VIEWPOINT- Are female MPs bad as men?: TSI

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WHILST Transparency Solomon Islands supports gender balance in parliament and in public sphere, Solomon Islands continues to suffer from the impact of irresponsible, non-transparent and unaccountable national leadership. 

Twenty years on after the ethnic tension successive governments have continued to fail in dealing with the underlying root causes of the ethnic tension.

The re-direction Policy of the current government is nothing more than an instrument to cover the truth to where this government is taking the country.

Government leadership has continued to fail its people. It continued to ignore addressing the issues that are of importance to them. 

Most policies of the Executive Government, its programmes, funding schemes etc. are but for them to remain in power.

People are no longer the centre of development and no do they benefit equitably from the exploitation of their resources.

The political leadership of this country is in politics predominantly to remain in power in order to divert the flow of public funds and other material benefits to themselves, contracts, concessions, etc. to their families and supporters. 

They have become highly skilled in spotting opportunities to use their political office, or position in Public Sector, for these ends regardless of gender.

They have no shortage of persons ready to assist them domestically and overseas [CDOs, loggers, miners, diplomatic friend, families, political supporters and cronies, unscrupulous investors and speculators].

They have become snobbish, manipulative and highly skilled in spotting opportunities to use their political office, or position in Public Sector, to remain in power to these ends.

They have become diverters and seekers of public funds than the representatives of the constituencies that voted them in.

In the re-direction budget for example a total of more than half a billion $643.4 million 69% of the total 2021 budget is allocated to Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Infrastructure and the Officer of Prime Minister and Cabinet [MRD $342m, MID $100m, OPMC $201.4m], the largest of which was allocated to two of the most unproductive sectors, in terms of the millions allocated to it.

These observations are in part, what gave rise to the notion and strong push and advocacy be it policy, legislation, funding, or program to get women into parliament. 

To date however, no one is championing a change in the re-direction of the political leadership from that of diverters and rent seekers regardless of gender. 

The women MPs who got in have not behaved or acted differently as advocated by advocators of women in parliament.

Whilst Transparency Solomon Islands fully supports the notion of more women to be in parliament, at this point in time, the importance of transparent, accountable, and responsible leadership tops its campaign in this space regardless of gender.  

Transparency Solomon Islands advocates for free and fair election, reform of the electoral system, review of the Political Parties Act and the Electoral Act as options that can contribute to level playing field come election days.

It could provide opportunity for candidates who truly have a heart for Solomon Islands a chance of winning the National General Election regardless of their gender.

The Constituency Development Fund, the Terminal Grant and other allocations channeled through Members of Parliament for the Constituencies, has monetized the National General Election completely to the point where only those who have the funds have an opportunity of winning.

This is further compounded by political funding by Asian Log Harvesting Companies, and certain diplomatic relationships.

Transparency Solomon Islands acknowledges that there are a few MPs that won the elections for the first time with no financial support from CDF, Terminal Grant etc. 

But there are not enough of them to make a difference.

Furthermore today, it has become a condition by the present government holding power that only those joining OUR Party can benefit from the perks be it public money or foreign money luring representatives away from addressing the leadership crisis of today.

In the meantime, the performance of the parliamentarians has dropped drastically in terms of substance, depth and of contribution of debate, number of bills tabled, motions to debate reports submitted to parliament, quality of input, attendance of Parliament Meetings etc., bills submitted without supporting policy, poorly written bills, bills with no clear objectives and purpose.

There are certain Members of Parliament that have not said anything with substance but are now in their third term in parliament – the direct impact of what CDF has been used for [the buying of vote] to stay in power.

Most according to their constituents have not paid them a visit since they got elected.  

The Parliament House Committee each year makes exorbitant submissions to the Parliamentary Entitlement Commission, for entitlements that is not proportional to their performance as legislators. 

Transparency Solomon Islands acknowledges and commends those few Parliamentarians that are visiting their constituencies, delivering their electoral promises, and contributing to parliament debate with substance.

Sadly, they are too few of them. 

This is Solomon Islands’ 11th Parliament, a parliament that has more female parliamentarians.

In the advocacy for women in parliament it is argued that women are better leaders than men. 

They can listen to women, population, the community, the disadvantaged etc., they make better leaders than men, they can better serve and deliver their electoral promises.  

Transparency Solomon Islands believes that these qualities are only unique to leaders who are humble, not manipulative, not greedy, have a heart for their people and country, accountable, responsible, transparent, and enter parliament to serve the people of Solomon Islands and not themselves.

They are not unique to women representatives and leaders per se.   

All the qualities prophesied under the campaign slogan of getting women into parliament but are yet to see in these women representatives.

The only vocal female MP that the country has was Hilda Kari. Right or wrong she spoke.

Today we have yet to hear the four female parliamentarians speak as Mrs Kari did, speaking on almost all subjects debated in parliament and more.

Transparency Solomon Islands notes that all the women MPs are in the ruling government, but nothing much is happening to address the issues and problems and developmental needs of women, girl child and their social well-being.

It is business as usual.

Whilst Transparency Solomon Islands has always and will continue to urge constituencies to work with their representatives, the issues of concern raised by constituents of Gizo-Kolombangara on the inhuman treatment by their Member of Parliament (MP), Lanelle Tanagada, is a case in point that women leaders can also be “cowboys too”, snobbish and manipulative.

Transparency Solomon Islands notes that this is not the first time that the higher than mighty attitude of this member is raised and lamented by other members of her constituency.

The very same attitude was raised when TSI visited Kolombangara March this year. 

For this to get to the papers is quite serious and perhaps a sign that some communities can no longer stomach the off-hand and high than thou attitude they alleged is displayed by their female member of parliament.

The outcry publicly shared by Mr Ropu indicates that this attitude of the MP, is much more widespread in Kolombangara than just to the communities visited by Transparency Solomon Islands. 

Whether back in the Constituency or coming to Honiara to seek an audience with her the behaviour is the same from their MP and their CDO, it is alleged.

The grievances shared by Ishmael Ropu on behalf of his group coming to Honiara seeking support from the MP for 14 youths to join the Labour Mobility Scheme is unacceptable at any level.

It is alleged that since coming into power the MP has been very selective about which communities to assist and which to not assist in Kolombangara.

Mr Ropu revealed that Mrs. Tanagada their MP since coming into power never assisted three villages namely Kena, Hunda and Pine. 

They have vowed to confront the MP when she reappears for the upcoming election campaign.

Power is vested in the people and Mrs Tanagada is reminded that the electorates have huge influence at election time when they can vote out those who have let them down. 

A change in attitude would be the way to go.

Here in Solomon Islands with its geographical setting any elected MP can choose to completely ignore his or her constituency or those communities they do not like or have a difference of opinion with and get away with it.

But people are being made aware of their political, legal, and civil rights so change will come and Members of Parliament [sitting] and intending candidates for 2023 need to be prepared.

There are other communities within this constituency that raise the same uncaring attitude of Gizo/Kolombangara representative and her CDO.

Ropu also revealed that he submitted a project proposal worth $18,000 to support his income generating project only to be told by the CDO for Gizo/Kolombangara that they never receive his proposal.

The discriminatory treatment of voters is contrary to the messaging of the advocacy to get women into parliament.

Women, it is advocated, will serve all and not discriminate, along the lines of family, religion, gender, community, voting support etc.

For these communities who now have a female MP, this notion remains a myth.

The 2023 is not a long way off and this media outburst should remind all 50 MPs including Mrs Tanagada that citizens are no longer blind and ignorant as one may think.

From the available information, media, and awareness workshop run by inter-governmental agencies on good governance including TSI’s face to face awareness, people are aware of their rights.

They [Constituents] know how much money MPs get over the years on behalf of their Constituencies.

They know where to go to get information on what funds are paid into constituency account etc.

The inhuman treatment Ropu and four others were subjected to when visiting the MP’s residence is typical attitude displayed by many MPs towards their constituents.

To be approached by the house girl is completely unacceptable.

During campaign the house girls was not the one that was asking for people to vote for her. 

At least there is one decent person in Mrs Tanagada’ s household.

In Varu village, TSI stayed in a deteriorating homestay linked to a conservation protected area operated by the landowner of that location.

It is one of the most beautiful locations that TSI had the privilege of being a guest.

The owner sought assistance but nothing much was forthcoming from the MP.

Last year he heard about the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) and applied for funding assistance to improve his homestay but to date no response from the MP.

He alleged that another man who never in his life put up a single post to build a homestay was given the project.

He could not understand why no help was given to him as someone who is operating an existing homestay that needed maintenance to its current facility.

This is a clear story of how this female MP and her CDO are practicing cronyism, a normal practice in the use of CDF which was also used for allocation of the much talked about ESP.

These are but just some of the issues some members of Gizo/Kolombangara Constituency are having with their MP. 

They see this as especially uncalled for of their woman MP.

On a national stage, this conduct and behaviour is counterproductive to the campaign to get more women into parliament, the special measures that the women are asking for in this space.

More and more at least here in Solomon Islands voters are beginning to be disillusioned about the global campaign that women parliamentarians can do better than men.

The experiences of some of the constituents of Gizo-Kolombangara with their member, who is also a highly educated woman, is a concern.

For this constituency it is still families, supporters, and cronies. Their belief in women to be better is shattered by the high than thou behaviour of their female MP, they alleged. 

For them not all women nor men are good leaders. With power and money in their hands and as their greed rises, they forget their duty to all in their constituency.

Transparency Solomon Islands acknowledges the possibility that constituents may find it much easier to raise their complain about women MP than men, as well as holding them to much higher standards than the men.

To date however, Transparency Solomon Islands through observation, and real experience in its travels, it observes very little difference in the conduct of MPs regardless of gender towards their constituents, and nor difference between male and female leadership in current and previous parliament.

Except for a few exceptional cases, most MPs are in Parliament for the wrong reason of benefitting themselves including the female MPs. 

Both sides of the House however, have excellent MPs that have a heart for their constituency.

Regrettably, amongst these are those that do not have a heart for the development [human, Environment, & Resources] of Solomon Islands as a nation. 

Worse still there is not enough of them. 

Women once voted in can end up being Cowboys with the Boys too as seen by the constituents of Gizo/Kolombangara.