PLEASE allow me space in your daily newspaper to express my grave concern regarding a recent public Timber Rights Hearing that was held in Sa’a community on the 20th November 2018.
At the outset I wish to say that while the content of this article stems from a TRH incident held recently at Sa’a village, South Malaita, the spirit of this article points to the prevalent lack of ethical leadership practices that is found wanting in our today’s society. It is indeed saddening to see this common thread in leadership as driving society into factions and disorder. Leaders are supposed to be providing order, stability and truth. However, on the contrary, what seems to be obvious nowadays is an absence of sound leadership, orchestrated by personal political expediency and compromises that would offer hope and confidence during this critical moment of history.
As allude to above, the reason for which I am compelled to get this article into print is simple. It is an expression of the social degradation and deprivation that is haunting the lives of our ordinary people in the village because of ignorance and untruthfulness by our leaders. Indeed, it represents the cries of the entire rural population right across our country. In recent years, many people in leadership have been questioned and challenged for their failure to rule justly and truthfully. While the content of this article expresses the grievances of a particular group of people, similar circumstances of this nature are commonly faced elsewhere. As per the case discussed in this article, I am also informed about many untold stories which have led to this uncontrolled logging operations taking place on both sides of the Are’Are land boundary.
Having listened to the poor villagers in Sa’a Community and being of the belief that the state is supposed to protect ordinary people, it appears in this instance that the state has failed to defend its own people. Indeed I am perplexed by the decay of just and ethical leadership in our Province in recent years. I am therefore; appalled by the fact that such an indiscriminate attitude is coming from people for whom the ordinary masses place high regard and respect.
In fact, as transpired during the Sa’a TRH incident, our leaders have acted deviously. I believe the approach and the attitude displayed by our leaders have inevitably deprived our ordinary people of their cultural rights to their untouchable natural resources. The level of social deprivation and exploitation of ordinary people by our leaders, right across the province, I am told is appalling, inconceivable and indeed, I amazed that such actions are coming from the very top people at the helm of the leadership spectrum. Why can’t we just be honest and transparent with our people? How long are we going to entertain and protect the interests of the foreigners?
Examining and analyzing all the drama that took place prior to the meeting and on the day of the 20th November 2018, I cannot believe the way in which our leaders have pre-mediated and acted the way they did. They failed to give any opposing party the chance to raise objections. It leads me to conclude that it was not a hearing but a public announcement of an already malicious and pre-conceived decision made while sitting behind computers and merely imposed on the people of Sa’a community. I am told this is not the first time and I can only pray and hope that this shadow of darkness hovering over our beautiful island is addressed and illuminated by honest and sincere leadership in the future.
For the sake of clarity and the public domain I shall briefly explain the TRH process which compelled me to put this article to print.
- A TRH was set for the 20th November 2018 at Sa’a community without any consultation with the affected community. The only public information disseminated about the TRH was a letter given only to certain villagers. This meant all opposing parties were not properly informed about the scheduled hearing.
- When the opposing parties were eventually informed about the date (they only found out about it on Facebook) they quickly wrote to the committee responsible and requested that hearing be deferred to a later date. A relative in their family had just recently passed away and indeed, by the virtue of our cultural norms and practices, these poor people deserved to be respected and allowed to observe their mourning period without interruption.
- The committee responsible did not respond to their request for deferral and went ahead with the proposed TRH on 20th November 2018. During the so-called “hearing” three basic questions were asked and they were:
- Are the landowners present?
- Are you the genuine and rightful landowners?
- Do you agree with the logging operation?
- The definite answer to the questions raised above was obviously a YES answer. The committee however, did not call for any objections. Instead, he closed the hearing and announced that should there be any objections, opposing parties have the liberty to appeal to the Magistrate in Auki. This is again un-procedural because such call will be interpreted and considered as an appeal when it is not.
Having explained briefly the process as per the Sa’a Incident, I am compelled to conclude that the committee responsible for granting logging permits in the Province has miserably failed to protect the people they are supposed to protect by virtue of their leadership and responsibility. Indeed, something devious must have transpired in this whole process. It is disheartening to observe our leaders in this context ignoring the interests of our people and losing sight of the interests of the people that should always be central to all their decision making process. Unfortunately, as witnessed everywhere in our country, our rural populace have always become the victims, marginalized and often pushed to the periphery by their exclusion from the decision making process.
As the 2019 General election looms, I wish to appeal to the entire rural people right across the Solomon Islands that you all ought to be vigilant and weary of those political candidates who will be coming to your villages for your electoral endorsement. Indeed many of them will be very smart and you also ought to be smart. Fundamentally, it is important to know and ask those intending candidates to reveal their core values and beliefs. What are they about? Do they display any remorse for the environmental decay and injustices in the world today or are they pro-life or pro-choice? Do they have a strong attachment to humanity or neighborhood?
I for one will be highly suspicious of double standard leaders who say one thing but do otherwise. Indeed I for one will never speak well of such leaders because their leadership actions in my view undermines good governance, has reduced accountability and not only that it has circumvented the rule of law but also it has subverted all proper formal processes.
Judging by what has transpired recently at Sa’a community; it is commonsensical and widely acknowledged by the ordinary villagers that many of our leaders today continued to display by the cultural insensitivity towards the needs of our rural people.
I am therefore appealing to all our potential and aspiring in the upcoming general elections leaders to consider the marginalized and take to heart those people to whom they rule. Our leaders must protect and manage the natural resources of our country in a humane way that serves the interests of the entire community and just a few. I am calling on leaders to value all people and treat everyone fairly and justly. Our people are our very important resource and as such they must be seen and placed as pivotal and central to all our decision making process. Indeed you will never go wrong if you treat and put the ordinary people at the center and as the moral compass of your leadership role.
God Bless Malaita Province