far outweighs the costs. Should there be any criticisms to my perspective on this issue, I kindly ask that we attack the idea and not the person. Personally I believe the media should be a forum for healthy discussions on matters of state interests and as a young, aspiring political leader for my country Solomon Islands I call upon other aspiring leaders to join me in making Solomon islands a better place to be, by giving their opinions as we all grow together to be more politically active about decisions that would affect our future.






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

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