I recently loaned a book to friend of mine which I have owned for many years and from time to time I would read the book to anchor myself to the basics of “my little place.” The title of the book is, “A small Place” by Jamaica Kincaid of Antigua, an island much like Palau in the Caribbean. It is a book that all Palauans must read as it provides some internal perspective on how we cannot “smell our own breath”.
Ms. Jamaica talks about a public library much like our own which was destroyed by an earthquake that rocked Antigua in 1974. In the marketplace in Antigua there is a sign that says, “THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN EARTHQUAKE OF 1974. REPAIRS ARE PENDING.” This was published in 1989, some fifteen years after the earthquake.
Palau, my little place presents few of these oxymoron perspectives and many have been left to be “repaired in the future.” Like the library in Antigua, many are critical issues in the development of the social capital in my little place.
Recently, in the very corner of Palau, including the coffee shops and the taxi stands everyone deliberated on the national budget and the closure of the government. In the aftermath, “it was not anyone’s fault” was the conclusion at least from both committees of OEK, a strike contrast of the conclusion from the streets of my little place. As a student of government in my little place, I presume that the reasons there is a contrasting conclusion the governed and the governors is because there are intrinsic issues that are left to be repaired.
The first issue is, Democracy as a government of the majority. In the past few years, the Olbiil Era Kelulau has deliberated as two distinctive branches of government. How can nine senators and nine delegates are over ruled by the “minority block of the HOD?” Where is the government of the majority? Is the overall voice of OEK based on majority opinions or not? If not, why not? If this is not prudently corrected, than in my little place, the separation of powers will continue to be violated by the politics of exploitation.
The second issue is, The passing of retroactive legislations. I suspect that there is a constitutional issue with retroactive legislations. Laws cannot have past memories as they are to be prospective. For instance, retroactive budget laws while good for the short term; it does take away the power from the voting constituents to demand expediency from their leaders. It is a systematic bribe to the demand of the owners of the government. If this is not corrected, a door has been opened for laws to have past memories and systematic bribery.
The third issue is, The substitution of politics and policies. Several occasions during this deliberation, politics dominated the policies. For instance, the budget bill for my little place became a rider on other bills. Policy? No, politics. Politics is the game that is played but policies are what provide the framework for the governance of my little place. While politics is a game for politicians, policies is life for the constituents.
The fourth issue is, People cannot smell their own breath. So who watches the government and how it deliberates? Transparent governance can only be a conclusion of an independent evaluation and I suspect that my little place needs such institution. The voting and service user constituents must be empowered to evaluate how their government is meeting their needs and expectations. That is the basis of the statement, “government by and for the people.” The ability to evaluate their government by their votes must not be removed from them.
My little place, Palau is much like the “small place” of Antigua where if we do not start repairing the damages of the past, we are doomed to repeat them. As Mr. Issigonis (1988) once said, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” and truly we cannot smell our own breath in my little place. (This article also appeared in Tia Belau, January 12- 18, 2007)
By Stevenson Kuartei, MD