Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Australia Robert Sisilo, has likened the Covid-19 Pandemic to a big dark cloud that has descended on planet earth, bringing death and destruction.
But like every black cloud it has a silver lining; it has brought Solomon Islands and Australia closer than ever. Australia’s assurance to support COVAX AMC to improve access for Solomon Islands and other Pacific countries to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines is testimony of this silver lining.
“Solomon Islands is still COVID-19 free. We closed our ports and airports when WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March and have since declared 2 States of Public Emergencies (SOPE).
“But despite closing our land, sea and air borders we continued to work very closely with our development partners supporting our efforts to remain COVID-19 free,” Mr. Sisilo told the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) in a 3-hour public hearing roundtable last Friday morning.
Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and Indonesia committed more than a 100 million Solomon Island dollars to help Solomon Islands fight COVID-19.
Australia further committed 8 million Australian dollars and provided an additional 25 thousand Personal Protection Equipment and one thousand RNA extraction kits to the health sector.
Mr. Sisilo told the JSCFADT for the Solomon Islands Government to respond adequately to health challenges, the economy has to be healthy as well. And besides trade in goods, the government has identified key sectors for foreign direct investment. These include tourism and infrastructure development.
“While global tourism is in a deep dive, I believe it could resurface once a vaccine is discovered. Solomon Islands has great tourism potential and it could be further developed. But it would difficult for the government to do all the heavy lifting.
“I am therefore happy to report that last week our two Prime Ministers spoke and Australia’s Infrastructure Financing Facility will continue to support the Tina River hydropower project. When fully operational Tina Hydro will support Solomon Islands’ post pandemic economic recovery big time,” Mr Sisilo said.
The 3-hour roundtable is the first of its kind. The 31-member JSCFADT, from both Houses (Senate & Representatives) of Australia’s Federal Parliament, wanted to hear the views of Pacific Island Countries on how best to strengthen trade, defence and foreign affairs between Australia and the Pacific Island Countries.
It included the High Commissioners and diplomats of Samoa, PNG, Tonga, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Vanuatu and Kiribati (by teleconference).