HOW does one evaluate RAMSI?
I am not sure how, although there are various Reports, Consultancies and Surveys that have attempted to address this question.
These Reports have endeavored to evaluate the effectiveness of RAMSI against the three pillars of its stated mission, namely, a) restoration of law and order, b) improving the machinery of government; and c) promoting economic growth.
There are, however, few independent evidence based critical research that have been carried out on RAMSI’s approach and operations and their impact on people’s lives and the public service.
Perhaps some research has been done but these papers are not accessible to the public because they are owned by RAMSI.
Much of the research that has been done on RAMSI to date have been individual perspectives, rather than ones based on a research program to uncover tangible evidence about the effectiveness of RAMSI.
This short discourse is intended to add to the ongoing debate about RAMSI.
I would argue that it is not easy to measure RAMSI’s effectiveness across the three pillars, and to make specific conclusions on the efficacy of RAMSI’s operations over the past 10 years.
This is because people’s views of the efficacy of RAMSI are often subjective and are influenced by perceptions of, and interactions with RAMSI personnel.
The examples given below illustrate this point.
The first example are café proprietors who set up business specifically to cater for expatriates who want a nice, comfortable, posh place to have coffee.
They would argue that RAMSI has been good for business because it has made the demand for such facilities economically viable.
Solomon Islanders on the other hand who probably want to also have a nice cappuccino and slice of cheese cake but cannot afford the exorbitant price that these café’s charge, would argue that RAMSI has helped inflate the price of a cup of coffee and therefore effectively push them out of the market.
They would take a different view of RAMSI.
The second example are home owners who rent their homes at exorbitant rates to RAMSI personnel.
They would argue that RAMSI’s has had a positive impact on the local rental market because it has created a demand for good, quality houses which they rent at rates that they would not otherwise have been able to without RAMSI.
Solomon Islanders on the other hand, many of whom are public servants, would have a negative view of the impact that RAMSI has had on rental prices because they are crowded out of the market and therefore have to live in overcrowded conditions with relatives.
They too would have a different view of RAMSI.
The third example are those who view the restoration of law and order, especially the presence of the PPF alongside the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIP Force), as having enhanced the effectiveness of the rule of law.
They would argue that RAMSI has restored law and order and helped the RSIP Force regain its credibility.
Solomon Islanders who may have experienced the heavy handedness of RAMSI personnel in various operations may take a different view.
They would argue that RAMSI is biased, culturally insensitive, and heavy handed in their approach to carrying out investigations.
Thus, as a result of their personal experiences they may have a different view of RAMSI.
These examples illustrate the bias with which individuals may view RAMSI
As alluded to earlier, this might originate from the nature of their interaction, personal experiences, and personal circumstances.
All these experiences help shape people’s attitudes and perceptions of RAMSI.
I would argue that because perceptions of RAMSI are subjective, it is unfair to evaluate it on the basis of what has been achieved in terms of the three pillars, but rather evaluate its performance around the question of what the Solomon Islands are like in 2013, taking as a yardstick the three pillars.
In addition, I would also argue that RAMSI was not established to solve Solomon Islands law and order, governance and economic problems.
RAMSI was established to provide a conduit through which Solomon Islanders would address these problems.
Thus, the question that should be asked is not how well RAMSI has performed, but rather how well successive Solomon Islands Governments have performed since 2003.
There are different ways in which this question may be answered that are also subjective.
I do not claim patent over the way I attempt to answer these questions because my views are also subjective, but I will offer them nonetheless as a basis for discourse.
How well successive Solomon Islands Governments have performed may be evaluated against the following factors:
a) what impact has law and order had on governance;
b) what improvements have been made to the machinery of government; and
c) how have living standards improved, resulting from economic growth.
What impact has law and order had on governance?
I would argue that overall this has been positive.
There is semblance of law and order, the RSIP Force is visible at times and are generally available at most times, and government systems are generally functioning.
However, these gains are being negated by the way state agencies like Members of Parliament (MPs) are appropriating limited state resources to themselves.
In this regard, it may be argued that whereas former militants held Treasury to ransom at gunpoint, MPs are holding Treasury to ransom through legislation and the Budget.
The only difference between the two groups is the modus operandi through which Treasury is being held to ransom but is impact on the economy and the lives of Solomon Islanders are the same.
Furthermore, whereas former militants demanded inflated overtime allowances for keeping Honiara “safe”, MPs are demanding more of the state’s limited resources to themselves in the name of “constituency development”.
MPs have not restricted their insatiable greed only to the Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF). They are packaging funds for tourism, cocoa, cattle, and fisheries and legitimizing it under the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Act.
This kind of behavior has a percolating effect on other elements of the public sector because it originates from the highest echelons of the Government.
Other state actors like the provincial governments are also imitating what national MPs are doing.
I would also argue that other state agencies like the RSIP Force are also being compromised because of the behavior of MPS.
Unfortunately, all the good work that has gone into restoring law and order is being undermined by the very people that were elected to uphold the rule of law, demonstrate respect for the rule of law and apply the rule of law without fear or favour.
MPs have instead undermined the rule law and given themselves power over the way $millions are spent in ways that are disproportionate to the needs of Solomon Islanders.
The increasing misapplication of these rules is evident, inter alia, in the delays in allowances for students, the declining standards of medical services, and the poor state of roads and state assets.
I would respectfully argue that while there has been a positive effect with regards to pillar one, it is unfortunately being negated and abused albeit legally through Acts of Parliament to the economic and social detriment of Solomon Islanders.
To that the extent, the answer to the first question might be law and order has had a somewhat positive impact which unfortunately is being undermined by poor governance.
What improvements are there to the machinery of government?
The machinery of government is intended to restore confidence in government organization, systems, procedures, policies, and create a civil servant capable of providing “public services” to the general public, be they Solomon Islanders, investors, or foreigners.
The extent to which this has been achieved is reflected in the ability of public servants to work with confidence and exercise competence in their respective positions.
The work that the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) is doing to ensure Public Servants are trained in the basic administrative and financial instructions of the Public Service is also commendable.
If the response to the second pillar were to be evaluated on these grounds alone, I would argue that it has been successful.
I would respectfully argue however that there are at least two areas in which doubts may be cast on this conclusion.
The first is in respect of land allocation, in particular, allocation of urban land where developments clearly reflect corruption as evidenced by the standard of commercial buildings built by the more recent Chinese arrivals.
It is argued that these lands could only have been allocated through corrupt means as there has never been any government tender of government lands by the Commissioner of Lands in the last ten years.
The replacement of what were once residential homes at Kukum Labour Line by commercial buildings owned and operated by these new Chinese arrivals could only have been done by corrupt means.
There were no tenders and the fact that Solomon Islanders who lived there could have been given an opportunity to own those plots of lands where their homes were located arguably points to corruption.
It is argued that government machinery that disenfranchises its citizens by making them homeless to give way to the new wave of Chinese underlines serious inherent weaknesses in the government systems, particularly in the Lands Department, Physical Planning Division, and Honiara Municipal Authority.
The second is in regards to work and residential permits. A government system that enables people who do not speak a single word of Pidgin or English, or whose command of both languages is limited, to own a Solomon Islands passport, property, shops, buildings and business underscores failure in the system.
Can you imagine a Solomon Islander arriving in China, Australia, or New Zealand without any funds and then suddenly owns businesses and becomes a citizen of those countries without being able to speak Chinese or English!
To that extent it is argued that a system that enables a person with limited command of Pidgin or English to own land, run shops, and hold a Solomon Islands passport illustrates corrosion in the machinery of government.
The revelation by a staff member of the Auditor General’s Office that corruption is widespread in government arguably supports the contention that Solomon Islands has gone from bad to worse, and therefore to that extent its performance on pillar two is wanting.
It is beyond the scope of this discourse to ascertain the reasons.
I would simply venture to suggest that there is an inextricable link between political behavior and the lack of respect for procedures, processes and regulations by those supposedly serving under political directives
A question that also needs to be asked is what impact did RAMSI advisers have on the machinery of government and why has the system been abused to the extent revealed by the staff from the Auditor-General’s Office in spite of these advisers?
It might be argued that this was a flawed approach because of the huge disparities in the salaries of local public servants and their RAMIS counterparts.
RAMSI advisers were often paid ten times more than their Solomon Islands counterparts.
These differences distort the relationship between advisers and their counterparts.
I have heard from wantoks who worked with RAMSI advisers that even though the relationship was supposed to be one of equals, it was not unusual to find the RAMSI adviser bossing the local counterpart, often in ways that were culturally insensitive or lacking in respect for the local counterparts knowledge and expertise.
I doubt that one would be able to find reports of this nature because of the tight control that RAMSI has on information, but I know that exit reports by local counterparts have often been critical of their RAMSI advisers.
There is no better way to build competence in the public service than give Solomon Islanders the same level of education as their RAMSI advisers and encourage local counterparts to write policies to raise the standards of the public service.
How have living standards improved as a result of economic growth?
Pillar three is not necessarily easy to evaluate because of definitional issues. What constitutes economic growth to someone might not be viewed as economic growth by others.
Similarly, measuring improvements in living standards is subjective.
Thus, someone who receives a royalty payment from logging operations might think that his/her living standards have improved because he/she can now buy corn beef, tea, sugar, rice etc., even if it is only for a short time.
There is also a problem of generalizing the issues because of the uneven distribution of resources throughout Solomon Islands, and imbalances in availability to government services.
There are however, some general ways in which improvements in standards of living may be measured by looking at changes in economic wellbeing over time.
Questions that might be asked to ascertain if standards of living have changed include; is the economy meeting people’s needs? Are real incomes improving? It is basically a quantities measure of wellbeing. Suffice to say there are different ways in which this can be measured.
One baseline measure of standards of living is to look at real income per capita (that is gross domestic product (GDP) divided by the total population).
This is to see if real GDP per capital rises when real national output grows faster than population over a period of time. Solomon Islands politicians have often argued that the Solomon Islands economy has grown, by pointing to the increase in GDP.
It is argued however that the GDP is not necessarily a measure of economic growth, because it does not reflect the real changes in society.
It is an open fact that the increase in GDP has been spawned by the logging industry at huge environmental and social cost to Solomon Islanders.
Economic growth rates in the past five years have been distorted by the rate at which Solomon Islands’ natural forests have been removed.
The real question is what improvements have been made to the general population of Solomon Islands as a result of this “so called” growth.
I would argue that the logging industry may have enriched some people, including some politicians, but it has left a terrible legacy of corruption that has permeated all levels of Solomon Islands society.
I would argue that policy rhetoric about economic development is not supported by relevant administrative and legislative actions.
Thus, reforms to natural resource legislation to enable resource owners to be participants in development and to get a fairer share of the value of their natural resources have never been done and are unlikely to be done.
At the same time necessary reforms to the Lands and Titles Act that would make it easier to recognise customary land right holders without having to take their rights way through acquisition of their land have also not been done and are unlikely to be ever completed.
It is argued that there is a close nexus between, economic development, reforming the Land and Titles Act, natural resource legislations and resolving the problems that led to the “ethnic tension”.
The fundamentals have not been addressed. It is argued that there are clearly more squatters within and on the outskirts of Honiara in 2013 than there were in 2003.
There are more Chinese owned shops and buildings in Honiara, Munda, Auki, Noro and Gizo in 2013 than there were in 2006.
The Commission of Inquiry into the 2006 Riots was unequivocal in its conclusion about where polices should be directed; namely, inclusive development, proper planning, delivery of social services and ensuring the new wave of Chinese businesses move away from being economic rent seekers, and become “developers” of well planned, nicely designed, shopping malls so that Solomon Islanders can also participate in the retail sector.
Unfortunately, Solomon Islands politicians have been too preoccupied with how much more of the States limited funds can be appropriated to the Constituency Development Fund than addressing these fundamental economic problems.
There are elements of bias in looking at the success of RAMSI and particularly the response of successive Solomon Islands Governments.
I have tried as best as I could within the limits of this discourse to argue what I view as the “measure” of Solomon Islands responses to the opportunities provided by RAMSI’s presence in Solomon Islands between 2003 and 2013.
The lenses I have used are subjective and reflect my own bias as to what I have observed.
My assessment is a qualitative evaluation and I would caution readers not to read too much into it without a more comprehensive analysis of the arguments I have made to measure the impact of RAMSI on Solomon Islanders.
I have tried to show in this discourse some trends across the three pillars of RAMSI’s Mission statement.
I have set out what I believe are some trends that should be cause for concern for donors, and people who might be interested in contesting the elections in 2014.
Donors such as the Taiwanese Government should be concerned that their tax money is helping to sustain a situation that will fuel a revolution; a revolt that would be instigated by young Solomon Islanders who are well informed through social network links to what is happening within the deepest corners of the Government.
I would argue by way of conclusion that we have missed an opportunity.
If there is any criteria against which we can measure respect for the rule of law, and how successful we have responded to these opportunities, we need only look at the way in which an increasing number of people drink beer in public in front of Police Officers in total defiance of the law.
I would submit as a final concluding remark that there are lessons to be learnt about interventions that make assumptions about the cultural, political, historical, ethnic, traditional, economic and social conditions of a country.
No one in 2003 could have foreshadowed that by 2013 corruption would become so invasive in Solomon Islands so as to undermine the good work that has been done by RAMSI.
* Dr Transform Aqorau is a top Solomon Islands lawyer. He is currently the chief executive officer of the Marshall Islands-based Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).
By DR TRANSFORM AQORAU