Dear Editor – The official response to my recent inquiry about progress with a Federal Constitution indicates that we shouldn’t waste time waiting for it.
The present national government doesn’t want it, and most likely the next one won’t either.
Meanwhile governance and development in the provinces and Honiara—on the ground,close to people,where things actually happen, go wrong or don’t happen at all—is chronically starved of human and financial resources, and the Provincial Governments and HCC struggle to make the kind of social and economic impact that they know is needed.
At the heart of this is the dismal state of national-provincial government relations, neglected for years and poorly served at political and official level.
This is a bad mistake. It’s too late for this government to fix it, so the matter should be right at the top of the priority action list for the next political and administrative government.
The survival of Solomon Islands as an effective nation-state—or perhaps more accurately the achievement of that status—depends crucially on the successful management of internal relations between the national and provincial governments.
This is both more difficult and more important than external relations, about which we get a torrent of so-called news from official sources.
In the outside world,matters move relatively slowly, and there are recognised codes of conduct as well as powerful strategic interests determining how nations behave towards each other, including how aid donors treat Solomon Islands.
If we know what those rules are, and keep in touch with what’s going on through the internet and TV, a small number of competent officials can generally predict the behaviour of other nations and alliances, ensure that external aid is available when we need it, keep the private sector informed of trade conditions and opportunities, and take part in negotiations and agreements when necessary.
By contrast, internal relations among the national government, the nine provinces and Honiara are much more volatile and ‘unprocessed’, and are quickly influenced by internal human, economic and political events;whilethe results of ignoring or misinterpreting these in-your-face developments are obvious and harder to correct.
This needs stressing, because work in internal relations, while hugely important,is not, on the face of it, very well-rewarded compared with foreign affairs. It doesn’t involve overseas trips, VIP treatments, TV appearances, generous expense allowances and so forth (only provincial pubs and hot meeting-rooms) so the crucially important tasks involved tend not to attract high-flying politicians and ambitious public servants.
But it should attract them, because of its far greater role and impact in moving the country forward. In foreign affairs, any oversight on our part will be politely corrected by our overseas partners, who if necessary will quietly remind us what to do, and in any case will only do things for us if they are also good for them.
In that environment we can look after our national interest much more cost-efficiently than we do now, when we rush around overseas with large delegations at vast expense, opening faraway embassies and recognising unknown countries,pretending that we are having an influence on the world out there, but not really deceiving anyone: sorry to say, but they certainly laugh at us behind our backs.
Meanwhile, neglect of national-provincial relations weakens domestic economic and social services, holds back development and undermines the structures that should hold the nation-state together.
This has been the pattern for many years.
Unless this neglect is corrected, a heavy political and economic penalty will result.
A fractious and discontented Solomon Islands will be weak and ineffective, and will absorb scarce domestic and aid-donor resources in just keeping the ship afloat, instead of navigating us to where we want to be.
But never mind, eh? Just fly Solomon Airlines: “Close your eyes, we could be anywhere…….”