A SUBSTANTIAL share of the RAMSI aid package was devoted to consultation work whose results were never made public, a new and independent review of the mission uncovers.
The review was done by Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor Jon Fraenkel, Fiji lawyer Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and a Papua New Guinean scholar, Dr Henry Okole.
They released their report yesterday as Pacific Islands leaders, including Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, met in Palau for this year’s leaders’ forum.
The authors said they thought it inappropriate for a RAMSI Special Coordinator to offer the verdict that ‘by universal acclaim’ the mission ‘has been a success’.
“This is not simply factually incorrect (there were dissenting voices). It also misrepresents the predominant view at senior levels in the Solomon Islands government, amongst civil society activists, and amongst scholars who have analysed the RAMSI experience, most of whom offer a more nuanced interpretation – recognising some genuine successes, but also pointing out some weaknesses both in the architecture of the mission and its practical implementation,” the report said
It pointed out a connected point has to do with the management of information flows, and the transparency of the mission.
“Over the decade, a substantial share of the aid package was devoted to commissioning consultancy reports of various hues, entailing studies of social, economic and political conditions in Solomon Islands.
“Many of these were never publicly released, often because of protracted internal processes required by AusAID, or DFAT, before circulation could be sanctioned, or due to a desire to avoid public association with reports not officially approved, or simply because priorities changed.
“Nevertheless, such reports were often clandestinely circulated, entailing leaks mainly to the expatriate staffed bilateral and multilateral organisations represented in Honiara, though never reaching the public record, and therefore mostly unreported in the media.
“Commissioned reports were usually unreleased if deemed off message, or if critical of aspects of the mission.
“These reports were for the most part funded by the taxpayers of Australia, and the failure to release these publicly was entirely counterproductive from the standpoint of both knowledge-based policymaking and stimulating well-informed public debate.
“Their funding also figured as ‘aid’ in the OECD Development Cooperation Aid statistics.
“Nevertheless, the findings in such reports were widely used to inform official speeches, and to deny or critique local interpretations of the repercussions of the RAMSI operation,” the report said.
On the Solomon Islands government side, the authors said a report initially commissioned under the Sogavare government on the 2006 riots was never publicly released.
“It was only completed once the Sikua government was in office, and the official statement declined to release the full report on the grounds that it should not be read by those with ‘unguided minds’.
“Another such report was that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a monumental five-volume report full of exceptionally-valuable detail about the history of the tensions, which we recommend be released to the public.
“Over the RAMSI decade, both Canberra and Wellington have regularly – and quite rightly – pressed the SIG to exhibit greater transparency, but the same standards have not always been applied internally.”
By OFANI EREMAE