It appears that the Hon Sogavare has become more forgiving and forgetting, based on Radio New Zealand International reports about the appointment of another Australian as Commissioner of the Royal Solomon Islands Police after the debacle of the expulsion of the last Australian Police Commissioner, Shane Castle.
This might be considered to be pragmatic, given all that Australia has done to support the Solomon Islands Police and aid the Solomons in so many different ways since the Hon. Songavare left office. Nevertheless, it was the Hon.Songavare that first commissioned the review of RAMSI which has recently revealed some startling omissions and, largely, debunked the often quoted success of the Mission. Significantly, a telling point has been the critical revelation that both Canberra and Wellington have regularly pressed the SIG government to exhibit greater transparency, but the same standards have not always been applied equally.
One must forgive this foray into the political area from a once a-political police officer but one not shackled anymore with such restrictions and one that really does care for the Solomon Island’s people, especially the unemployed and the rural poor. Sounding pious, yes, I know, but true.
Taking further the point about pragmatism and politics, I know that in the Solomon Islands Christianity is a force with spheres of influence one could argue for the good divided amongst the church of Melanesia (Anglican), South Sea Evangelical Church, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Seventh Day Adventists churches.
Despite Christianity being behind the core principles and beliefs of the majority of its citizens, Prime Minister Lilo only last week officially opened a Solomon Islands Embassy in Cuba – the first Pacific Island nation to engage diplomatically with a communist dominated country, albeit said to be secular and with the Roman Catholic church featuring prominently in its society.
One may question why and the answer is a pragmatic one in terms of the benefits and returns the Solomon Islands gets in return, young student exchanges, doctor and medical training and other forms of shared training and expertise.
The Solomon Islands is a staunch supporter of the Republic of China (ROC) Government in Taiwan and receives huge sums in financial aid in kind and in monetary aid, albeit many in the region have criticised this alleged form of ‘cheque book diplomacy’ and the constant references to corruption in the use of the money handed out to politicians for the supposed development of the respective constituencies..
Personally, I was appreciative of the 3.8 million Solomon Islands dollars I received from the ROC in the provision of a large fleet of land rovers, motor cycles and a bus for the Royal Solomon Islands Police at the commencement of the 1997 general election and, subsequently, for the money provided to re-furbish many of the old and derelict police houses and facilities. I therefore have no quarrel with the ROC government but I do wish the Taiwanese would aid the Solomons in a more practical way, helping to establish small to large scale industrial development to create jobs and employment opportunities.
Let me explain this further. Here in Thailand, from where I am writing, the Taiwanese have many business interests and one of the more successful developments is a company that I have visited many times and overseen the scale of the enterprise. The Company, Delta Electronics, employees more than ten thousand rural Thai workers, many of them young women in a huge factory complex at Bangpoo. The factory has become one of the world’s leading producer of power supplies and electronic components comprising cooling fans, EMI filters and solenoids. The range of products is widely used in applications for automotive, medical, telecommunications, IT automation and more.
Many of the workforce do not speak English and have had to have ‘on the job training’ to become proficient. In the Solomons the majority can speak English, as taught in schools and colleges and salary levels are comparative.
I have no doubt the ROC is fully aware of the recent 12 member delegation from Guangdong Province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to Guadalcanal Province and the statement made by Premier Anthony Veke that the relationship between the two provinces will grow for the benefit of both provinces. Premier Veke assesses the PRC Government being able to assist Guadalcanal in development, especially in the health sector.
Many may assess the latest visit has contributing to a worsening relationship between the Solomon Islands Government and Taiwan and destabilising the Solomons in the longer term.
The Taiwanese Government’s main aim is recognition – diplomatic recognition – and this accounts for the ROC putting millions into the Solomon’s economy, but pragmatically because the return is political influence on the world stage.
The PRC Government has continued to expand its influence throughout the Pacific with ever closer links to neighbouring countries of the Solomons, including Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, Kiribati. Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and not to mention Australia and New Zealand.
It has been said (and I quote from the National Business Review), ‘Treating China as a long term trading friend without preparing a counterweight to their growing naval power would place South Pacific nations on the back foot when, inevitatably, motives begin to change in Beijing.’
All of what I have written comes down to the politics of pragmatism and where does the Solomons go from here?
By FRANK SHORT
Former Commissioner of Police