The Solomon Islands has experienced four days of protests against the social security minister after he unilaterally raised retirement age and cancelled the eligibility of the armed forces pension. Not only have they been quashed, but more than 30 people have been arrested. The protesters’ leader even called for the ban on petrol and diesel sales, which ultimately was put in place. The act of insubordination earned the minister his job. People of Solomons need answers from our leaders.
The protesters came out of a tradition known as “leave ya arms, nowhere to go”, which means sayonara to anyone who owes you. The protestors use school lock-in days and family days to communicate across borders. It is unclear if there are any further protests planned, although when there are demonstrations police deal with them immediately.
Meeting the religious leaders, the resilience of the people is truly inspiring. They have stated their grievances – they want answers to who they can trust and when the country is being governed by the will of the people, not the elite.
They say they want justice; justice for their crime or murder, justice for their people, justice for their sacred traditional sites, justice for their country, justice for themselves.
Many of us, however, have been living with a gaping absence of justice: thousands of indigenous Sun Islanders have died in custody. Time after time, former independence leaders and politicians give the peoples of Solomon Islands a shrug, decry criminality as “localised”, then shift the blame on to the indigenous people, before they shut up and carry on doing what they were doing before.
Only a week earlier, members of parliament introduced a bill that would give an end-run around the will of the people and undermine the spirit of the 1986 Constitution – the rights to life, freedom and security of the person – by introducing the right to “personal security”.
These things matter to us. We are left wondering if our leaders who on the world stage speak of achieving universal health coverage for everyone still think so when they have failed to do so in their own country.
We cannot let the government or the government-aligned church leader tell us that they are caring. They are also playing a cynical game: with every day that passes without addressing the injustices of our people, they may have to consider something else they want to distract the people from discussing: impunity and corruption – growing corruption and bribing people in return for an award.
Let’s stop them: let’s call on our leaders to leave their power and privilege behind and go to our streets, our villages, our villages of our past for what is the most important issue in Solomon Islands today. Let’s ask all Solomon Islanders to insist on justice; for honest government and for equitable governance; for transparent, accountable governance and open government; for economic justice and for the recognition of our heritage and culture; for the empowerment of our people, in our places of residence or our newly formed hometowns; for a meaningful sovereign state and for respect, dignity and respect for humanity and our human rights.
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One thing is clear: we can do it. There are laws in place in Solomon Islands to protect against corruption. Until and unless the law is implemented or enforced, and until we rise up with our own law to hold those who would usurp the power of the people to account, it’s little better than policing by the people for the people.
The police are doing what they can under the circumstances, but when you’re dealing with young people who are used to confrontation, it’s difficult for any government to exert control over their choices. It would be better if the government took a back seat and invited the people to make their own decisions: rather than telling us what to do.
• Ioane Virimaki is the secretary general of the Mana Ocean Guardians