COMMENTARY: Settling into calm waters

Ministers in the new Democratic Coalition for Change Government sworn in on November 16, 2017

Commentary By ABW

After every storm comes the calm and people go about their lives feeling buoyant and happy again. Often we quickly forget about the storm, but we in this country cannot afford to forget the storm that has just passed.

It was just another of a long line of political storms that have lashed our country.

It’s true that ‘storms never last,’ but our political storms seem to come with unsettling regularity, so something is amiss in our political systems. The country needs stability and predictability if the economy is to expand.

Solomon Islanders 50 and under have just seen a very interesting tussle between what might be described as the political heavyweights of these times. The older ones will have seen similar political storms in the Mamaloni/Hilly/Mamaloni/Ulufa’alu years from the 1990s onwards.

In that decade similar and even more vicious intrigues took place and the unsettling factor was the logging industry and its strong influence on politics. The story is told by New Zealand-based academic Dr. Judith Bennett in her well-research book, Pacific Forests: a History of Resource Control and Contest in Solomon Islands, c. 1800-1997 (2000). One murder and one suspected murder are still unsolved or unresolved ‘cold’ cases from those times.

Several Solomon Islanders, including Dr. Tarcisius Kabutaulaka in his book chapter, “Global Capital and Local Ownership in Solomon Islands Forestry Industry” (2006), have also written about the impact of logging in those times.

The recent storm had been building for some time as then Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare tried to deal with renegades in his coalition who cooked up some strange deals, delayed some important infrastructure projects, ran the government virtually broke and generally ensured a lot of public money — $500 million — was channelled into their coffers in preparation for the general election campaign at the end of 2018.

Eventually he had to get rid of some Ministers who were in key positions. And this caused the canoe to capsize and a bunch of renegades rushed to the arms of the Opposition thinking that Hon. Jerry Manele and his team were easy push overs.

But in a Machiavellian move, the Opposition Leader and his key people side-stepped the renegades and did the ultimate ‘grasshop’ to align with Sogavare and his key people.

‘Grasshopping’ is not a nice political term in Solomon Islands as it applies to MPs who hop across party lines to gain themselves political advantage, often with a brown envelope to make it pain free!

This grasshop was one that the nation needed badly.

It resulted in some of the most controversial and distrusted MPs who had been ministers for Sogavare being locked out of government.

It could be seen as a master-stroke by Manasseh Sogavare, but equal credit must go to Opposition Leader Jeremiah Manele and his team.

There are some interesting bits to this story: The name, ‘Sogavare’ translated in English means, ‘the jumping sting ray.’ These creatures have a sting in the tail!

And ‘Houenipwela,’ the new Prime Minister’s name roughly translates as ‘one who is well-known and is placed on a pedestal’.

The new government has to settle down, get cracking and tie down the rafters before the next storm arrives…hopefully after the general elections due in early 2019.

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