The art of listening

At the celebration of Sir Michael Somare’s life at Suva’s Sacred Heart cathedral this month, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong spoke about the willingness to listen as one of the Grand Chief’s defining characteristics. It was a message he repeated a few times; that true leadership is about listening, and that true leaders are servants of their people.

It’s something we’ve been reflecting on this month. Was Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who sat in the front pew of the Cathedral as the Archbishop delivered his message, listening to the will of the people when he stopped public consultations on Fiji’s  controversial police bill? The draft bill was fiercely criticised by the opposition, community groups and the media for a number of its provisions which were seen as unconstitutional, and for the severity of the penalties it proposed. The PM could not have failed to hear the uproar. In stopping the consultations he claimed the draft bill didn’t represent government policy, and hadn’t been endorsed by cabinet or the Solicitor General’s office. He indicated he had heard the public’s concern when he stated: “We cannot preserve public safety in the 21st Century through backwards steps that erode public trust in the Fijian Police Force.”

Fijians are due to go to the polls next year, which hopefully bodes for active listening on the part of all political aspirants. In Samoa, elections are just weeks away and candidates from the governing and ascendant parties are arrayed across the nation, listening and responding to the concerns of their constituents- except where they have been banned from villages and campaigning. A close listen of the chat on social media suggests concerns over legislative changes in Samoa have not gone away for Samoans online, although we’ll have to wait to see if this is reflected at the ballot box.

Meanwhile in our update on agriculture in this issue, we cite a regional report about COVID and Agriculture called Pacific farmers have their say. Based on surveys completed by regional farmers organisations and containing a list of recommendations about how to move from the usual rhetoric about the importance of agriculture to Pacific people and our economies, there’s some important messages in there if we not only listen, but act now, while our border are still largely closed and there is time.

Finally in PNG, there is some belated listening happening to medical professionals who have been warning for some time that COVID transmissions were likely to spiral out of control, and hospitals and the health system was going to be unable to cope. A small number of vaccines finally landed in PNG this week.  But it is a fraction of what’s needed, and it is well after vaccine programmes are well underway in many other parts of the world, including its neighbours. For months our leaders have been calling for vaccine equity so that we aren’t left behind. When will the world not just hear us, but do something about bridging the gap?

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