This is the speech by the Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, delivered on Friday, 1st of May, 2020.
Fellow Solomon Islanders, it is an honour to stand before you once again, to update you on the current situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused great distress throughout the world.
Since the outbreak in Wuhan, China in December last year, the coronavirus has now killed around 230,000, and infected more than 3 million people.
It has affected almost all corners of the globe, except for a few countries and territories including Solomon Islands.
The Solomon Islands Government was amongst the first to impose measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19.
As a result we remain COVID-19 free, a result of our continuous United Stand Against COVID-19 by each and every one of us.
Fellow citizens, on the 22nd of April 2020, my Government has issued an “Advisory on Repatriation of Solomon Islands Stranded Citizens Overseas” who are currently stranded overseas as a result of the ban imposed on flights.
The Advisory was issued by the COVID-19 Oversight Committee.
My good people, as your Prime Minister, I have not forsaken your pleas and your Government has already commenced preparation with regards to the repatriation flights to bring our citizens home.
However, the security and safety of Solomon Islands is our first and foremost priority. This means that before we allow our citizens to return, we must first strengthen and establish our in-country capabilities to test for COVID-19.
Fellow citizens, once the testing capabilities are established and ready for use which is on schedule to be operational next week, the Government will proceed to execute its repatriation plan. A second Advisory will be issued in due course to update our stranded nationals on the details of the Government’s repatriation plan.
It must also be made clear that once repatriation is executed, all returning citizens will be subjected to quarantine for a period of 14 days or for an extended period of time, as maybe required by the Government.
All returning citizens will be advised through official Government channels on repatriation schedules.
Fellow citizens, the Government has fast tracked plans to cultivate and establish ‘Field Food Banks ‘to mitigate possible rice shortage in the country.
Plans are in place to drastically increase the production of cassava, and the approach is through the national cassava out grower scheme introduced to our educational institutions (boarding schools) and Rural Training Centers (RTCs). Initially this will be done in Honiara/Guadalcanal with the intention to roll this out to all RTCs and communities in all constituencies in the country.
Initial forecast is that up to 65% production will be for domestic food security, and up to 35% to be exported to international markets. These plans will be completed and operationalized by the end of this month.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has also begun the process of giving out free vegetable seedlings to all Honiara residents.
A mass vegetable nursery production for back yard box farming is also currently underway, initiated by the research team at the National Agriculture and Livestock Research Development Centre (NARLDC) opposite the KGVI School.
This will ensure that vegetable food supply can be sustained for Honiara residents during the period of the pandemic. This initiative will also be expanded to our provinces in due course.
My good people, these are approaches we are taking to proactively counter the impacts of COVID-19 on our food security.
New Market Sites
The government is working with both the Honiara City Council and the Guadalcanal Provincial government to develop two large markets at the western and eastern side of Honiara outside the city boundary. Several satellite markets will also be developed within the city boundary.
Within Honiara, new markets will be developed at Naha, Kukum and a small community market at White River. It is also the intention to develop a Fish market at White River.
Markets within Honiara
i. The Kukum market is undergoing a total facelift. The new Kukum market is expected to be operational within the month.
ii. Engineering assessment is being undertaken at the Naha market site. If the assessment comes back positive, we hope to have the new Naha market operational within 4-6 weeks.
iii. The small community market at White River is currently undergoing planning. Development of this market will also be within a short timeframe.
iv. Government is also exploring the potential to establish a separate fish market at White River.
Markets at Western and eastern End of the City
v. Western Side Market – LDA land at Mamara has been identified for the development of a large market on the western side of the city. A team visited the location and has confirmed its suitability to accommodate the normal market, a betel nut and fish market. While the land belongs to the government, we are also working with Guadalcanal Province to ensure this is a partnership between the government, Guadalcanal Province and Honiara City Council.
The development of a major market at LDA/Mamara will also serve the thousands of residents in the proposed public housing Estate for public servants that is planned for the Mamara-Tasifarongo land just next door.
We plan to commence work at the LDA/Mamara market within the next 3 months
vi. Eastern Side market – The government is still looking at options to locate the large market on the eastern side of town. We hope to conclude this search within the next few weeks. As soon as we identify land for the Eastern side market, work will progress immediately.
Fellow citizens, my Government in collaboration with the Honiara City Council and Guadalcanal Province will develop all these markets and have them operational to serve our people during 2020.
My good people, as I have informed you last week, we have already received our new qPCR machine, testing kits and laboratory equipment from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Our health experts are now in the process of setting this machine up ready to be used. The availability of the qPCR machine means that we will no longer have to send our test samples overseas. We now have the capability to do in-country testing.
I also wish to announce that we received our second qPCR machine from Australia on Wednesday. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the people and Government of Australia for this generous assistance. Though Australia has its own challenges with the recent bushfire and the COVID-19 pandemic, they still have not forgotten us. The people and Government of Solomon Islands will forever be grateful.
Tagio tumas to all of our bilateral and development partners who have made contributions.
I am very happy to inform the country, that as of next week, we will have initial capability to test for COVID-19 at the National Referral Hospital.
I have been assured we will have full testing capability within 2 weeks from next Monday.
I congratulate our team from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services for making this happen, as I thank the members of the oversight committee that had assisted in the process, and express my appreciation to our donors that have procured and supplied us with the test cartridges for existing gene-expert machines, and two state-of-the-art qPRC Machines that will be fully operational within 3 weeks.
The establishment of this in-country testing capability is the key indicator for us to partially re-open our borders, primarily to repatriate our stranded citizens, as well as to allow essential personnel that we urgently need to assist us in several areas of our economy. It is also the key indicator in our ability to resume schools in the emergency zone.
I congratulate our team from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services for making this happen. I wish to also thank the members of the oversight committee that had assisted in the process, and express my appreciation to our donors that have procured and supplied us with the test cartridges for existing gene-expert machines, and two state-of-the-art qPRC Machines.
Fellow citizens on Monday this week, our Ministry of Education re-opened high schools throughout the country for forms 3, 5 and 6 except for those high schools within the Emergency Zones, Guadalcanal, Choiseul, Shortland Islands, Noro and Munda areas.
On Monday 4th May, all remaining forms in the high schools that opened this week, plus all other schools in the same zones will reopen their doors.
Decision on reopening of other Schools including those in the emergency zones will be made in the coming week and the nation will be informed accordingly.
Fellow Solomon Islanders, our fight against COVID-19 will not be possible without the assistance of our donor friends. The positive response from our development partners is welcoming. Despite the immense threat of COVID-19 in their respective countries, our friends have not forsaken us.
On Tuesday this week, we have witnessed the handover of the Letter of Support presented by Her Excellency, the New Zealand High Commissioner to Solomon Islands on behalf of the government and people of New Zealand to the Government of Solomon Islands.
We are very grateful indeed for the support provided by New Zealand for offering a helping hand as Pacific friends to support our COVID -19 efforts.
New Zealand Government’s support of NZ$ 3 million or SBD$15 million budget support will go towards the upgrading of two of our provincial hospitals, the Gizo Hospital in Western Province and the Kilufi Hospital in Malaita Province.
The upgrading of both hospitals will include:
• Refurbishment and securing an isolation ward and a quarantine ward in each hospital
• Upgrade of laboratories in each hospital
• Procurement of 1 X-ray machine for Gizo hospital. Gizo hospital is prioritised due to the threat of COVID-19 entry through the Western border
• Procurement of 1 qPCR machine for Gizo hospital and again, Gizo is prioritised due to the threat of COVID-19 at our Western border
The support provided by New Zealand will surely contribute towards our combined efforts to keep Solomon Islands COVID-19 free.
That said, we must continue to be thankful to all our other partners who continue to stand beside us in this fight against COVID-19.
To all our development partners who continue to stand with Solomon Islands, from my people of Solomon Islands I wish sincerely thank your Governments and your people for the generosity and care. We know that you too are facing hardships caused by COVID-19, but you continue provide the much needed assistance to our people. Tagio Tumas
My good people, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, all government ministries have recently conducted a reprioritization exercise under the Resource and Productive Sector.
Under the reprioritization exercise, ministries are reallocating funds to identify priority areas and related projects. Where necessary, some project activities will be postponed for next year. Furthermore, ministries will retain a limited number of staff deemed necessary to implement their reprioritized priority projects.
These priority projects are those that will result in quick economic returns; have significant impact on the economy and national employment; and contributes significantly to rural employment to cater for the influx of urban dwellers that have repatriated back to their villages.
Under both the Resource and Productive sectors, line ministries have made focused submissions toward the content of the economic stimulus package on areas relevant to their sub-sectors.
This will mainly focus on boosting our productive and resource sectors in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, tourism, strengthening monitoring efforts on environmental, forestry and mining regulations as well as assistance packages to Small- Medium Enterprises.
Furthermore, the national development projects fully funded by the national government through the 2020 development budget are still progressing well, while some projects partly funded by our bilateral friends have been put on halt.
Premiers Dialogue Outcome
Fellow Solomon Islanders, as you are aware, the Government has convened a two day Premiers Dialogue here in Honiara last week.
I take this opportunity to thank all our Premiers for responding positively to the National Government’s request. I also acknowledge all our Premiers for their affirmation to stand united with the National Government in our efforts to curb the COVID-19 from reaching our shores.
I must also acknowledge the concerns raised by the Premiers during the dialogue and would like to assure our good Premiers that my Government will continue to work in partnership with your provincial governments to address these concerns.
The dialogue was indeed an important step forward in aligning our national COVID-19 strategies with our Provincial Government’s preparedness plans. And I am pleased to note that the dialogue has produced some positive outcomes.
Fellow citizens, whilst we continue to maintain our fight against COVID-19, the Government have not disregarded the impacts Tropical Cyclone Harold had on our country. The Government through the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology have completed its assessment in the affected areas.
Non-food items have been distributed already to affected communities in Peri-urban Honiara and Guadalcanal Province with the support of NGO partners as per our National Disaster Management Plan 2018.
The Government has allocated SBD $8.7M for food relief efforts.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the support from our development partners and NGOs to the Government’s efforts in dealing with the impacts of TC Harold.
The Government also acknowledged and thank affected communities for their patience whilst the National Disaster Management Office completes the assessment processes, which were led by the Provincial Disaster Offices of Guadalcanal and Makira Provinces, and Honiara City Council.
Many commentators have linked business continuity to the State of Public Emergency. Let me assure the nation that we have not had a lock down, therefore we have only closed specific businesses within the Honiara emergency zone. Majority of businesses although having scaled down their workforce but are still operating. However, the tourism sector and the hospitality industry are the worst hit, not just in Solomon Islands but globally because of the closure of national borders. However, there are some businesses who have assisted the Government greatly in these challenging times.
On this note I wish to acknowledge the assistance rendered by Our Telekom in our fight against COVID-19. Our Telekom has been an active partner in the national preparatory effort in the fight against the COVID-19, and they have been supporting the Ministry of Health and Medical Services through the work carried out by the COVID-19 Honiara Emergency Operation Centre (HEOC).
The Government is grateful for the assistance provided by Our Telekom to date, which is as follows:
- Provision of the National COVID-19 toll-free information line 115 which allows the public to call the COVID-19 Honiara Emergency Operation Centre for free for advice about the Coronavirus disease.
- Provision of fast Internet Broadband access to the HEOC at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara that enables our medical front liners and planners coordinate the national COVID-19 efforts.
- Donated smartphones to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to assist them with operations.
- Provided Free Television airtime for broadcast of the PMO weekly updates and the MHMS Sunday updates.
- Working with both USP and SINU to enable alternative bandwidth solutions to provide greater value and to support students working outside of campus.
In addition to the above Our Telekom is now ready to launch a FREE COVID-19 communication relief package for our prepaid mobile customers to access the Internet, make calls and send SMS. The announcement will be released in the local media any time shortly. Tagio tumas Our Telekom.
That said, I also wish to extend the gratitude of the people and Government of Solomon Islands to the private sector for standing shoulder to shoulder with the Government in this fight against COVID-19. The Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industries has continued to demonstrate leadership, commitment and understanding in these difficult times, and I am grateful for that. We will continue to work together to see this through. My door is always open to you.
I wish to reveal today the Government’s Economic Stimulus Package worth SBD$309 million to deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic conclusively was approved by Cabinet yesterday. This is a historical package and a demonstration of the Government’s Commitment to address the negative economic fallout of the unprecedented and unique situation that affects all level of our societies and our economy. I wish to briefly disclose today that there are 4 key components of the package, which include, soft measures, immediate recovery 1, immediate recovery 2, and the medium to long term measures.
I would like to inform the public that details of the proposal to address the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on our economy and people, will be disclosed at the official launching of the Solomon Islands Government Economic Stimulus Package early next week.
Good citizens, the pandemic still poses a great health risk to our people. It is a challenge like no other, but with every challenges comes opportunities.
This pandemic has taught us many lessons, challenges and the way to rethink how we should approach development in our country.
This virus has also taught us to start working on achieving unity and peace because as John F. Kennedy once said, “mankind must put an end to war, before war puts an end to mankind’’.
There has never been a time before, that we see nations around the world coming together in a fight against a common enemy.
This pandemic has driven a new sense of urgency, and a new mode of planning. In this regard I am reminded that all our plans can come to nothing unless we put them to God as it says in the Book of Proverbs Chapter 16 and Verse 3, and I quote… “Ask the Lord to Bless your plans, and you will be successful in carrying them out”…(End quote)
My good people of Solomon Islands, in the face of such adversities and challenging times we can unite and rediscover our humanity and unity as one people and one nation.
I pay tribute to all our Churches in the country and their leaders and congregations. They had faithfully petitioned our Heavenly Father day and night to block COVID-19 from entering our beloved country since our fight against COVID-19 commenced.
The government is so privileged to work with our Churches. We have committed to work with the SIBC to ensure the daily coverage of messages from our churches continue to flow and their broadcast services every weekend also continues.
Let me close with a quote from Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews Chapter 12 and verse 2, and I quote… ‘Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus on whom our faith depends from beginning to end…” (end quote)
My good people I have no doubt whatsoever that our God is protecting our country, our people and our generation.
It is my prayer that all of us will continue to have the strength and courage to answer our call of duty for our beloved country. For God and Country.
May God Bless us all and May God Bless Solomon Islands from shore to shore.
Thank you all for listening.