Saturday, 2 August 2008 1:33 PM

'Small can be beautiful': A footnote

The Prime Minister's (PM) 30th anniversary trade show speech may draw its title from the 'Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered' book published in 1973. Written by the British economist, E.F. Schumacher who died ten months before Solomon Islands (SI) got its independence in 1978. Another line worth mentioning is that the interpretation of 'small is beautiful' is relative to 'as if people mattered', in its ordinary reading. Simply put, the former taken on its own has no meaning to people and development. A relationship clearly spelled out in the book, when he stated that 'no system or machinery or economic doctrine or theory stands on its own feet: it is invariably built on a metaphysical foundation, that is to say, upon man's basic outlook on life, its meaning and its purpose.'

This article merely provides a "footnote" response to the PM's speech. It argues that an anchorage of 'people' within any 'development discussion' may be fruitful, however insufficient. As their outlook to life, their purposes and wellbeing' consequently relates to a confident economy. It advocates for development as freedom from daily worries of life as argued by Prof. Amartya Sen, however goes further to stress, it is a freedom that must be felt and experienced, enabled importantly through ordinary people having readily access to the common and alternative goods (opportunities) that democracy should offer. It is this accessibility that builds an economy of confidence. And ordinary SI-ders have a right to both.

Solomon Islanders, against my layman's reading of some concerns expressed in different forums, particularly locally would like to see that 'development', whatever way it is rhetorically packaged, must effectively deliver to people tangible freedom: from school fee worries, unemployment, waste of talents, housing debts, and school leavers syndrome, to name five. This certainly would call for fresh government workable interventions in various sectors in the SI economy, than mere-pm-words. Inspired, surprisingly from a few minutes visiting 'small cottage based businesses displaying their goods', in his own words. In our daily face, ordinary people continue to ask hard questions. They ranged from the "aftermathematics" of April 2007-tsunami, peace and reconciliation, busfare, rising rice price, and federalism/secession assertions to compensation claims. One need not wait to visit the stalls in next year's trade show to draw flimsy correlations for the urgent actions to make development work.

I say this with confidence. Having experiences growing up in a settlement east of Honiara, has struggled to find money to pay for my three-years-USP-centre-extension studies, and recently having lived along Namoruka road (Fataleka-White River) for a little close to two years, the questions people, (including the Kwaso-influenced youths who would drop bye to refill water for the next mix!) would raised with me every time we tok-story are invaluable to inform any government's development policy white paper. They have very imaginative solutions to the problems they see around.

I moved residence in early 2007 with great admiration for my many friends there with a striking wisdom line: they are a very talented people with a steely-will to live each day. They had all but that divine-State-hand to make them truly believe that they are 'small but beautiful', and, thus important. I recalled once when after a week without water, my twelve years old niece looked across to the pot-holed road, and on seeing SIWA vehicles lazily zigzagging up to the White river source to fix the water pump, she remarked: 'why do they say water is for life but we have been having a hell of a life all of this week.' Simply put, every ordinary person has some extraordinariness to contribute to the SI economy. If only the State be that honest hand that would reach down to them to embrace a beauty, they already know they have, but wanting to be empowered to be free from economic worries.

What is my problem? I find it difficult to relate the 'cottage industry' of the 18th century (which the PM referred to), which basically involve primarily producers working from home on a part time basis, to the immense potential that SI ordinary producers (weavers, carvers, musicians, artists) have, and can muscle to export, for instance, honey, vanilla, chili, taro, bananas, music and artworks, to name a few. They deserve better acknowledgement in the 21st century! Those activities exhibited at the trade show are what they do full time for a living (not part time!). Since there are available markets around us readily exploitable through our bilateral friendships, making such 'cottage comparisons' blatantly is demeaning at second best to them, cliché-reddened at first best.

How should any SIG philosophy for development be anchored for this discussion sake? I don't profess to know a magic development formulae, however, my 2-cents contribution would be: Solomon Islands must venture to create a democracy of opportunities, that which is pivotal to enhancing an economy of confidence. Democracy of opportunities constitutes an internal sense of certainty by ordinary people, and sureness that they can access common democratic goods (employment, entrepreneur help, training, health, and so on). And their related opportunities from anywhere, at any level (after Form 3, Class 6, retirement from public service, a Tasiu, a fisherman/woman or prisoner, and so on) indiscriminately. And such readily available entry points inevitably arouse an economy of confidence. People have confidence that the government will meet them where ever they are. We may not get the economic calculations right away, but we are confident of where we will be in ten or twenty year's time.

Now consider, why should Standards 1-6 and Forms 3 - 7 children only have sights on a Form 1, 4, 6 or university space, when s/he can confidently stand back to recognise that there is the music, language and Art schools, catering services and furniture schools as options s/he can choose to attend? This is not to say students should not be ambitious, but the way we are going now, most students are left along the path to the higher temple of degrees. Why does a released prisoner walks out of Rove prison doors with low self esteem, stigmatised, when s/he should look forward with confidence that s/he can access opportunities to contribute to the SI economy in his/her small beautiful way? Why do youths continued to be referred to as 'leaders for tomorrow', when that tomorrow may never come? Many have talents and should have elevated their status and be called entrepreneurs, for instance. In short, citizens should not be left without alternatives for personal fulfillment from which one can contribute to the economy from one's talents.

Have a look at the pinnacle of Honiara's every day celebration, the Municipal Central Market to observe how people access its goods. It's an open organised space (funded by Japan) and people access it depending on their needs. For instance, those who look for fresh fish go right to the sea front, while those for firewood search the main-road-front. And the specific locations for the other goods within it are well mapped out in every market goers minds. Unless you are one where waiting at the dinner table is your only hobby! People access and leave the market with confidence unless you arrived during its closing hour. Using the above metaphor, why can't SI-ders irrespective of where one comes from, lived, educated or not, access common goods that democracy should deliver according to their needs, and leave with confidence? Is it that successive political leadership is too "busy" to see that people can no longer be fooled by "lollie-development-talks", or, left dysfunctional by a political complicity, and thus failing to see 'small' must be beautiful? Is this some kind of foraging reflective of our politics still confused on what 'smallness' or 'bigness' should be ascribed to development?

SI-ders for the last 30 + years have always believe (and still do!), that development 'is the way forward for the Solomon Islands' as the PM's speech stressed, but, they would now like to touch, feel, drink and grasp this 'small can be beautiful' dream, not merely believing. We are already a nation of "believers." It's a category we don't have any restricted supply of entities for.

Nafu nao!

The same can be correlated to the cliché that landowners should be 'encouraged to maximise the use of their land in small scale agricultural projects' and 'this means taking on a more proactive approach...with commitment and interest in developing our many potentials in this sector' (PM's speech). That may be true, but against the absence of government yet-to-be-seen focus to enable any willing proactiveness from landowners, it maybe immaterial to prove otherwise, such assumption. Therefore, against such political rumblings, other questions which beg to be asked are: How can 'our peoples' unique smallness be made beautiful through development? What specific interventions through policy actions, ground assessments, research and funding is the government availing to turn such a belief into reality? You tell me. And if I may add, we don't have to wait for others to tell us we have potential in tourism, skilled in soccer or beautiful in all the many right ways before we start running around euphorically announcing we are beautiful.

Maybe I should buy someone as 30th anniversary gift the book "Development as Freedom" by Professor Amartya Sen, (1998 Nobel Prize Winner in Economics) who am privilege to listen to in New Delhi back in 2004, when he spoke on the 'Reason, Range, and Reach of public Policy.'

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

Other Letters to the Editor All Letters
By STEVE BANI Vura Heights, East Honiara
By GEOFFREY MAURIASI USP, Lacuala Campus, Fiji
By CHARLES KOULI Gizo, Western Province