Honiara public transport dilemma - Solomon Star News

Honiara public transport dilemma

27 July 2016

I WONDER if the Honiara City Council still exists and functioning!

The Honiara public transport issue had been shelved in deep waters under deep rock.

This long outstanding and unresolved matter now casts doubtful confidence in the minds of simple commuters and the general traveling public against the city [local] government.

The question that now hangs in the air is – “Is the Honiara City Council still operational and functioning?”

As a prominent citizen of Honiara, I feel obliged to resurrect this issue on behalf of all the aggrieved silent corporate citizens of Honiara who had been plunged in grief over this public transport service issue for months, even years.

What is wrong with the Honiara City Council? Do they understand their mandate and role at all? I wonder!

In case they do not understand, let me just remind them: Honiara city council is the governing local government unit of the city.

It was created through Honiara City Act 1999, having a greater role in the city’s development.

However, as we have always witnessed and experienced, the Honiara City Council in the past (even to date) has been labeled and plagued with bad governance, weak administrative and technical capacity and limited finances, resulting in poor delivery of services to its residents.

Despite the assistance received through the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) Project, which was initially funded by New Zealand Government, implemented in 2006 -2011 (and I guess this project is further extended), there has not been much improvement seen (or appear to have been done) in the delivery of services and management capacity of the Council.

 In their report, CLGF had claimed achieving much improvement in its implementation programs.

Even if that is so, obviously there is a need to review these kinds of engagements and undertakings by offshore contracted entities, especially when they are accorded privileges to obtain direct funding from donor sources to implement their projects locally.

The issue of sustainability is paramount in order to sustain these improvements, and also in ensuring the equitable and quality delivery of basic services to all residents.

Ok if I could agree with these claimed improvements for one minute, if I may ask this question, “what sort of improvement has been done to address the public transport dilemma?

We all know, Honiara is very fast growing city, nearly in all dimensions of activities, due to the rapid pace of urbanization.

The capital city sits comfortably on a 22 square kilometer often-debated territory and serves as the hub for all administrative, commercial and economic activities in Solomon Islands.

It is the seat of the national government and also accommodates all the financial institutions, business houses, hotels, shops, industries, and so forth, in the country.

The estimated population [2010] is around 100,000 and the population keeps on rapidly growing at an alarming rate of 2.7per cent, while urban migration continues to grow at a staggering almost 5 per cent (one of the highest in the world I guess).   

A browse through a picked-up copy of Honiara City Council’s 5-Year Strategic Plan 2104 – 2018, drawn up with the assistance by New Zealand government through Honiara Economic Development Support Programme (HEDSUP) and adopted by Full Council resolution, revealed the following statement under its Effective & Efficient Governance programme area:“Work to return power to HCC to control public transport services…….”

If I could ask, when is this program going to take place?

Honiara City Council has very interesting Vision and Mission Statements – the Vision Statement states: “The City of Honiara is acknowledged as a clean, safe, harmonious, environmentally responsible, prosperous and resilient capital city providing a high quality of life for its multi-cultural community and its vendors.”

And the Mission Statement states: “Council’s Mission is to work in partnership with the community to deliver a range of high standard facilities and services, and to improve the quality of life for its citizens.”

Under the Honiara City Council Act, the Council is mandated to deliver broad range of urban basic services such as health, education, refuse collection, recreational areas, public sanitation (worst in the city), minor public works, town physical planning and development, among others.

But surprisingly, the Council does not seem to be worrying too much about addressing the public transport service defect in the city.

The short-bus route saga vanished from public debate because the cry of the residents (the people) fell on sickly deaf ears.

The crux of the argument is that the issue to deal with public transport services falls under the direct responsibility of Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MID) and the Police (Traffic Section), and Honiara City Council does not have any powers to deal with this issue other than these two authorities.

What role then does Council play in the public transport saga?

So if the Council truly has no power, which then has the legal mandate and responsibilty to oversee city administration [local governance] and look after the welfare and wellbeing of the residents of Honiara city?

It is a pity that whiles the Council’s Vision and Mission Statements focuses on a brighter and prospective future for our City yet the implementation process towards realizing and achieving tangible output on these two powerful statements is being dragged in the opposite direction. What a dreadful shame!

If I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Council I would tender in my resignation forthwith after reading this article.

The same could also be said about the so-called Legal Officer – what kind of administrative and legal advice do they tender respectively to the Mayor and his Executive on a day to day basis in ensuring the council is taking us forward in the right direction? The Vision and Mission Statements is our yardstick and guide to achieve our goal.

To the legal fraternity, may I ask: “do we still have any qualified lawyers in the pool who could probably apply to take up the long-vacant position of Legal Adviser with the Honiara city Council to expediently deal with all legal matters affecting the council’s operations both past and present”?

Currently we only have a legal officer solely manning the legal office.

He’s been in this position for a good donkey number of years, unchallenged. Don’t ask me about how far he has gone with his law achievements!

When is the Council going to set up a Review Committee to review the Honiara City Act 1999 and come with the appropriate amendments that will see further improvement to providing efficient and effective delivery of services, including public transport services, to meet the growing demands and expectations of the city residents?

CEO, Legal Officer, mayor, executive members, non-executive members, ex-offico and appointed members, and the rest of you, please read (and re-read), digest and understand the content of the Honiara City Act 1999.

In Schedule 4 (section21(2)) of the Act, it stipulate Functions that may be transferred and this includes, the Land and Titles Act (Cap.133), the Cinematograph Act (Cap137), the Gamming and Lotteries Act (Cap.139), the Roads Act (Cap.129), the Traffic Act (Cap.131), the Public Holidays Act (Cap.151), the Liquor Act (Cap.144), the Protected Industries Act(Cap.177), the Rivers Act (Cap.135), and the Town and Country Planning Act (Cap.154).

Why keep on defending yourself (the council) and continue passing the buck to MID and Police?

What have you done with this legal provision as clearly stipulated in the said Act?

Have you, at any time, during the one and half decade considered a resolution, to transfer any or all of the functions allowable by the Act that may be transferred to the Council?

Again may I ask, what are the CEO and the Legal Officer doing?

Do you know your responsibility at all? You supposed to giving professional advice to the mayor and his executive in areas such as this.

Honiara City Council, the administration and political office, let me say this - you have failed miserably!

And your negligence of duty had obviously denied the citizens of Honiara city their right to freely travel and commute in a convenient manner to their workplaces, places of conducting their personal business, shopping and marketing and returning back safely and in time to their places of residences before darkness fall, and that you have denied this basic right on grounds of public interest.

At this juncture, I wish to conclude by calling upon Ministry of Home Affairs to immediately advertise the posts of CEO of the Honiara City Council and Legal Adviser, so that the council can have the benefit of having competent personnel, selected on merit, to be part of the Honiara City Council’s establishment to deliver professional work ethics in this public authority.

For the information of the public, currently the City Clerk (who is the Chief Executive Officer) of the council is not a seconded officer, meaning, he is not being employed by the Public Service Commission.

He is a Political Appointee currently included in the Council Payroll, paid from council funds as a political appointee at a handsome salary package of approximately $100,000 pa. – a very substantial sum that supposed to be used to support self-employed entrepreneurs (women or youth).

The position of City Clerk has always been a seconded post.

The Legal Office of the Council has also been functioning without a certified and qualified lawyer for the last several years.

As a result, a lot of land cases and petty staff issues are still outstanding to date to be dealt with either amicably, by providing sound legal opinion or resolving the matter in a court of law.

Also since the legal officer is also unsound in law, he cannot provide sound legal opinion as well to the council. This is double ridiculous!

Finally but not the least, I urged the Council to include this agenda item on the deteriorating “Public Transport Service in Honiara” in its next Agenda for debate in the next upcoming Full Council sitting this month.

To the general Public, please be advised: that Full Council meetings are open sittings and the public is allowed to attend.

Therefore, I would like to urge you from now on to start attending these called- for council meetings so that you see first-hand the performance of your elected councilor, and what contribution they make to council debates on the floor of the chamber.

I now conclude by making a solemn appeal to the Mayor, and Honiara City Council, to please immediately address the short bus routes for the sake of public convenience, and act fast should you wish to quickly re-gain public support and confidence.