Dear Editor,

I would like to briefly contribute on the above issue which was brought to attention recently in your paper. I understand that the Youth Parliament Program was launched earlier this week and it coincided with the Parliament Open Day, which are both very important days and events for our National Parliament. On that note, I wish to congratulate the Speaker, Clerks, Members and staff of National Parliament for a very outstanding year of great achievements, for Parliament as an Institution.

My contributions in this discussion is in response to an earlier letter that has criticised the Youth Parliament Program as 'nuisance' and 'irrelevant' and waste of a 'million dollars', and a program that was undertaken only for the good and benefit of politicians.

In fact, I was quite astonished to note how blatant the writer was in referring to the youths as 'kids' hence creating an assumption to readers that the Youth Parliament participants were actually children from primary schools or of that level. The youths that were selected to participate were from Senior High Schools around the country hence their 'cognitive ability' to properly understand policy and development issues, especially issues affecting youths is unquestionable. Or should we wait until one reaches thirty years of age (maturity) before he or she can be 'policy-talked'? A majority of mature people in Solomon Islands are not even well versed with policy and governance issues. But this is beside the point though. I am only saying this because the writer has seemingly argued that Senior High School (Forms 5, 6 & 7) students (whom she referred to as kids) are still cognitively unfit to learn about policies and government.

I think it is well known that matters relating to policy and government are being taught in High Schools just after the junior levels and when students reach the senior levels one assumes that they are already knowledgeable about such issues. And who are we to question their cognitive abilities? They are chosen to participate in the Youth Parliament Program by their teachers who have interacted with them on a daily basis and who have assessed them on numerous occasions so as to be better positioned to determine their 'cognitive abilities' than us.

In addition, I am sure that the writer is well aware that education and learning does not only occur in a classroom environment. It also occurs elsewhere, and engaging youths in programmes such as the Youth Parliament is one best way of making youths to have the benefit of gaining new knowledge and experience and to voice out their interests and grievances on issues affecting them. Hence, I see no logical reason that would make me to believe and to say that the Youth Parliament Program is 'a total abuse of the youth brand'. What better place would one ever think of for youths to learn about Parliament than in the House itself?

And just for the information of the writer, the Youth Parliament Program is not only about debating and discussing topics on policy, government, politics and programmes. It also involved interactive workshops covering issues such as HIV & AIDS and other issues of social and economical importance affecting our youths today. The whole program was aimed to broaden the knowledge of participations and for them to realise their important role in society, as translated in the program objectives. The actual assimilated parliamentary debate is only part of a very intensive, interactive and resourceful program that runs for a few days.

The issue the writer has raised on 'character building for strong leadership growth' is a life-time process and commitment that begins at home, extends to schools and in a classroom environment and continues throughout ones life, and only ends when the day of reckoning finally comes. Hence, engaging youths in learning programs such as the Youth Parliament will also help towards that moulding process. Of course the issue of politicians having to go down to the level of youths in order to better understand them is not replaced by the Youth Parliament Program. That requirement will always be there. The Youth Parliament Program is not a stand-alone initiative. It is only an avenue on top of all the existing structures, processes and institutions to help boost the understanding and image of our youths and to empower their capability and to enable them to fully participate in our nation's democracy.

Hence, whatever the amount of money there is that has been spent on the program is to me money well spent. At least I am sure that it has been spent on something worthwhile.