Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mr. Alp’s Views

Dear Editor,

Please allow me to write briefly in relation to the above. I wish to add to what previous writers have discussed in regards to Mr. Alp’s perspectives on the legitimacy of some countries as sovereign nations and on his previous ideas on the issues of rural development, economic and structural reforms in Solomon Islands.

I do not intend to critique Mr. Alp’s ideas, but the urge that led me to write this letter is borne out of two main predicaments. Firstly, to appreciate Mr. Alp’s efforts in taking up his time to write about issues that are happening in Solomon Islands. Despite having my own opinions on some of the issues he has raised in his letters to the media, to me it is clear that Mr. Alp is indeed concerned not only about issues regarding the mining industry in Solomon Islands- the reason why he is here in country at the first place, but also on other developmental matters.

This, to me is pleasing and worrying at the same time. It is pleasing because it made me to fully realize and appreciate the fact that non-Solomon Islanders are also very concerned and passionate about the challenges facing my beloved country. And it is very encouraging that for some of them they do not only share their concerns but they also offer solutions.

But it however bothered me that some of these views and perceptions they share do not sit in well with the realities of what Solomon Islands society is, yet people will believe in them and take their thoughts by face value. To some degree this reminds me of the whalers, traders, planters and even missionaries who came to our shores in the early days for specific purposes, found us in our own ‘world’, told us to ‘do this and that because we were doing everything the wrong way’, and ended up ruling us. In the whole process of telling us off and then ‘mentoring’ us they did not care a little bit about the cultural dynamics of our society. All they wanted was for us to be organized and to have an orderly society that suits their liking; enough only for them to further their agendas and in the process exploit our people and resources.

Personally, I hope people do not get themselves carried away- or to say it more appropriately, brain-washed by some of these arguments because such schools of thought do not offer any good for the people and nation of Solomon Islands, a country which is still trying to recover from a period of civil unrest, lawlessness, and economic and political chaos.

For instance, I find it quite difficult to grasp the rationale behind Mr. Alp’s intention in making negative arguments on the legitimacy of Australia and New Zealand. In my view the concept of statehood and its legitimacy extends beyond mere empirical distortions or discrepancies, as Mr. Alp sees it, which led to the formation of states. It covers a whole range of other factors which are not only socio-political, economical or legal in nature but are also psychological, physical, spiritually moralistic and humanistic in form and deed.  

In my reading of Mr. Alp’s writing on state legitimacy I sensed that he made the argument merely to question the validity and the legitimacy of the presence of foreigners who are in Solomon Islands under RAMSI as well as the influence of Australia and New Zealand in the region. Many people have also raised questions on such issues but unlike Mr. Alp they have done so based on very reasonable grounds, and indeed some of these issues require serious consideration to assist in building a stronger sense of cooperation and regionalism within the region. But perhaps, if Mr. Alp was present in the Solomon Islands during the civil unrest years of 1998 to 2003 he would have had more appreciation of the current presence of RAMSI in the country, particularly in acknowledging its role in the restoration of law and order and strengthening state institutions.

In addition, if the rationale that Mr. Alp has used in judging the legitimacy of Australia and New Zealand as sovereign states is used in the same way to judge other countries of the world the legitimacy and sovereign existence of many countries, including Solomon Islands could also questioned. This is a situation that is totally undesirable at this time in history as it will only fuel more confusion leading to potential chaos.

So I could not help but question the objective(s) of Mr. Alp in trying to stir up arguments around such issues when Solomon Islands is still in a fragile and vulnerable situation. Or, is he trying to stir up trouble in the Solomons? As Solomon Islanders trouble and confusion are the last things we need at this time of our history and as a law-abiding citizen of this country I strongly call upon Mr. Alp to stop trying to brainwash Solomon Islanders of things that hold no good and benefit for their lives, but only have the potential to create trouble and rebellion against the state. This is what Mr. Alp is good at and the reason why he is not a very likeable character back in his home country of New Zealand.

Generally in my view, Mr. Alp’s commentaries by far have been boldly prescriptive and specific, both in terms of his identification of the problems and in proposing solutions. In my view, however, most of his analyses of public policy issues affecting Solomon Islands are not context-sensitive – and this brings me to next reason why I decided to write this letter.

Having read some of his media commentaries I have observed that perhaps Mr. Alp has made his analyses and assessment of the issues concerning Solomon Islands purely based on a ‘rationalist’ perspective. That is, in answering the important policy question of “what should we (or the government) do?” rationalists tend to have a strong bias towards quantitative methods and/or conceptual frameworks taken from the positivist traditions on social science such as the economic theory to base their perceptions. Other values and perspectives, such as culture and others exerted by the social dynamics of the society are not regarded as having equal footing. More importantly they view policy analyses, as a linear problem solving process- as a tool in choosing among other alternatives in an effort to solve problems.

That is where the real problem with rationalists lies in the context of Solomon Islands. As we all know Solomon Islands is a dual society with a very vast and influential subsistence sector. There are peoples of different races and cultural practices, languages, religious beliefs and with different socio-political and economic backgrounds. Even describing Solomon Islands as a complex society is in my view an understatement of the realities of the situation.

For instance, politically, the modern government system is the central governance apparatus, but not the only one significant to the lives of the people. There are other sources of authority and ‘government’ that exists within the society but are disconnected from the centre due to obvious reasons, which are not of primary interest here. Like many jurisdictions, but unique in terms of its strong cultural embedment in practice, norms, belief systems and world view, Solomon Islands polity is dynamic and consists of non-linear and sporadic systems of political sources of governance.

Thus in this world of dynamic and non-linear systems, change, instability and disequilibrium are the norm, not the stability and equilibrium assumed in traditional mechanistic models. Constant change is a feature of open systems and in unstable conditions the path of change can be highly sensitive to initial conditions and therefore not predictable. In Solomon Islands these initial conditions are closely linked to social, cultural and geographical factors. Traditional cause-effect assumptions like what Mr. Alp has been clearly advocating in many of his writings cease to be valid.

In addition, as we know though disconnected in practice, elements of systems are mutually dependent through the popular interactions of the people. These interactions tend to be non-linear and therefore the response of the change in one element may be highly disproportionate. This is why I believe Mr. Alp’s idea of getting rid of a central financial structure such as the Central Bank will never work in Solomon Islands.

And taking the cultural-embedment factors, the demographical and geographical aspects of the society into consideration, I believe that in today’s Solomon Islands even with major structural and economical adjustments and systematic tweaking of the mechanics of public policy in the way suggested by Mr. Alp will have only minimal results or outcomes if the human face of development and the ‘soft infrastructure’ are not adequately and effectively addressed.

In effect, the behavior of a complex society such as Solomon Islands ‘emerges’ as the holistic sum of the dynamic interaction between its component parts over time and it cannot be understood by decomposing it into constituent elements. In other words, reduction or simplification is not a viable approach to understanding and addressing these complex systems.

That is, the ‘knowledge of the constituents is not knowledge of the whole of major parts’. And as the dual economy that Solomon Islands is, economic theories in their totality may not always help in understanding the many intertwined factors that influence the socio-political and economic dynamics of the society. The role of existing structures of political governance and traditional authority and control must be recognized and given proper treatment.

Above all, genuine appreciation and in-depth comprehension of the local content and context is vital.

Yours truly,

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