Thursday, 11 October 2007 9:55 AM

THE CASE FOR RAMSI IN SOLOMON ISLANDS: An Observation from a local counterpart

There are strong evidences to support the presence of RAMSI in key Government Departments. I have been working within the Government in various capacities in the last four years and have seen cases where the Government (both political and administration) needs the expertise of RAMSI Advisors.

The Advisors are needed to build the capacity of staff and institutions. This is something both the Government and various pillars of RAMSI have been working on cooperatively. If both Australia and Solomon Islands Government are genuinely interested in building Government structure and its ability to deliver services, then both sides should refrain from political exchanges that do little to help the situation. It is important to allow officials the environment in which knowledge sharing is facilitated, capacity built and exit strategy for RAMSI devised.

The Advisors have been very helpful and effective in delivering sound and balanced advice to both Executives and Ministers. It is my understanding that the elected Government of Solomon Islands is aware of this. The legal and judiciary arm of the Government have actually benefited substantially from RAMSI support. The police service is strengthened, lawyers and judges provided, logistical support given and infrastructures built. Time should be given to these assistances to settle and benefits sink into the judiciary and legal structure. A premature exit would be unsustainable. This is a common knowledge to all.

RAMSI Advisors have also proved their worth in financial and economic management, and reforms currently pursued by the Government. Financial management and control can fall apart in the hands of unscrupulous interest without the presence of independent checks. Budget formulation has been possible with additional expertise. RAMSI Advisors have made a difference in this regard. The Minister of Finance and Treasury always publish the good reforms led and supported by his Ministry, understandably he appreciates the inputs of the Advisors.

To my knowledge other important areas Advisors are working on or support include office of the Auditor General, company and business registration process in Ministry of Commerce, and support to the national planning process. It should also be mentioned that Advisors have substantially raised awareness of the officials and the public on the importance of supporting a private sector led growth, and the critical role of public private partnership in advancing this. The critical task that remains for the Advisors is to see their Solomon Islands counterpart able to deliver as they do. Perhaps this should be seen in the context of the next eight years or so.

A lot of work remains to be done to put Solomon Islands as one of the developing countries that advocate change and allow system to match international best practices. Practically these tasks will not be done soon in view of the weak absorption capacity. Even with some reforms that have been undertaken, there were cases where some Government officials were disengaged because of weak capacity. We will be finding ourselves cultivating thorns and poor harvest if we allow the Advisors to do all the work. Building on lessons learnt and achievements so far, changing counterpart approach with Advisors doing a more facilitation role will be critical to future sustainability. Nothing is new here but the point worth underlining is that in order to sustain the good work done a change in attitude and approach to delivering development program will be necessary, both at official and political levels.

A Government that has worked with the Advisors would certainly appreciate what they do. It follows then that the Government has also appreciated the specific visions of RAMSI under which the Advisors have been engaged. It is prudent for the Solomon Islands Government, in my view, to ensure the continuation of RAMSI, nor does it require a national survey to determine this. To this end, as a public servant and unlike Hon. Patteson Oti who was not surprised, I was somewhat ambivalent to Hon Alexander Downer at the UN General Assembly when he stated that the Government of Solomon Islands wanted to destroy RAMSI.

Was this a sign of Hon Downer not receiving proper advice based on the activities happening on the ground? Or was the advice influenced by the politics which tends to burry positive and good working relationships? My view of Hon Downer was however less ambivalent and tend to accept how extreme and therefore off balance politicians could sometimes become after learning that he had at times went into the deep with New Zealand.

To keep pace with progress, changing aspirations and time, RAMSI or the pillar of it has occasionally been reviewed. The need for this is evident in numerous reports including the 2005 report by the Pacific Islands Forum of Eminent Persons Group. Similarly the Facilitation Act ought to be reviewed to keep up with changing needs and circumstances. Importantly however is that the review must be framed to enable RAMSI better assist Solomon Islands. This is a common desire both Canberra and Honiara have continued to profess.

In the interest of the people and in order to maintain the good work done so far, leaders should bring to the rear their different political score cards, and focus on the common intent and move on. A genuine interest to help the people of Solomon Islands is an approach that looks for reconciliation not humiliation. Canberra and Honiara should seriously considering reconciliation. Without it the development concern professed appears a lip concern with hidden interest.

On the same note as a public officer, may I urge those who will be representing the Government in the upcoming Pacific Leaders Forum in Tonga to begin the process of reconciliation and compromise. The three step process for conflict resolution for brothers in Matthew 18: 15-17 would be helpful. The greatest benefit for doing this is practicing leadership, and understanding others for the good of the people.

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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