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Solomon Islands: Howard Props Up Corrupt Regime

Solomon Islands: Howard Props Up Corrupt Regime


Doug Lorimer
Green Left Weekly

Two days after several thousand rioters looted and burned down shops, hotels and other buildings in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara on April 18, Australian PM John Howard dispatched 110 troops and 80 police officers to join the 250 police officers and 120 government “advisers” making up the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

“The immediate catalyst for Tuesday’s rioting was the election of former deputy prime minister Snyder Rini, 46, as the country’s new prime minister following a vote of the 50-member parliament earlier in the day”, the April 20 Australian reported. “Rini’s elevation came as a shock to the crowd gathered outside the parliament.”

The April 20 Sydney Morning Herald reported that Sir Peter Kenilorea, the speaker of the Solomons parliament, “blamed Australian Federal Police officers for aggravating civil unrest by firing tear gas at [the] protesters”, who were demanding Rini’s immediate resignation.

Rini is a member of a group of MPs called the Association of Independent Members of Parliament (AIM), whose president is local naturalised Chinese business tycoon Sir Thomas Chan.

The anger at Rini’s appointment stemmed from his close links both with Chan and with outgoing PM Sir Allan Kemakeza, who narrowly retained his parliamentary seat while his People’s Alliance Party lost 11 of its 20 seats at the April 5 general election.

The election campaign had “been fought mainly on economic issues, with poverty, corruption and uneven rural development playing a major role”, the April 20 Australian reported.

Late last year, the country’s auditor-general reported that a fund set up to compensate victims of Melanesian inter-ethnic violence in 1998-99, which Kemakeza controls, was missing A$5.7 million.

With a per capita GDP of US$340, the Solomon Islands — made up of some 900 islands inhabited by 552,000 people, 75% of whom are dependent on subsistence farming and fishing — is one of the world’s poorest countries.

The neo-colonial RAMSI intervention — which began in July 2003 with the arrival of 2200 troops and police from Australia, New Zealand and a number of Pacific island states, and several hundred Australian government bureaucrats — has done little to alleviate the widespread poverty and unemployment among the young people who make up most of Honiara’s 50,000 inhabitants.

Writing in the January 18 Solomon Star newspaper, Solomons Anglican Bishop Terry Brown, who had initially supported the RAMSI intervention, observed that “there is a major disparity between RAMSI’s rhetoric of staying for ten to 15 years in the Solomons, bringing peace and prosperity, and the reality of re-emerging violence, increasing poverty and unemployment, high school fees, a downward-spiralling economy, higher inflation and lower incomes, declining medical services, ongoing corruption in government ministries, lack of planning and implementation of how Solomon Islanders will competently run all parts of their own government, crumbling infrastructure, millions and millions of RAMSI funds spent on Australians with the money going back to Australia with minimum cash benefit for Solomon Islanders, continued centralizing of everything in Honiara, etc.”

The March 22 Australian reported that “Soldiers, police and technical advisers sent from countries including Australia to rebuild the war-torn Solomon Islands have fuelled a huge increase in the country’s child sex industry.

“A series of harrowing interviews, documented in an unpublished UN report and revealed in this week’s Time magazine, detail how years of civil conflict and poverty have forced many of Solomon’s children to sell themselves for sex.

“One church group in a remote area of the islands described how a local family had been paid $US10,000 (A$13,800) for their adopted daughter” by a foreign contractor working for RAMSI.

“Other Solomon Islanders said the influx of army, police and [foreign] civilian workers had contributed to an increase in prostitution among girls under 18.”

The April 18 protests against Rini’s election quickly exploded into riots by poor and unemployed Melanesians against shops and other businesses in Honiara’s Chinatown district, which are owned by about 1000 naturalised Chinese.

The April 20 Australian reported that in “the view of many political observers, it is the sway that Chinese business interests had over the former government, headed by Allan Kemakeza, that helped spark Tuesday’s sudden outburst of popular feeling”.

“This is worse than the ethnic crisis last time”, Solomon Islands Labour Party leader and former MP Joses Tuhanuku told the Australian. He said that “people feel they have lost control of their country” and that “the Solomon Islands is no longer in the hands of Solomon Islanders, it is now in the hands of the Chinese”, who “control the economic life of the country, and now they are working on taking over the political life of the country”.

With RAMSI now providing protection for the highly unpopular Rini, the stage is set for Bishop Brown’s prediction to come true. He warned that the refusal of “RAMSI (Australians in particular) to begin rebuilding relations with ordinary Solomon Islanders” will make it “feel more and more like an occupying army”.

From Green Left Weekly, April 26, 2006.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page - http://www.greenleft.org.au/.

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