It's the Economy, Stupid!
by: Dr John
of the more famous statements of the 1992 US presidential race when
Bill Clinton won the presidency, was the above: It's the Economy,
Stupid! These four short words captured the whole meaning behind
the American presidential race. Other national issues, concerns
and problems boiled down to one solution . . . a nation enjoying
a strong, growing and dynamic economy. Given a strong economy then,
a nation's other major difficulties have a good chance of being
worked out. If, however, a nation's economy is weak, in decline
and only half alive, other problem areas face impossible odds. To
add misery to our already woeful condition, Solomon Island leaders,
especially during the first half of the 1990s, focused their attention
on politics rather than strengthening the economy as the preferred
engine of growth.
Politics is the Economy:
Worldwide, politics is understood as the basic framework to insure
a nation's economy works properly. Over the past twenty years, however,
national politics and especially the political elite have used the
political process to position themselves to enjoy the nation's resource
base. Politics has rarely been seen as the fundamental preparation
for a healthy economy--enacting solid business laws, protecting
investor confidence through proper legislation, training local personnel,
just taxation policies, etc.--so that the Solomons could enjoy a
strong, dynamic and growing economy. The fundamental reason to enter
politics, however, was to insure the politican an easy access to
At independence in 1978, for instance, there were few, perhaps only
one, Solomon Islander who would be counted as a millionaire. Twenty
years later, almost two dozen Solomon Islanders had made that list.
Although these millionaires' bank accounts were difficult to obtain,
their public assets like permanent Honiara houses, business ownership,
vehicles drivwn and other obvious signs of wealth could be measured
and counted. With very few exceptions, these new millionaires had
all been high up in government especially members of parliament.
How to get into national politics has always been a national pastime,
certainly not the proper workings of the economy. When our nation
faced an economic problem in the 1980s and 1990s, the government
response was to automatically reach for a political solution. Change
the minister in charge, or shift Permanent Secretaries around the
ministries or come up with half-baked ideas like swapping our trees
for Saudi Arabia oil, dig for gold in Tulagi, bottling bush oxygen,
tripping to Hong Kong for 'free' money, etc. The assumption behind
these actions was the thought that if parliamentarians can control
the political process, economic power follows. In one sense, this
is true. Money is gained but the economy which is far more than
money suffers greatly.
The police-aided Civilian Coup of early June 2000, although fancifully
dressed up as a Joint Operation desiring to redress Malaitan compensation
claims, was simply an extension of past governments' logic of governance.
Over the years, different parliamentary factions had normally gained
political dominance through no-confidence motions. However, during
the last two years of the SIAC government's reign, no-confidence
motions were failing and the opposition would not wait until a new
election to gain power. The reasoning behind the Coup was to control
the political process to more easily and fully access money. Politics
once more became the economy.
Many Solomon Islanders pin their hope on December's up-coming election
for a new parliament, one that will finally have the people's backing.
But in reality this election must be likened to a baby step in a
long, very long, journey. Of course an election for new leaders
is needed. But although absolutely necessary, it is not enough.
As the care-taker PM has recently mentioned, whoever comes to power
takes over a country on the brink of economic destruction, increased
social discord and lacking unity. We are, as a nation, fast digging
our own grave. Our own actions, or better the actions of a few,
mostly our own self-appointed leaders, are hell bent on destroying
the nation for their own deep greedy pockets and power.
December's election will solve no problem because the problem lies
deep within our hearts. A relatively small number of men are establishing
a new way of acting. The gun and what it stands for--violence, intimidation,
torture, power--is creating a society where the Culture of Violence
rules. A newly elected parliament inherits the nation's basic problem--restoring
a dynamic, strong and growing economy. But two other areas of concern--restoring
law and order and establishing ethical leadership--are intertwined
and connected together. But fundamentally both depend upon a growing
economy to be resolved. All three problem areas must be tackled
almost at the same time.
National Economy Destroyed:
Our country lacks an economy. We are bankrupt. Yes, money is constantly
spent but it is supplied by donor nations . . . compensation payments,
education grants, medical assistance, etc. Only small amounts come
from our own hands and brains. In the rest of the world, a national
economy means that workers make, produce, mine, grow or create products
that other nations want and are willing to pay money for.
However, we no longer grow oil palm oil, nor mine gold or lure tourists
to our shores. While we have begun to tin tuna once again, the industry
remains small. Round log exports, especially from the Western Province,
is our main and almost only export of note. Copra, cocoa and coffee
help village people but the world price these products gain does
not pay for the medicines, school books and services village people
In normal times, any of the above mentioned problems would be tough
to work on but the three problems reinforcing each other makes the
task of governing almost impossible. Yet, the new parliament has
no choice but to tackle all three at the same time. It is time for
parliamentarians, however, to clarify for themselves as well as
for the electorate that a strong, dynamic and growing economy for
all is the best solution for all.
Up Coming National Election
people held their first national election two months ago. That was
their first ever because this tiny nation had been harshly ruled
by Indonesia for a quarter of a century. This election, however,
proved special. East Timorese were delighted to find that 24 women
had won a place in the newly elected 88-seat parliament. That meant
27% women legislators had become MPs. What a great way for the newest
Melanesian state to start off their new nation.
We, on the other hand, have been able to elect only one woman to
parliament in almost a quarter of a century. Hilda Kari alone has
made it to the "The Big House on the Hill" but no other
woman has come close. Why is it that a sister Melanesian country
can start off in such a balanced way but we in the Solomons find
On the other hand, we, as a nation, ask, no beg, our women to guard,
protect and guide the most precious national resource . . . our
children. Yet, when women ask the nation to consider them for a
seat in parliament to work with and assist men to guard, protect
and guide our other natural resources--the very nation itself--we
say no. We have been saying no to women for almost a quarter of
a century now.
This would make perfect political sense if our male parliamentarians
had been guiding the country from one grand success after another.
It would be only fitting to keep men in office. They had proven
how clear headed, strong and dynamic they were. In a word they were
doing such a great job, the country was enjoying high prosperity,
peace was blooming in all provinces and the country was headed for
a great future. But the last three years have proven to be a profound
disaster. We have become a deeply impoverished country.
Literally, we have no future. Our economy is in ruins, corruption
thrives at the highest government level and peace finds no place
on our shores. We are a deeply socially blighted country. And yet
when women ask voters to consider them as worthy parliamentarians
we refuse. It's as if we prefer a bunch of losers, no-hopers and
inept men than to take a chance with women whose only success is
in raising children, keeping a family together and sustaining peace.
Are we afraid of women?
I am not saying that each and every woman is worthy of the highest
seat of government. But I am saying that this up-coming election--5
December--must be seen as the nation's last best chance to turn
the country around, make a fresh start and work as we have never
worked before to pull our beloved Solomons back from the brink of
In the 1997 election more than 51% of the former parliament (1993)
were dismissed from office, more MP losses than in any of the three
previous elections. But the men elected in 1997 never accepted the
message: people were demanding a new kind of leader. One who would
see the village and the villager as the most important sector of
society. What we got, however, was the same old, tired attitude
. . ."Mr. Me first and Mr. Me all the way!"
And still they refuse to accept the message. Every parliamentarian
from the 1997 election (except two) see themselves as indispensable
and once again seek to return to parliament. They can't possibly
run on a successful track record which according to SIDT's recent
voter survey is terrible. This latest survey shows that most of
the elected parliamentarians of 1997 will be looking for new work
come 6 December. In fact we predict that 60% of the current MPs
will lose their seats, more than the number lost in the 1997 election.
Of course we don't know how much money will be offered to change
Some current MPs--perhaps a handful--should try again but the majority
must retire, get out of politics since they have inflicted much
serious damage on the nation and its people. Allow women to test
their skills at running the country. It would be difficult to see
how women could do as badly as men have done. Perhaps women don't
know the pains and difficulties men have suffered but give them
a chance. They will learn. They don't know to manage national finances,
some one might suggest. Now isn't that rich; an example of the kettle
calling the pot black. If any singular group has been remiss in
managing finances, then men have won the prize. Their track record
for the past twenty years has been awful. A small example: in late
1978 the Solomon Islands' dollar was worth the same as a US dollar.
Under 20 years of men's 'expert' guidance, however, our poor dollar
is now worth only 18c. Enough said!
Vote for a women this election. Twelve of them are running. It would
be hard for them to do as badly as the men.
preparation for the 5 December polls, Solomon Islanders are already
in high gear for the sixth national election since 1978 independence.
A quick review of national events over the past four years' might
clarify how utterly changed its people and the nation itself has become
since 1997, the last national election. This four-year period, both
unprecedented with hope and violence in the extreme, lends itself
to three distinct time frames ranging from one of great hope and expectation
to the current period of fear and dismay.
A time of hope September 1997 to March 1999
The 1997 election of Bartholomew Ulufa'alu's and the ushering in of
more new parliamentarians than at any other national election was
welcomed by the majority of citizens. The Mamaloni-led governments
of the previous six or so years had left a bad taste in the mouth
of the electorate. The need for political-leadership change, stricter
financial control and a cutting back on a bloated public service had
become painfully evident to much of the nation.
More incumbents lost their seats in 1997 than in any other national
election. The former government, which had been effectively in power
for most of the '90s, was turned out of office. These election results
sent a strong message to politicians that people no longer accepted
a 'business as usual' approach to politics. Solomon Islanders were
seeking, no demanding, serious change and quickly so.
During that first 19-month period, therefore, the Solomon Islands
Alliance for Change (SIAC) government made impressive gains by restoring
order in public finances, working to increase the effectiveness of
public services and reviewing the use of natural resources, for example
forests in relation to round log extraction. The Asian Development
Bank and other multilateral donors, like The World Bank and IMF were
backing SIAC's attempts to bring public finances under control and
public services to more professional levels. It became a time of great
expectation. However, the limited capacity of many public servants
to implement the necessary changes intensified the many deep and long
standing problems of governance.
Unfortunately, some government members as well as those in the opposition
never grasped that the 1997 election had been about change, fundamental
change. Over the government's first three-year period three no-confidence
motions were used to try to derail the SIAC coalition. Government's
new policies were beginning to bite into the way of life of those
who had done well out of former governments easy access to the national
treasury. Their no confidence motions weren't working and other means
had to be used to derail such a reformist government.
A time of uncertainty April 1999 to May 2000
Guadalcanal militant groups emerged in late 1998. The Guadalcanal
Revolutionary Army (GRA who later became the Isatabu Freedom Fighters--IFM),
paralyzed the economic and community life on the island. They terrorized
and ethnically cleansed Malaitans from the oil palm plantations in
East Guadalcanal as well as many other island groups living in the
rest of the island. By July 1999, the militants has killed and injured
scores of civilians and displaced an estimated 22,000 people.
As a result, Honiara became a virtual Malaitan enclave surrounded
by road blocks cutting off rural areas under the control of the Isatabu
militants. This effectively limited police control on Guadalcanal
to the city proper. Vacated homes in the bush were looted and then
torched. Up to 10,000 mostly local villagers fled into remote areas
of the island. Repeated violence and threats against employees closed
down a major oil palm estate. Many Malaitan workers and their families
lost greatly. Not only were their houses destroyed and the belongings
stolen, they had also lost livelihoods, their children's education
opportunities and basically a hope for the future.
The number of confirmed dead at this time was less than 80 but there
had been other deaths, reprisal killings, during village raids and
ambushes. Honiara had its share of violent incidents, and tensions
ran high from time to time. The SIAC government declared a State of
Emergency on 14 June but allowed it to run out of force on 15 October
when normal life patterns were beginning to emerge once again.
In response to the IFM's violence, however, Malaita men organised
into the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and used police weapons, uniforms
and equipment (seized in a 17 January 2000 MEF raid on the police
armory in Auki) to increase political pressure on the government to
pay compensation for loss of lives and property from IFM attacks.
Over this period, however, government made repeated attempts to resolve
the crisis, (more than six separate signings beginning on 23 May 1999)
to bring about a peace settlement but these were handicapped by a
number of factors. There were serious doubts about the good faith
on both sides, a significant lack of correct, accurate and reliable
information and especially the reconciliation gestures did not address
the underlying causes of the tension, especially with regard to Guale
concerns and demands. Simply exchanging traditional valuables of shell
money, pigs, yams, etc. without coming to grip with the basics of
the conflict could not and did not work.
The whole process of restructuring and stabilizing the economy, downsizing
the public service and focusing efforts on the nation's semi-autonomous
businesses, such as Solomon Airlines, electricity, water and ports
businesses became more and more difficult. The nation was splitting
apart, provinces were planning to travel down the statehood road and
the formal economy was disintegrating.
A time of despair June 2000 to October 2001
The month of June experienced the beginning of the destruction of
the Solomon Islands nation. 5 June 2000 the MEF conducted a Civilian
Coup which toppled the government of the day. Supported by sections
of the police force, it seized control of Honiara, forced the SIAC
government to resign, pressured parliament to elect (probably illegally)
a successor, and used captured weapons to step up its military operations
against the IFM and Guadalcanal villagers
The Civilian Coup literally destroyed the Solomon Island's nation
for everyone, the coup masters included. It devastated its social
fabric--people found it hard to trust one another. Almost by itself,
the Coup destroyed the national economy--only small amounts of money
became available, there were many fewer jobs than before, certainly
far less education, health, transport and social assistance. It's
most destructive element, however, has been the undermining of people's
trust in government--citizens no longer accept this authority.
Some Solomon Island elite saw this police-aided Civilian Coup as a
quick way of changing a world that was quickly shifting about them.
The SIAC government was gingerly pushing for greater transparency,
financial accountability and equity investment in development which
were not to their liking. Too many opposition members were beginning
to experiencing a world that was challenging the corruption, mismanagement
and outright thievery which had become normal operating practice during
past governments. Currently these very same practices have made a
strong comeback with the present administration.
Solomons' basic security remains weak. The police 'request' criminals
to stop stealing vehicles: cars, busses and trucks. Militants have
recently re-armed themselves with guns stolen from the Tangarare armory.
Busses and cars, stripped of their number plates, many recently stolen,
brazenly run along Honiara's streets with little fear that the drivers
will be pulled over, questioned and arrested. A former Isatabu militant
is arrested and later found brutally murdered at Mount Austin. Although
a suspect is quickly arrested, he is released just as quickly and
currently walks around freely. The number of criminal acts mount daily.
This is the security picture and social dimensions which voters face
as they prepare for national elections on 5 December. The last four
years have radically changed Solomons historically from a nation with
a great future to one which is in doubt. Next week I will detail the
three major problem areas that any new government must face the very
first day of its administration.