The words of wisdom from the drafter of the Independence Order 1978, which turned this nation into a unified Solomon Islands with decentralized provincial governance powers in a master-servant relationship of shared rule, still linger in my ears to this day.
The learned professor from Kenya who was also instrumental in brokering the independence package for Solomon Islands at Lambert Hall, London prior to independence was also among the international experts tasked by the national government to cause an expert audit of the draft federal constitution of Solomon Islands in 2014 and yet again in 2018. This was when the old Mataniko bridge got swept away by the flood.
In 2014 when the CRU/OPM&C led Constitutional Congress and Eminent Persons Advisory Council (CC-EPAC) rolled out its yet another plenary session at Monarch conference room, that learned professor talked about ‘sleeping powers’ when he offered clarity in matters of ‘emergency powers’ as enshrined in the Independence Order 1978.
He said something like this: “But do not wake the sleeping powers in the Constitution unless on matters of life and death, because in the Constitution I have also put the bill of rights. Invoking the sleeping powers not in matters of life and death situations can impinge on the bill of rights which in turn can cause chain reactions in the system that you may never be able to contain.”
How true these words of wisdom are these days in our time and age. Let me explain because it goes deep into our legal system which is a legacy of colonialism.
Such abuse of the Constitution to satisfy political expediency through parliamentary democracy can back-fire on the citizenry as well as the international community in our nation.
A case in point is the covid-19 pandemic scare. Sufficient government statutes exist to put in place the containment mechanisms, yet the government saw it fit to invoke the sleeping powers. There was no coronavirus yet landed to have caused death.
Ill-advise from the law-making chamber coined out the Emergency Orders which was sanctioned by parliament. The net-effect was trauma and panic which led to the death of our beloved citizens in the MV Waimarao mishap.
Premier Suidani should have taken the government to Court on the constitutionality of invoking the sleeping powers in the Constitution. Only the court of law can interpret the Constitution to create a precedent from which to learn. The tears of the families who lost their loved ones need to be wiped dry.
No coronavirus has landed since to have caused unprecedented havoc like abroad.
The parliament dished out public funds to repatriate Honiara residents in unnecessary panic. Vessels were hired. Most of those who returned became internally displace persons (IDPs) in their villages.
Hunger overtook certain others in this political exercise and looted gardens in the villages to survive.
In the end they returned to Honiara. Most from other provinces took refuge in Western Province in Noro, Ringi and Gizo suburbs squatting in the urban outskirts. This is because there is almost nothing attractive created in their provinces – as if Honiara, Noro, Ringi and Gizo are what constitute the happy isles!
The plight of the dissatisfied common citizenry under covid-19 pandemic scare must never be underestimated. Agitations that ensued due to deceptive ruling tactics of the government of the day is part and parcel of the net-effects of the unprecedented chain-reactions of post-Emergency Oder/Rules or counter-measures, of policy re-alignment in relation to national priorities under government terms.
The coronavirus has not landed yet but the lock down rules affected families in Honiara, Auki, Gizo and other provincial centres where there are population concentrations. Gizo streets were cleared of roadside stalls but only temporarily because the government failed to support urban families with money for food as other wealthy nations had done.
Weeks later the road-side stalls appeared again. Now the KHY area is being filled with market stalls. Families try to make ends meet. The government must protect the lives and rights of these common citizenry who make up the ballot papers.
Unconstitutional moves like ‘no jab no job’ tormented or plagued the minds of company workers and government staff and were forced to accept vaccines in fear of losing livelihoods pay. This is discrimination at its worst. It is a form of legalized discrimination.
This nonsense must be stopped at all cost! The government is duty bound to protect jobs and rights to employment.
Freedom of choice is in the bill of rights enshrined in our democratic Constitution. The freedom of choice not to take covid-19 vaccines must be respected by the government. The government is also duty bound to provide the vaccines but not to force the people to get vaccinated.
And if persons chose not to take the vaccines they must also not be denied medical services offered in the hospitals and clinics by way of legislation or government policy.
It means the people of a nation must learn to live with the coronavirus just like we did with malaria. Just provide the services but don’t force the people against their conscience.
The common citizenry is being threatened by government covid-19 policy that unless a person accepts the vaccines, hospitalization will be denied by a set time-line. The aftermaths of the vaccine jabs had been deleterious on certain others in most quarters. There appear to be no monitoring and evaluation mechanisms set in place on the effect of the vaccines taken.
The Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) raised false hopes on the common citizenry. Very few rural people benefitted from the idea – perhaps only the local copra traders. Rural farmers were ignored despite project proposals were sent.
Perhaps only certain state-owned enterprises and some favoured business houses benefitted from the ESP funding – the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer.
Our parliament has been littered with arguments to improve governance by the opposition group – which is good! That is democracy at its best! National leaders must learn to live with and under criticism.
However, to not consult the electorate on major constitutional matters or issues can become undemocratic or unconstitutional. For example, the political switch from right to left may be an unconstitutional move in my opinion.
This is because Solomon Islands has chosen to intermeddle with the internal or domestic politics of the “One-China” principle than to maintain a common ground which is to recognize both nations in the spirit of sovereignties. The common ground is ‘friends-to-all’ and ‘enemies-to-none.’
The decision to make the switch in my view was a mistake! Why? The government should have consulted the electorate first in a nation-wide referendum before such a switch was to have been made.
The fundamental switch may have impinged on the democratic rights of the electorates.
The electorates put up a government through universal suffrage – voting or electoral system. Systems alliance switch perhaps should have started from the electorate, not the elected.
Political expediency venting out in quasi-development infrastructure packages like stadiums or multi-purpose sporting facilities, etc can in-advertently put a nation under foreign hegemony for ages.
When the nation wakes up to realities, political take-homes in fringe benefits to parliamentarians bespeaking cheque-book diplomacy can never reverse the injustice done, it just cause a chain reaction of corruption and corrupt practices. God have mercy!
The country may need to re-think things over and operate under the golden policy of ‘friends-to-all’ and enemies-to-none’. It means let China deal with its domestic matter of ‘One-China’ principle.
Other deceptive moves are abounding as well. Certain legislative changes appear to be undermining the Constitution, for example, the creation of a Ministry of Traditional Government and Ecclesiastic Affairs and expediting the legislation ‘Traditional Government Bill’.
Before an Act of Parliament is in place there is already a Ministry for this expending public finance on a purported Act of Parliament. Isn’t this unconstitutional?
There are only two creatures under section 114 of the Constitution: (1) Honiara Town Council and (2) Provincial Governments. And the supreme law says ‘to consider the role of chiefs.’
That provision falls short of another governance system.
To qualify a Traditional Government, there need to be an enabling provision. You’ve got to amend the appropriate part in the Constitution. At present the whole idea appear to be a misfit!
Then, there is the electronic or e-world issue impinging on the Constitutional rights of an established government and its citizenry. The data base of the telecommunications system and internet networks for services provided to Solomon Islands is in Australia through the undersea or submarine cable system.
This means what we say, speak, write or do, that goes through the mobile phone system, computers at home, government offices, work places or all institutions in possession of such technologies or gadgets connected to the e-world is stored up in Australia because of the hookup to the undersea cable that was received by the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands on 12th July 2019 – the very same day the Draft Federal Constitution of Solomon Islands was handed over to the same Prime Minister by CC/EPAC.
Acts of Parliament pertaining to official secrets, privacy of individuals, etc, etc, may have become obsolete through purported constitutional moves of the government.
Perhaps the government needs to realign its priorities and not jeopardize national interests by reverting to the postal system of sending mails and official correspondences rather than exposing the nation to unprecedented cybercrime.
Everything and everybody is being put under the spotlight of cyber technology. That’s e-world!
The list goes on! The point is, political expediency in matters purportedly of benefit to the nation can have tie-ins that impinge on the Constitution until taken to Court for interpretation of such government actions.
The judicial review process can be lengthy and ill-affordable but if left unchecked can cause chain reactions in the system of governance.
We have one of the best legal systems in the world because of her Majesty’s legal system is such!
We need precedents from our judicial system to point the way forward. Let alone what has been heralded by the Leader of Opposition in the papers and elsewhere in the media may well be true!
Some leaders have been there too long; perhaps out-living their usefulness. The public out-cry for leadership change or people’s power to cause change is always unbeatable because it can cause havoc.
As echoed by the Leader of Opposition it appears thus: “By way of deception, thou shall rule”.
By Thornley Hite,