Re: Where’s our sovereignty? - Solomon Star News

Re: Where’s our sovereignty?

10 October 2017

More than a month ago on 14/08/2017 your paper carried an exceptional article by Mr. William Gua under the above title which reminds me of a political ‘monsoon’ that bore similar sentiment more than three (3) decades ago on the eve of Independence and as such, I wish to tread into the ‘No Go’ zone of Mr. Gua’s ideological rhythm in an effort to objectively examine the issues he has bravely pondered for public post mortem.

At its best, the article could have been reconfigured ‘Why them and not us?’ However the competence and essence of the above issue as espoused by Mr. William Gua, a supposed ‘political commentator’ together with the level of debate portrayed shows a bereavement of intellectual diaspora per se, for reasons that he pointed figures on other provinces and their leaders for lack of realizing aggregate development opportunities on his motherland – Malaita! Unlike Mr. Gua, my contribution shall not be confrontational rather, it shall focus more on the need for concluding a collective effort through a framework that truly represents the wishes of the people of his motherland by reflecting on some key historical development issues in the recent past that has set the unfortunate precedence we now consider optional as a matter of fact.

But first and foremost, I must thank Mr. Gua for his independent observation on so many issues on geopolitical as well as socio-economic front and for which, he has been very straight forward in presenting, especially on how his motherland could equally be a partner in terms of development which some of us have endorsed based on the spirit of his argument, while others may have considered it a ‘political blasphemy’ to say the least.

Most of the issues he has commented on are very competent issues which require concerted efforts and objective analysis in order to convince the national government, the people of Solomon Islands or even donors for that matter, but most of all, the innocent people from his motherland.
After all, a well-researched public policy issue often take precedence of subjective matters in terms of competence and accountable governance. However, the opposite often take precedence when politics dictates public policy and this is where poor governance and accountability often dictates the rule of the day.

However, whatever arguments Mr. Gua had portrayed need to be viewed and seen from where he is coming from if we were to give his arguments some justice. In other words, one need to consider and analyse Mr. Gua’s agenda based on a concerted and collective effort in terms of any formal framework endorsed and consented by the people, chiefs, Think Tank, Leaders, Provincial Government, youth, and women and children from his motherland, because government is an organized institution therefore any issues and agenda that require the mandate to influence public policy must be representative of the wishes of the people through an organized framework rather than mere rhetoric.

But, if what Mr. Gua had described have been presented to successive governments through a formal framework without any response, then, it is only fair to condemn the successive national governments for their failure to address the concerns raised by Mr. Gua.

Given the above, it would not be equally proper or even fair for me to delve into the controversial issues and sentiments that are supposedly tearing this country apart through this forum, although I would have hoped that there are established government forums responsible for addressing such issues.

However, I may not be competent enough to comment on the issue more succinctly but based on my experience and research in public policy issues of this nature, I feel what is more important as a starting point is for Mr. Gua to get his organized platform responsible for championing the talks on the agenda for the people of his motherland rather than waiting for the government to do it for us.

This is important a strategy to avoid the national government being considered bias towards a particular region in the country. The question Mr. Gua should be asking is ‘Why does he think he should be lessening his motherlands strategies now in championing the agendas for his people through a concerted framework rather than maintaining the status quo?’ This question raise the challenges on issues of accountability and leadership because many a times leaders are incompetent and often use misleading strategies to divert the focus on their competence to non-issues that has no relevance to the populace concerned.

More important is the fact that Mr. Gua has equally been putting labels when addressing issues like the loan from SINPF to Soltuna and the intention (I suspect) was to expose the fact that Soltuna is located in Western Province, and the sentiment I could deduce from that statement is plainly ‘why West?’ or ‘West Olowe?’ or ‘nafu lo West’, etc.

The question is who is not doing his or her work as a ‘chosen leader’? I guess Mr. Gua should refrain from putting labels as a strategy because it’s very naïve a strategy. We are practical men and women and we do not care if whether the cat is brown or black or white, as long as it can catch a mice that matters, therefore the issue should be more on rectifying the imbalances that exist in our economy.

Mr. Gua’s concern and articulated statement should better focus on wanting to develop an economy which will put an end to that, and thereby leave it to other people and province to put a label if they so wish. I guess that should be a progressive strategy Mr. Gua should partake. Why? Because economic and investment activities do not happen in a vacuum.

They do happen through the factors of production and one of which is LAND! Have we secured those land? If not, why not? Who is responsible for facilitating and securing the land for investment? Is it the national government or provincial governments or community leaders or political commentators? Who?

Let me expose an opportunity that was alternatively given Mr. Gua’s motherland by the former Colonial Administration since 1952 for Bina Harbour to be the ‘home’ of a potential fisheries investment opportunity location in the past.

Since this option did not eventuate for reasons only known to the Colonial Administration then, Tulagi in the Central Province was alternatively identified and eventually became the home of the then Soltai some years later.

When Soltai then had considered an alternative site as a result of its improved investment expansion opportunity in the late 60s, Takataka Bay in the Are’Are region was again identified without success.

After some unsuccessful attempts to secure both the Bina Harbour and Takataka Bay, Noro in the Western Province was alternatively considered in the 70s not as a choice but an option for the relocation of the then Soltai Cannery.

In fact, it was an option that had a lot of resistance from some of our leaders and resource owners initially but I guess the wisdom of those leaders and resource owners to resolve this issue amicably, led to the eventual execution of an understanding now considered unfair and labelled by Mr. Gua.

But the wise undertaking pursued by our leaders and resource owners of Noro land after so many weeks and months of consultation over the euphoric taste of bettlenuts had led to Noro being the pride of the country’s only ‘Tuna Town’ today.

However, given the option, Western Province is proud to be the host of this national development initiative with a cost as expressed by Mr. Gua.

Likewise, the same could be said of the Munda Airport Upgrading development. The land for this national project was a ‘Gift’ to the government by the resource owners of Munda in the 50s who signed a ‘Deed of Gift’, an instrument respected by the people of Munda, therefore when the proposal for the upgrading of Munda Airport development was put to donors by SIG, it met the requirements of donors but again we had to settle some prevailing issues between landowners.

Once again it is an issue of land. What the elders and custodians of our land had foreseen have, today, set the momentum and road map for further development in the province, and there are a lot of similar arrangements in the province.

For instance, more than 500 hectares of Provincial Land on Rendova Harbour, Rendova Island is alternatively another development opportunity area which we may have to properly plan through a Provincial Spatial Development Strategy if we were to realize their potentials. These are the very basis for which our framework has been developed and that has given us the drive to secure our concerted effort to our advantage.

No any secret, LAND nomoa answer!

On the same note, perhaps one of the poor argument Mr. Gua has also exposed as a political commentator as reflected in his same article is to think his motherland’s political, social and economic enemies should be those of the national government.

For instance, Western Province’s attitude towards the national government and the whole of Solomon Islands in opening up its resource endowments for the benefit of the country, even during its darkest hours, is retrospectively determined by the attitude of our donors, investors and the national government to our development agendas, and as such, we have partially benefited from these arrangements.

And I must thank Mr. Gua that yes, nearly all of these development opportunities in Western Province are competently performed by the people from Mr. Gua’s motherland. I am proud of them because they are hardworking people.

They have seen the opportunity to fulfil their long term goals therefore they have competently occupied jobs in key sector portfolios in Western Province. Most, if not, nearly all those who have had the opportunity to work in Western Province have either settled in the province with their new found families or have moved on to further their career elsewhere but still return to the province now and again.

Some have even represented our people at the Assembly level in the province. That is an opportunity development has ushered into Western Province, and I believe it can also do the same for Mr. Gua’s motherland so long as he is backed by a concerted platform that has the mandate of the majority of his motherland!

However, one important thing Mr. Gua may need to differentiate as a political commentator or analyst or whatever, is that we are not in a tedious liberation movement which are fully involved in a struggle to emancipate our people from the worst racial tyrannies or ethnic misgivings.

We have no time for that! We are in a transitional phase of moving from a traditional ‘one size fits all’ to a more capitalist approach of ‘man prepare for duim and savvy duim, ma lucky na’ kind of economically oriented approach.

The advantages and disadvantages of these various systems are not the subject of this discussion and can be delved with later but the point is, we may have to be economically competent if we were to stand the might of poverty and progress, which is what our people are struggling to get over and that should be the focus of our deliberations on development and not a political liberation movement approach as seemed to be the path Mr. Gua has confused himself with in his articles and statement.

Whether or not he realizes this is another issue altogether but for the moment I must limit the essence of the matter under discussion on the differences that could have influenced a double-standard approach to addressing issues of competence.

In mentioning Noro, Mr. Gua also made a stereotypical remark that while Noro is next to Honiara, it has no manpower! Mr. Gua could be right and at the same time he could also confused himself with the issue of employment with Soltuna’s cannery factory to that of Noro Town Council management and how it relates to the proposed Noro Industrial Development Project and the proposed extension of the benefits of the proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

Soltuna’s employment opportunities as a national project has nothing to do with the Western Provincial Government or the people of the ‘West’. The statement by Mr. Gua could miserably fail to expose the opportunities which we do not have in Western Province and for which, we would need a great deal by making resource people from other provinces including those from.

Mr. Gua’s motherland available to the investors which we have invited to invest in our province. If we have done it with our own initiative by providing the investors with the opportunities in terms of land and other opportunities, I believe other provinces can equally do likewise.

That is not to say that Western Province is not prone to the various discourses of development especially with regards to land. In fact, as I write, there are enormous outstanding land issues that are equally befalling our attempts to realize comprehensive development.

Given these difficulties, resource owners may have to be educated on the benefits of development if we were to realize socio-economic progress and growth, with reference to improving the livelihoods of our rural population rather than ushering in an opportunity for the pockets of a handful of the so-called ‘local consultants’ or the now commonly referred to characters as ‘Conman’, which, unfortunately has grown in numbers over the last few years as a result.

A good crowd unfortunately, have found their way into the political landscape as ‘Political Appointees’ and worse still, have not been able to provide the government the best of advice that should help our country move forward. No wonder government policies have never been realized which no doubt, have contributed to Mr. Gua’s total dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, it would be quite naïve for the national government to favour any specific province based on threats or mere differences between provinces and the national government. Development that are planned must be based on our competitive advantage in order for their long term sustainability to be realized.

The case of Renbel Provincial government strategy to further protect the Rennell World Heritage Site is a case in point, and it proves that even provinces that are geographically isolated can be competitive, because it could derive immense development opportunities for the province and the national government.

Leili islands on Malaita is an opportune tourism-oriented investment location, and it requires the support of the resource owners and the national government to pursue or even a bird watching valley in the middle of West Kwaio has been a potential attractive site for bird watchers which need the support of Mr. Gua to unlock. Even the Bina harbour opportunity has the exclusive potential compared to Noro or even the lake adjacent to Auki town.

More importantly, Mr. Gua’s motherland has a more organized road network system connecting the whole of the island compared to other provinces. In addition, the so called ‘Motherland’ has equally been allocated more than SDB$300 million by the national government over the past decade or so, with an annual average of approximately $30 million.

These funds have been secured in the name of facilitating development that would be easily accessed by our people from all over Solomon Islands and it appears that what Mr. Gua could be suspicious about holds true because most of these funds are either eaten up by our so-called ‘Local Consultants’ with or without reports on the task undertaken or syphoned by senior bureaucrats and political appointees, leaving the projects at stake, and the innocent people and resource owners dismayed and lost confidence on the government.

So, why has Mr. Gua underestimated those opportunities? Is it the problem of the national government not being able to provide further funding or donors not wanting to assist in funding those development potentials or is it investors not attracted to engage in those investment opportunities or is it the resource owners not having confidence in our leadership to represent them or is it leaders like us not been able to articulate the opportunities to our people for wanting to have a share of the cake in the negotiation process?

Or is the lack of a concerted platform that causes the missing link. This is an experience equally shared by all provinces and not only the motherland!

While I have raised an issue of enormous resources allocated by SIG to facilitate major investment development opportunities on Mr. Gua’s motherland, it would equally be unfair to say that the impact of those level of resources have been felt by the majority of the rural folks on the motherland and I guess that is a critical point of contention.

But, equally important is the issue of enhanced participation by the people of the Motherland as a strategy to reduce dependency on the national economy through a concerted effort. The overarching issue that should form the basis of our discussion is to challenge SIG to initiate a reorientation of its institution and its development strategy now in an attempt to integrate the Province (motherland) more openly with the rest of the economy. That would allow us to pose questions like ‘Why have SIG failed or partially failed to have a discernible impact on development on the motherland, and in all provinces for that matter?’

I can only argue that the market is the main motivation behind provincial discrepancies, meaning, we may have to open up our land resources for investment and development as a strategy aimed at narrowing the gap that has been the subject of Mr. Gua’s contention.

 And on that note, I fully endorsed the sentiments shared by Mr. Gua for SIG to extend its legislative powers and capacity so as to deepen the integration and implement its development strategy in order to improve the economic conditions in the provinces by establishing an economic corridor for development through the SME facility which hopefully should lead to increased competition for investors and trade market intensify at its best rather than pursuing very huge and complicated investment proposals presently pursued on Mr. Gua’s motherland.

Only then would a core-periphery relation is clear within the provincial level development which would eventually led us to start addressing the issues raised by Mr. Gua.

On the contrary, I would also propose that SIG should start to investigate the provision for a public policy proposal that looks into formulating a framework which I would call the Motherland-Based Economic Empowerment Policy that aims to seek a broader and meaningful participation in the economy by the motherland-based people to achieve sustainable development and prosperity by conferring the ownership, management, and control of certain level of financial and economic resources to the people of Mr. Gua’s motherland who are specifically residing on the motherland and not in Honiara or other provinces.

And, the propose policy stimulus may have to be premised on a Reconstruction and Development Plan that would obviously act as a magnetic field in terms of resource efficiency allocation. But again, the issue must be objectively addressed through a framework so as to ensure accountability and transparency. It is envisaged that with the introduction of such transformative framework by SIG together with its monitoring criteria would SIG and the provinces be able to appreciate Mr. Gua’s argument.

However, what Mr. Gua needs to understand in terms of a comprehensive approach is that blaming other provinces and region like Western Province for being a recipient of development and investment opportunities through the ‘eyes’ of the national government is unfair and pretty naïve an argument, especially when we have entered the 21st Century some two decades ago, and as such, I do not consider Mr. Gua’s remarks credible.

The reason being that Mr. Gua must be able to convince the national government and the people of his motherland with a framework that outlines the agenda for our people and that should compel our government to sit and talk peace with our people.

In doing so, Mr. Gua must be able to mobilize not only the people of his motherland but also other provinces and the entire country on the question of peace and development for the people of his motherland as envisaged.

Mr. Gua has highlighted the differences in their entirety but has not given us the strategies to be employed. Nevertheless, the differences in my opinion are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need for one another, but there comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling, and I would encourage Mr. Gua to do exactly that.

Most notable is the fact that Mr. Gua cannot possibly isolate his motherland in the course of fighting for his people. The question that we need to focus on is, why hasn’t the government lend an ear (if it were so) after all these years in terms of the issues raised in relations to the vast gaps in development as a strategy to our peace-building efforts?

In fact, that is the question we must first ask before we could ask the Deputy Prime Minister the critical issues of leadership. For us to blame the leaders of Western Province in Parliament as opportunists who often took advantage of the ‘Situation Room’ in politics is retrospectively undermining the leadership quality and might of our other able leaders in Parliament and as such, we are not bravely containing the status quo but rather creating a storm in a cup of tea!

In Solomon Islands, politics is more about numbers than bipartisan commitment and obligation because the benefits of party policies in this country has not been able to categorically convince electorates that development ushered in by successive governments are the result of party policies.

Rather the electorates in the Constituencies are more attracted to the CDF that are presently secured in the custody of MPs, and that I feel, has been the main stay in influencing our rural people from focusing on policies and competency in leadership.

Whether or not that is progressive a political integer is yet another issue, but the mere fact that resources allocated to each MPs annually is even more than what each province secure through the national government in a form of annual grant, could have been better utilized to spin off development in our Constituencies so as to address some of the prevailing development issues raised.

 This gave rise to the issue of ‘CDF Mentality’, which is a way of thinking where people demand for physical evidence from MPs, and people use this evidence as proof of performance and development and development by MPs.

However, coming back to my earlier point of objectivity, one of the problems I encountered with Mr. Gua’s argument is that he does not look at the problems encountering his motherland more objectively (example, land for development, etc..), but from the point of view of his own interest (may be?). For instance, it would be a grave mistake for us not to consider Mr. Gua’s attitude against Western Province, especially on Noro Township and Soltuna’s investment on the basis of national interest.

 I sympathize with Mr. Gua but that does not mean that all provinces should be rallied against development assistance rendered to investors in Western Province or Western Provincial Government and its people for that matter.

Such approach is even more critical now than two decades ago because as Solomon Islanders we need to share common recognition that all of us stand to lose if we fail to transform our country and people. Why? Many times we are tempted by shortcuts because the challenges we face are so daunting therefore recognizing the importance of our commonality in a diverse society would pave a way forward.

Given the above, I wish to thank Mr. Gua for exposing some of the hefty issues that may warrant interjection from responsible government agencies and stakeholders. Western Province’s concerted effort were all put together in a form of a framework and were the basis of our submission in the present Constitutional reform exercise.

Most of these issues were part of the deliberations and reports organized by various government agencies between 1998 and 2013, and even before independence as we all know, which were compiled and submitted as our contribution to the present Constitutional Reform exercise.

More interesting is the fact that while all our rural people in the Western Province have endorsed and recommended a reform in our System, some of our leaders have objected to this cause for reasons only known to them, therefore our submissions have never sailed through calm waters per se.

However, what has been exposed thus far reminds us of the need for a concerted effort that is driven by the people rather than leaders whose objectives could be tantamount to progress and harmony.

Mindful of the foregoing, and given the importance of respecting individual expressed opinion on issues befalling our people and nation, let it be known that I have no intention whatsoever to create an issue out of this subject, rather, I guess I have provided an alternative observation to the debate whilst equally endorsing the very platform expressed by Mr. Gua as critical for the government to pursue.

After all, what good is an issue and agenda that attempts to secure the benefits of development by indiscriminately putting labels on your brothers and sisters? After all, the resource owners of Western Province can only discuss and debate land issues for development that falls within their jurisdiction.

However, having said that let me remind us that sometimes it may have to fall upon a generation to be great, and being great is well summed up by the words of one of the world’s greatest leaders, Desmond Tutu, and I quote “Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.” I hope Mr. Gua will do exactly that and help our motherland strategize for the better.

I pray the good Lord will take care of us!

By Ta-Etulu Guru

NOTE:  [The views expressed herewith are my own and do not necessarily represent SIG nor any provincial governments, agencies, leaders or people]