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Goff Speech to Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce

Phil Goff Speech to Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce

I am very pleased to be here with you today in Honiara. I’ve made quite a lot of trips to Solomon Islands over the past few years and it is good to be back at a time when the town is more peaceful and settled compared with some of my trips in the past.

I also have with me on this visit a large delegation of New Zealand parliamentarians, academics, officials from a wide range of departments, NGOs and journalists. My aim is that through the contacts that are made in the next few days, we will all gain a clear understanding of Solomon Islands' perspectives that will help build long-term personal relations.

Today I am going to talk about the things New Zealand is doing in Solomon Islands to provide assistance and help rebuild the country. But then, and more importantly, I want to hear from you on the situation as you see it and hear your views on where things might go. I won’t have any easy answers for you, but I want to get your views.

The business sector and the revitalisation of the economy are fundamental if the investment we have made in RAMSI (eds note: Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) is to endure for the long term. You have an important role to play in that.

The RAMSI operation has been a success. We have been very happy to be a part of it. But it is clear the job is not over yet. We expect to be here for some time to come, to ensure that what we have achieved through RAMSI is sustained.

RAMSI’s achievements have been substantial. The security situation has been stabilised and over 3,700 weapons removed from circulation. Our commitment to strengthening the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force will ensure that the gains we have made are built on. We will continue to work closely with the Solomon Islands government, Australia and our regional partners in this.

There has been good progress in restoring law and order and a significant improvement in the economy, with reported growth in GDP of 3.8 per cent. Exports have increased and inflation continues to decline.

The functions of government are being restored and fiscal reforms are starting to have a positive effect on the budget. There is a lot more work to do in this area.

When reform is raised, one of the questions that always comes up is how effective can reform be when corruption is so endemic in Solomon Islands. The new processes of governance being put into place with the assistance of RAMSI should help in dealing with that question.

But more fundamentally, it is up to the people of Solomon Islands to make their views known on this. The opportunity to do this is in the course of the elections, which I understand will occur in early 2006. The Chamber of Commerce, along with other Solomon Islands civil society organisations, has a role to play in educating people about the importance of the elections and in particular their importance for progress in Solomon Islands.

In the short to medium term, New Zealand’s contribution will be in continuing to assist in the maintenance of stability; playing a role that helps to keep the reform process moving through the difficult phases that will inevitably arise, and encouraging better governance including helping prepare for the election in 2006. We will be working closely with Solomon Islanders in this, as well as the Australians and our regional partners in RAMSI.

We think it is important that Solomon Islanders start to feel some benefits of the RAMSI operation beyond the improvements in law and order that have been made. The two sectors that are particularly important in this are the fundamental government services of health and education.

New Zealand’s focus is on education. The impact of our major investment in education should start to become evident in the short term. This will be both through improved service delivery throughout Solomon Islands and through improvements in governance and management of the sector, and in the longer term through a better-educated population.

New Zealand has committed up to NZ$30 million over the period 2004-6 to support the implementation of the Solomon Islands Education Strategic Plan, of which the EU is also a major supporter. This is NZAID’s first sector approach where assistance is delivered through Solomon Islands' own systems, using marked budget support, rather than through projects. This support aims to ensure all Solomon Islands children have access to a quality basic education and that the Solomon Islands' needs for community, vocational, technical and tertiary education are met.

NZAID also provides $1 million annually for technical assistance that supports improved sector management. By working through Solomon Islands government systems, our support also helps strengthen the framework of accountability mechanisms between the people of Solomon Islands, their elected representatives, and the providers of services.

This financial year, NZAID support has included paying salaries for new probationary teachers and procuring NZ$6m worth of primary school supplies and material.

We are printing primary maths and English textbooks, and 80 containers of materials are scheduled to arrive in Honiara between the end of May and the end of June before being repackaged and redistributed to all primary schools in the country. This will be a significant milestone in the national recovery and development plan for the country, as it will be the first significant resumption of services to Solomon Islanders.

I appreciate that Solomon Islanders are anxious for the situation in the country to be returned to that prevailing before the conflict. Given the destruction that has taken place over the last few years, it will take a long time before that situation is realised. I do not know what the timeframe is. What we are looking at is to take the basis that has been created by RAMSI and to move forward as best we can, in partnership with you.

I am not telling you anything you don’t know if I say that this is the hard part. It requires real commitment from all sectors in Solomon Islands society. As I said at the outset, I am not here to give you the answers. Only Solomon Islanders can really work their way through this – but we want to help where we can.

Today, I would like to hear from you – what do you see as the problems, how can they be best addressed. How can you address them? We will help where we can, but the impetus lies with you.

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