THE article is, yet another attempt to provide alternative observation to the debate on leadership change in Solomon Islands. The focus is premised on the question, Will the new SIDCCG leadership bring change to SI? The article concluded that our leaders are not bad, except that the various accumulative provisions created under the custody of MPs through CDF and the likes, have made them to relegate the national interest to “Lead is to Serve” at the periphery, thereby redesigned the national spirit to serve to that being served. It is argued that the tendency by our Leaders to serve themselves first before serving the nation is the result of continuous increase in accumulating public resources under the disposal of our legislators, instead of the various institutions of government.
The newly elected Prime Minister for the Solomon Islands Democratic Coalition for Change Government, SIDCCG – an additional volume to the extended version of DCCG – has assumed office recently amid awaiting jubilant whose joyful choruses rises up to Nimbus clouds and rained the downtown streets of Honiara on receiving the result that another renowned leader and a hopeful ‘saviour’ has been ushered into office, have made the night long celebration more lively than the usual festive seasons.
The transition follows weeks of lobbying and continuous hip hopping by politicians from both sides of the House that have left the nation dumb-folded while the social media continued to debate the pretext of the political make up. Amid celebration, many have cautioned that while the driver’s seat has been reshuffled, the same DCCG is still in command since the Lieutenant and ‘Controller’ of Treasury is in fact, the same leader being relegated to the Deputy PM position.
What could this reshuffle possibly indicate to a simple grass roots Solomon Islander in terms of our political development? I will leave the benefit of doubt to our readers to analyze the chemistry at work in this ‘political marriage’ given the circumstances surrounding the eventual formation of the so-called SIDCCG as it were.
Interestingly, the threats assumed to be feared by the disgruntled MPs who have swept, mopped and crossed the floor of Parliament to join forces with the Opposition, were unfortunately deserted on the 11th hour by the Democratic Alliance Party, DAP and other MPs who join forces with DCCG camp, including the former Leader of the Opposition together with his two other comrade MPs from Isabel, suddenly left the Opposition camp adamantly speechless leaving the whole equation a total political dilemma.
Pragmatically, the political strategies employed by our MPs have been rather naïve in that, the once hated political regionalism have now seemed to expose its true colors – a possible deciding formula. To maintain his political position, the MP for Aoke/Langa Langa strategically justified his position to remain in the Opposition camp with the formalization of a new political party recently, having surrounded himself with some members of the gender faculty. The remaining camp appears to be those who have deserted the former PM comprised of two former Deputy PM under DCCG, two former PM from Western Province and one from Guadalcanal.
The politics displayed by our leaders exemplified the characteristics of a supposedly ‘sleeping crocodile’ although one would argue that they have obviously achieved nothing at the end of the day. In fact, the driver of the vehicle is a valid licensed holder who knows the protocols and ‘highway’ rules of the road. The problem however, is the vehicle. It needs maintenance and unless the vehicle undergoes proper maintenance, changing drivers will never solve the problem. After all, the vehicle will still be used in and around the same roads in Honiara, to say the least. No doubt, it’s still DCCG anyway, hence one would question what difference would any leadership change usher in given less than 12 months now remain for the 10th Parliament to sort themselves before their term is due in December 2018.
Solomon Islanders nonetheless drink, sing, and dance as they celebrate in downtown Honiara, and a three- time Prime Minister bowed out humbly through a Vote of No-Confidence. During his response to the debate on the No Confidence motion, the former PM exposed all purported corrupt deals by few MPs who spear-headed the ‘walk out’ from the DCCG, especially issues related to the much talked about government sponsored ‘Shipping Grants’ under the Ministry of Infrastructure Development.
Some leaders use the media to further politicize the ‘walk out’ in response to public pressure on the issue of the Anti-Corruption Bill. The former PM made a public statement that the proposed Anti-Corruption Bill has never been the issue. What seemed to be the politics behind the veil is none other than the unspoken lyrics of the popular Shipping Grant which a lot of MPs wish to access and take advantage given the timeframe for the up-coming General Election. Once again, it is a public resource provision secured under the custody of MPs.
Unlike other provisions under the custody of our 50 MPs, Shipping Grant is perhaps one of the most damaging allocations ever created by successive governments, and it is perhaps the only provision that has received a lot of condemnation by the general public. Its sole purpose is to subsidize the shipping fraternity’s service to uneconomical routes in the country. Unfortunately, the provision has been compromised in the name of ‘fairness’ to allow other MPs whose constituencies are not even entitled for this provision, to secure heavy plant machines for road maintenance, which no doubt have failed to be included in MID’s government inventory records, although they are paid from taxpayers money.
The fundamental question therefore is, given that the CDF money forms part of the consolidated fund, why have CDF and other provisions like the Shipping Grants by-passed normal auditing and inventory provisions if it were so?
Remember! These are legislators who are also responsible for overseeing the disbursements of the said Shipping Grant and are obvious direct beneficiaries of the system they have created for themselves in the name of our rural folks. In other words, they have created an opportunity for themselves to access public resources intended for the people.
Given the above, what nomoa bae left for olgeta ministries savvy waka lo hem sapos every selen bae olgeta MPs nomoa controllem? I guess there is no use for Public Service to employ officers to do the work. We should start scaling down on our public service and make people redundant and leave politicians to run service delivery in this country whether we like it or not. The fact that politicians are now assuming the work of public servants to implement government policies is merely a duplication or repetition of the job supposedly mandated for public officers to perform under the Constitution and Public Service Act. To that extent, something is terribly wrong with our system, what is it?
More so, if these simple public finance issues are not adhered by our leaders, what justification is there to argue that changing hands at the leadership echelon of our political and government institutions will ever realize improved changes of the system for accountability purposes? That system exposes all elected MPs and PM to corruption, no matter how good one is as an individual and a politician. No wonder we have been accusing our leaders of corrupt practices since they were elected into office. Changing drivers is not the probable solution. Conditioning the fund to most needy region is the alternative.
In fact, we need a total overhaul of our policy direction if the purported arguments for change relates to strengthening the economic opportunities of this country. That being the case, one need to pose questions like, what can the Democratic Alliance Party (DAP) offer this country now that they have taken over the responsibility of leading this country, given that they only have less than 12 months to run the affairs of this country? This could be damaging for DAP if they are unable to produce results in the next 6 to 12 months. Otherwise, the only safe haven for DAP is to continue with the policy priorities of DCCG, but again, if that is the case, what justification is there for DAP to takeover leadership from DCCG under the leadership of the former PM?
Well, amid euphoric celebrations over the removal of the former PM, it is equally critical to ask ourselves whether or not the ‘strongman’s’ successor will actually bring about the much-needed change, given the above.
A one-time Governor of the Central Bank of Solomon Islands, the current PM is expected to salvage the economy and more so, the growing financial cash flow difficulties presently experienced in the country. But that mandate and responsibility is once again in the hands of the former PM as the Lieutenant and Minister of Finance & Treasury. He will obviously influence any outcome at the end of the day, and not the PM, as one would have thought!
Why would that be so? Because the powers in terms of public finance is vested on the Minister of Finance under the new Public Financial Management Act therefore the said Minister ultimately has the keys to government coffers. So, what really is our problem that needs urgent attention by the newly elected PM? I guess the PM has taken a positive step to deal with Political Appointees first in an effort to cut costs. But cutting cost is not an outright solution at the moment. Controlling our expenditures while strengthening our tax revenues is critical for a subsistence based economy like ours.
One way of controlling our expenditures is to close off some allocations controlled by our MPs like the Shipping Grants, MPs dictated scholarships, Ecclesiastical provisions under Ministry of Home Affairs, Tourism allocations under MPs, Forestry allocations under MPs, Fisheries allocations under MPs, to mention a few. These allocations are a total waste of public funds and have no wider impact to the majority of our people. The sustenance of these allocations only create wastages of public funds rather than create potential economic spin-offs thus far, because if they do, there has unfortunately, never been any specific sector analysis of these projects that have been produced for public scrutiny to warrant their continuity and even increases.
Other reform initiatives should equally be considered in line with our fiscal strategies. For instance, reviving the Development Bank of Solomon Islands is a government priority policy agenda, but the experience of this country has shown that issues of legislative competence has hardly been accorded sufficient financial support to say the least. That is to say, a lot of Bills have gone through Parliament and have been approved and gazetted as Acts of Parliament but have not been afforded the same level of financial allocations to ensure the maintenance and sustainability of these newly introduced laws.
In principle, elected governments are required to implement their policies but how could they do so in an environment where the economy is suffocated by unbudgeted demands and where the majority of the population is not participating in the formal economy? Worse still, the majority of our resource endowments are in the hands of resource owners through the customary tenure system. Even worse is the fact that during the general elections for the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Parliament in SI, only 14% (7 MPs for 7th Parliament) were elected with a strong mandate for being elected by an absolute majority at or above 50% + 1 of the votes; 8% (4 MPs for 8th Parliament); 12% (6 MPs for 9th Parliament); and 18% (9 MPs for 10th Parliament).respectively, meaning more than 80% of our elected MPs are not mandated by virtue of the fact that they do not even secure more than half of the total registered voters in their constituencies – an issue that needs further legal clarifications because of the enormous amount of resources now been channeled through MPs as a result.
So, who is Hon. Rick Hou as the new PM of Solomon Islands and the new leader of the Solomon Islands Democratic Coalition for Change Government, SIDCCG? What different interpretations to his ambition could be given by his antagonists, as supposed to his ardent followers of the astute politician? It is important to tease out where Hon. Rick Hou actually got it right, where he could go wrong and the untold story of his political competence.
Well, as a person, Hon. Rick Hou may not be overly charismatic, his infectious smile, generosity, confidence, immense capabilities, coupled with his unquenchable principles of justice, honesty, integrity, accountability, and transparency cuts him out as a good leader. His open and bold stance against corruption, high level of emotional intelligence and his unblemished record of long service in public office (as Governor of CBSI) make many see him as towering above others in the race of his party for the Flagbearer position.
However, now that his PM ambition is crystal clear as he eventually occupies the office, his resilience and tolerance shall no doubt henceforth be tested to the perimeter. He must also be ready for the ‘crocodile’ attack as he wades his way across the murky river of Solomon Islands politics. No doubt, his competence is sure to be subjected to be measured against that of his Lieutenant Deputy.
Given his outstanding performance as a leader could the current PM be able to influence critical cost-cutting measures related to some public resources presently under the custody of our MPs so as to maintain his bold stance against the enormous wastages of public funds presently allocated under him and his colleague MPs as stated above or would his ambitious taste of transparency and accountability be compromised by his political expediency – a challenge that has equally cost the former PM his position.
Why? Because studies and experiences have agreed that Solomon Islands, stuck in the club of the world’s poorest nations, faces a critical leadership vacuum which, once appropriately occupied, can stimulate and launch her rise.
For a nation 39 years old since independence to still fail to meet basic social services of her people given the enormous resources allocated through MPs for livelihood and provincial government grants and own receipts as indicated above, to still be dependent on erratic donors, to still have almost half of her people wallow in abject poverty – speaks volumes of leadership bankruptcy.
Perhaps that is why, as 2019 draws, Solomon Islanders are no longer looking within their partisan establishment for leadership answers. They are looking outside – searching hope in young Solomon Islanders who have built their lives and career outside politics, but have managed to scale up beyond any shade of doubt.
Perhaps that is why the names of the current elected politicians will eventually fade and chances to retain their seats very slim come 2019 General Elections because for 39 years, Solomon Islanders have never tasted progress and development. As such, new names will rise to national stardom as national icons who have been mobilized to help bring change to our political echelon. What does this tell of our political experience and challenges as a developing nation?
Solomon Islands major challenge is that she has always been led by leaders who are experts at spending than generating income. We are a poor nation because we do not generate enough revenue within ourselves to fund our services.
All we have is leadership that knows how to steal from the little resources available and spend, wantonly, what remains. No strategy of generating enough and no strategy of carefully managing the resources for the benefit of the country. Personalized interests have engulfed the faculties and action stages of our leaders.
As such, one wonders as to whether or not the change in leadership now would ever bring a new political and economic era in Solomon Islands. There are significant uncertainties over, for instance, a new economic strategy. We need a political influencer at the political echelon at the moment and the current PM, will be challenged to prove that quality, and that could be tantamount to progress for one simple reason – people are hopeful. Much of the resentment is because of the economic difficulties that have been left to fester.
All the same, inasmuch as we all wish and hope this generation be rewarded with the service of an immensely competent individual at the highest office of the land, Solomon Islanders should also expect that the road to that office will not be smooth. It has never been anyway. Some of our finest politicians who have served this nation at the elite level as leaders before their time – the likes of former PMs Bart Ulufa’alu and Gordon Darcy Lilo have set some minimum standards as competent leaders who have grew the economy and provide prudent financial stability, have proven themselves as our great economists. Here is another economist. Would he be able to influence his competence as a leader like his two other predecessors or will SIDCCG be bogged down to finding harmony over DCCG policy strategies in the next remaining 12 months.
For now, there remains a lot to be seen of one of the finest politicians of our time. He needs our support therefore we must render the support accordingly. But that is about what we can do for the moment. The rest unfortunately, remains within the perimeters of politics until 2019 when the country will no doubt influence the next leader to lead this country through their ballots.
For the moment, let’s cautiously ‘relax’ and observe the drama as it unfolds.
The views expressed herewith are my own and do not represent any institution or organization for that matter.
By Ta-Etulu Guru