IN January this year, the government has “established a high level, multi-sector Corona Virus Oversight Committee, chaired by the Secretary to Cabinet to assess and to coordinate the response to the Corona Virus threat to the country according to the National Address presented by the Hon Prime Minister.
In the same speech, the Prime Minister has confirmed that “The oversight committee has produced a draft multi-sectoral Corona Virus Preparedness and Response Plan and that plan is being refined or improved.
As soon as it is completed it would guide the work of all government sectors, and partners including the private sector, churches, civil society, and communities”.
The oversight committee is supported by teams of dedicated experts in health and other important sectors.
Our front lines are manned by our dedicated people from the respective border agencies.
Since the establishment of this high-level oversight committee, a lot of work has been done. Quarantine centres for people who need to be quarantined have been established, plus provincial hospitals are informed, and they are ready to assist, etc.
Apart from this, there are also three critical goals that this country aims to achieve in responding to the COVID 19 according to the PM: By consideration, for these 3 important goals to be sustained, it is the responsibility of the Over Sight Committee.
The role of the Over Sight Committee will reflect the seriousness of the SIG leadership and the measures it is taking to protect all Solomon Islanders from the COVID 19.
• “First, to protect all Solomon Islanders and all people living in the Solomon Islands.
• Second, to keep the economic engine of our country going
• Third, to position the country to emerge from this challenge stronger and united”.
The work of the SIG in stepping up against the COVID 19 need to be acknowledged and appreciated by the people of Solomon Islands.
The first goal is critical compared to the other two.
The protection and the safety of every single Solomon Islander from the Coronavirus is paramount.
Everyone including the working population must be healthy and strong to keep the economy going.
This also includes the contributions from the Market Vendors.
The majority of the market vendors are women who struggled every day to put food on the table for their families, taking their children to the hospital or clinics when they are not well and currently to ensure that their children are living in healthy households that have soaps to wash their hands, have toilet papers available, simply to remind their families to frequently wash their hands and for those households that have no immediate running water that water is available.
When it comes to the national economy, Women are the first contributors. They woke up early each day and started selling whatever they have available and that contributes immensely to the economy.
During this emergency time, the health of everyone is important, however, for women, the roles and responsibilities that are placed on them are huge and invaluable.
They need to be protected in whatever way possible in order to protect their families, the leaders of this nation.
Their needs during this time of emergency should be considered as more responsibilities are placed on their shoulders.
For instance, sending many people home, especially women and young girls who often assist with household chores and minding the children are no longer available and this puts so much pressure on working women.
Their roles and responsibilities have been doubled especially during this time of emergency.
Many working women have become front liners in protecting the people of this nation from the COVID 19.
Women who are working for Institutions such as the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Immigration, Aviation, Police, etc.
These are incredible women and the nation should absolutely recognise the invaluable work that they are doing with their male counterparts.
It is a time that everyone including the Government should appreciate and acknowledge the work that women are contributing to the fight against COVID 19 and this is happening in all spheres.
In terms of governance and leadership, Solomon Islands has women who have demonstrated quality leadership values and integrity at the highest level in their own work.
To have more women taking up leadership roles in different coordination committees at this time of emergency would be great.
Although it is an emergency, for women it is also a time for us to demonstrate our capacity in what we can do to contribute to nation-building, etc. and to build confidence.
At this turning point, it is critical to focus on some of the work that the government has done so far.
As a result of the work that the SIG has done, women are content that all International flights have been banned and that is a huge step for the government to take.
However, as an individual, I would like to pose a few questions concerning the roles and responsibilities of the High-Level Oversight Committee in relation to the issue of Vessels coming into the country.
Concerning cruise ships and yachts they have been banned with immediate effect for 90 days according to the national speech made by the PM.
The other step up by the SIG in responding to the COVID 19 is that” all cargo ships, including all logging, mineral ore and fishing vessels must serve the 14 days’ quarantine period at sea and can only be cleared at Noro and Honiara Ports”.
This is the core issue I would like to focus on here.
The first question that needs to look at critically is whether there is a monitoring mechanism in place to ensure that the Oversight Committee is exactly implementing what it is supposed to do in a truthful manner with no conflict of interest within the members of the Committee.
Conflict of interest in this sense is more on “influence”.
For instance, influence certain individuals within the Committee or other partners to influencing individuals in powerful positions within different institutions that are coordinating this particular program to allow certain Cargo vessels to serve only 3 to 4 days’ quarantine rather than the 14 days’ quarantine put by the government.
The second question is whether all cargo vessels are being treated fairly and that they must be implementing and serving the 14 days quarantined?
What is the understanding between different coordinating mechanisms such as the Oversight Committee, the Trade Co Shipping plus other vessels and the SI Ports Authority?
What is their understanding of the 14 days’ quarantine by Cargo vessels?
Those questions above although seem simple, but they are questions that we as Solomon Islanders must start to ask to ensure that the different Cargo Vessels that are coming into the country do the right thing and follow certain regulations that the SIG has put in place as people’s protection measures from the COVID 19.
If there are no monitoring mechanisms in place, the risk of not managing the Cargo vessels to truly serve the 14 days’ quarantine period at sea before all cargoes could be cleared at both Honiara and Noro Ports is in question.
The monitoring role is to ensure that all cargo vessels are served and committed to the 14 days’ quarantine with no influence from any of these bodies who are involved in this space.
That every single vessel must adhere to the 14 days’ quarantine.
There is a need for these different bodies to inform the general public on how this is working.
Since this has been announced by the Prime Minister, the Oversight Committee has been quite about it in comparison to the issue of banning of International Flights from entering our country.
This is a very tricky area and therefore the high-level Oversight Committee, Ports and other shipping companies must display a sense of accountability and transparency to the nation.
The people of this country must be informed on whether these different bodies are doing what is expected of them and that they are doing the right thing.
There is a need for all the partners to inform the public on their roles and responsibilities and their spaces in the manner in which they make their decisions on what to do.
This is a huge responsibility for different institutions and if they did not uphold or respect each other’s role, there will be a lot of risks involved.
If certain Cargo vessels are not serving the 14 days’ quarantine, rather served only 3 to 4 days than the health of the people of this country is being compromised.
In conclusion, although Solomon Islands is one of the remaining countries in the world that has no positive case of COVID 19, the different measures that we are doing will determine our status as a nation.
As a nation, Solomon Islands is at the crossroads.
We as people will determine our future and the outcome of what we are doing now can either save this country or destroy it.
All of us are given areas of responsibility in not only protecting ourselves but protecting others and protecting the future of the country.
This is also a critical time to show Leadership. In showing that leadership, those who are placed in areas of power and responsibility must show accountability and transparency to the people of this country.
Therefore, be it leaders of SIG, Different Coordination Committees, Church, Private Sector, etc. you are accountable and answerable to the people of this nation especially at this very vulnerable time.
In the history of this nation, this is a time that this country needs each other regardless of our faith, ethnicity, background.
Political affiliation, black or white red or green, we need each other.
As the Secretary to the Prime Minister had better stated, that in relation to the country’s response to the COVID 19, “We need to fight this as a country and not as a Government, civil society, or as a private sector. We all have a role to play in conquering the corona pandemic”.
He also promised that all options are not going to be ignored and the Government would duly inform the public.
So now the public is anxious to hear from the Over Sight Committee, SIPA, Trade Co Shipping and possibly other Shipping Companies the TRUTH on the 14 days’ quarantine of Cargo vessels or on exactly what is happening on that front.
By ELLA KAUHUE
SI National Council of Women