Tuesday, 8 June 2010 12:35 PM

Makira province and its development woes - a perspective

Dear Editor,

As the next general election is dawning I wish to make some personal reflections on how development has been pursued in Makira province over the last decade.

It is widely anticipated that the upcoming elections will be the biggest of all time. Already we have seen a record number of political parties launched and it is highly likely that a record number of candidates will also be vying for the fifty parliamentary seats.

In Makira, with the retirement of long-serving politician and former Member of Parliament for East Makira, David Sitai, another vacuum is created for potential successors. Undoubtedly, as a national leader David Sitai has contributed immensely to the country's affairs and I humbly accolade him for his contributions to state and society.

Central Makira constituency's former Member of Parliament is now vying for his third term in the House and like all other contesting candidates he will be working all he could to try and make a return. How probable this could be is a matter that is best left to be decided on the 'judgment day'.

The scenario is of no difference for Ulawa-Ugi. I have been told by reliable sources that support for the former Member is still strong. However with a former long-serving MP and Governor-General also vying to make a comeback into the islands' political scene the 'fight' is going to be real hot and spicy. May the best candidate win.

As for West Makira, our former MP is also hopeful. A retired civil servant with vast experience and a two-term parliamentarian his fate will also be put to the test, come Election Day.

Over the years Makira has seen quite a low turn-over of parliamentary political leadership. Between the third and the sixth Parliaments, three of the constituencies (except for Central Makira which was established only in the fifth Parliament) maintained the same Members of Parliaments. It was not until when the late Solomon Mamaloni passed away and Nathaniel Waena resigned to become the Governor-General, that political leadership in West Makira and Ulawa-Ugi changed. So to an extent, on a constituency level, political stability existed within most of Makira-Ulawa Province.

Even at a Provincial level the province had produced one of the longest serving provincial Premiers of the country with the regime of Ramoni who served as Premier for a good number of years.

This is a likeable trend because stability ensures consistency and continuity in development activities and programmes. So at the outset with such a good record of stability one would assume that a lot of development has occurred between those years.

Each of the constituencies do have their own means of measuring the performance of their respective MPs and as a person from West Makira constituency I am not in a position to comment on the level of development in the other two seemingly stable constituencies of Makira Province.

On the other hand, as a Makiran I believe an overview of how development has progressed in the province as a whole over the years can be projected. While the role of Members of Parliament must not be muddled with that of the central government and the local provincial government, the overwhelming perspective is that there has been minimal economic growth and progress in development in the Province over the years albeit there has been stability.

The question to be asked therefore is why is this so? Stability with innovation, enthusiasm, vision and proper planning should yield development and economic growth. All the political leaders that have passed (including those that are still actively in the scene) are all people with respectable caliber and there is no doubt in my mind that they have in their time designed and formulated plans and programmes to initiate development to achieve growth and betterment of people's wellbeing. I also disqualify myself from questioning their capability, enthusiasm, vision and so forth.

This leads me to the question of "seleni". Is it that lack of access to money or finance the problem? Well, people in all levels of government use this obstacle very conveniently most if not all of the time as an explanation to lack of or poor and deteriorating service delivery. On the outset this is not surprising and is almost believable all the time given our ailing economic situation as a nation and being a dot in the global economic mainstream.

But making an in-depth consideration and examination, clouds of doubt began to rise in my mind, as to whether I should totally subscribe to the thought that lack of finance is the main problem. I understand that millions of dollars have been poured into the constituencies every year (more so within the four years of a parliamentary or provincial government term) through Members of Parliament in the form of RCDF, other government and donor-funded projects and programmes and recently the Millennium Development Fund, Rural Livelihood Fund and other sources of funding. In addition, the Provincial government has also been receiving sorts of government grants from the central government since Makira became a province of its own. Between the Members of Parliament and the provincial government every year almost ten million dollars are poured into the province and constituencies.

In addition, Makira province is host to abundant resources ranging from productive banana, cocoa and copra plantations to trees and forests, marine and aquaria and even beautiful untouched sceneries. On a tour around the global village (the World Wide Web) I even tumbled on a website administered by foreigners that featured Makira as a desirable tourist destination having an appeal for adventurous back-backers, bed-watchers and surfers. I realized that this is where the real money is; real hard-sweat money. So we should not totally rely on free-handouts- there is no free lunch these days anyway- and cultivate our own land, manage our own resources and venture into sustainable development initiatives.

The people in power, the political leaders, should be the driving forces in initiating such developments. They should be the drivers as the power to make decisions on our behalf is already vested upon them when we vote them into these responsibilities. With power comes great responsibility and our expectation is for them to lead us forward not backwards.

But the excuse of 'no any seleni' prevails. Often I would hear that the money available is not enough to engage in major development projects. With this preconception the millions of dollars poured into our constituencies every year are quickly slashed without even a dust of their rupturing on sight; even the air produced from the reaction is never felt. It is almost like dropping a one dollar coin into the deep blue sea for the sharks and whales that have no use at all for what value the money holds.
I believe that even in such a situation where there is little money, with the availability of abundant resources and (cheap) labour, we should still at least mark some progress over the years. But you do not have to be a rocket scientist to observe how bad basic services continue to deteriorate at the provincial capital and throughout the constituencies. While people may not be in a situation that could be regarded as extreme poverty (as food/banana is abundant and no body is starving or dying of dehydration) people are demoralized and therefore no longer hold any confidence on the government or political leaders. Lack of trust and confidence on the government and political leaders is a recipe for failure within a democracy.

MV. Bulawa, the only vessel owned by the Province has been at the slip-way for ages and much needed revenue that should be generated for the province through shipping continues to leak out. Private charterers who care less about people's interests but to maximize profits are the main beneficiaries in the industry. Well, with private charterers other forms of revenue are still earned by the province but it is nothing compared to, if there is a system in place whereby both the province and the constituencies (the people) are active participants in the industry, taking the upper hand, not just being mere price takers and indirect beneficiaries.

Worst still, MV. Haurosi, the ship that was bought with the money of West Makira constituents (RCDF) to salvage the constituency's- and therefore the province's- shipping problems has become a liability rather than being an asset. This, to me, defeats the whole purpose of having to purchase the vessel at the first place. Since it commenced operation little is known about the revenue it generates. Questions are even raised about the financial viability of its operations as to whether it is really making any profits at all. If it does make profits then people are still in the dark as to where the money goes. By the way it is operating (with constant visits to the slip way and regular engine failures) it would be surprising if it is even making a break-even.

It seems that its operation has literally sucked up all the RCDF money (that is if it has not been expended or 'archived' elsewhere) resulting in little or no benefit at all from RCDF by constituents. The only time am aware that RCDF was paid out to constituents was in its second-last strand when most successful project applicants were promised (depending on the total project cost) a maximum of SBD$10 000. I found out later that many successful applicants were only paid partially, even when their project costs were maximized and have been dully approved.

I also did a bit of reading and discovered that in the last government (CNURA) an airport was approved for West Makira constituency to be constructed at Bwa'u Village in Arosi II. Republic of China in Taiwan agreed in principle to fund the project through SIG. The development would have benefited the people through employment in the short-term. Needless to say, in the long run an additional airport on the island would have been a boost in development for the province as a whole. However, due to political levering the project did not eventuate as earmarked. So another opportunity for progress went begging just because of political ambitions overruling the common good of the people. Whether a new government will still be keen to pursue the project is a matter that only time will tell.

Certainly the airport was not the only development opportunity gone begging due to political ambitions of our politicians. Both at the provincial and national levels numerous development opportunities have been overlooked, ignored or neglected because political "principles" have overshadowed the real priority of the people; that is to 'see and feel' the effects of development.

The reality is that there is lack of cooperation among and between national and provincial leaders of the province. When they get elected into Parliament, their political affiliations and personal political ambitions take precedence and our Members of Parliament tend to overlook that it is only by working together and collaborating that real development can occur within the province. Even if they are bound by their political ties and the political friction between them is such that collaborating is not possible, their relationship with provincial members should not be affected, at least in the design and implementation of relevant development projects and programmes.

Sadly, this has not been the case and instead of being partners in development they are literally political opponents working to outscore one another. Theirs is a highly competitive political scoring game, whereby whoever scores the most points has a better chance of getting re-elected. Very minimal attention and energy is dedicated to long-term goals of the people and to ensure that any sustainable development eventuates.

Cooperation between and at both national and provincial levels of government is vital for the province. Major projects such as airports, shipping, wharves, roads and bridges and other infrastructure can impact positively on the province as a whole. Take the road and bridges rehabilitation project that is currently in progress at the Makira for example. The road runs through all three constituencies of mainland Makira and within a majority of provincial wards. This is a major development and we should be very grateful for the assistance of the World Bank, the national government and other parties and donors that are involved in this vital initiative. Certainly, its impacts will be greatly felt by all people within the province.

However my worry is that its success would only be short-lived if there is lack of effective collaboration between our political leaders at the national and provincial levels to ensure that the infrastructure is fully utlilised and maintained in the long run. I can recall that similar projects were initiated in the past but only to fail after a few years as the grasses and weeds reclaim their territory. There was little or no effort at all by our politicians at all levels to initiate much needed services that would allow people to fully participate and engage in the maximization of economic returns of such infrastructure. In some cases, the people themselves came up with their own activities, but without the support of leaders they can only do much. The irony is that, for the few that did they were even regarded as rivals by some politicians. This implies lack of distrust, created by the absence of harmony and cooperation.

In addition, there are also other overlapping issues such as security, addressing social problems such as unemployment and impacts of climate change and sea level rise. These issues cross constituency boundaries and one might argue that these fall under the auspices of any government of the day. True! But how could any government of the day possibly prioritises our province's development needs if our national and provincial leaders are divided in voice and deed? Coming together as a group of national but also provincial leaders to lobby for government support for major projects for the province can make a very huge difference than attacking the government or lobbying for support as pockets of individual pressure.

The situation is worsened when some of our political leaders at the national level become voiceless and lacks being constructive in their debates and discussions on the floor of parliament. This is an attitude which a former politician has described as "sleeping dog" phenomenon where Members rarely contribute on matters of national interest but only speak on general parliamentary business such as sine die motions. Otherwise, whenever they do speak their arguments are usually far from being constructive or only focused on their personal interests and aspirations.

Having the number advantage in government can be a favourable bargaining power that is beneficial not only to individual Members but also to the province and its peoples. Successful bargaining of the government at the cabinet level would result in development initiatives for the constituencies and therefore the province. When development projects are drawn national Members can collaborate through the government or directly to the provincial Members to ensure that project implementation are properly overseen and success is achieved. And when development is properly guided and supported by both the national and provincial leaders, people will benefit and will be able to 'see and feel' its impacts. Their levels of satisfaction and confidence will rise and therefore the tendency that a particular Member of Parliament or a Provincial Member will get re-elected will also increase.

This may sound too hypothetical but the reality is that all that people want to see is for development to occur and for it to impact on them positively in the long term. And once they do have confidence on one's ability to perform as a political leader their continuous support for that particular person will remain. Their loyalty will be established to stay unless the person otherwise falters.

Despite the controversies surrounding his political career and leadership (this is a non-issue in this discussion) the late Mamaloni remained as a Member of Parliament for West Makira until his passing away because he gained the favour of West Makirans. Those days may now be history as people then were not that politically minded and general circumstances may have changed. But the principle remains unchanged; that once a majority of voters are satisfied with a particular political leader's performance, loyalty, confidence and trust between them will be established. This could also be true in the case of the retiring David Sitai, or when Nathaniel Waena was the Member for Ulawa-Ugi for four consecutive parliamentary terms.

These political leaders may have gained their popularity among their own people through their own deeds and rights as Members of their respective constituencies. But the point I am proposing here is that gaining the favour of the people through cooperation and collaboration in development at both and among the national and provincial levels, as alluded to earlier, is even better. It creates a win-win situation for both political leaders and the people of the province as a whole.

That is what we want to see in Makira, to fulfill what our once provincial motto says: "Unity in Diversity".

Even the most powerful countries of the world are cooperating even more and the whole world is increasingly integrating into a single global village and economic mainstream.

If we continue to divide and rule, even with best plans and the right focus we will hardly fully blossom.

So I hereby call on any intending candidates- provincial elections for Makira is also not too far away - or our current political leaders to work in cooperation and collaboration with each other. It is only through cooperation and with mutual trust and confidence on each other that we can be able to positively and effectively deal with our development woes.

For the voters, it would be wise to vote out any current political leader in the coming national and provincial elections whom you see and feel is not there to serve the people but himself, his family and his cronies. These people do not deserve to be leaders. Vote in people who are capable in leading us in an equitable and just manner. Nafu for iumi suffer folom ota samfala lo olketa political leaders blo iumi where corrupt ia na.

May God Bless Makira Province.and Solomon Islands!

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

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