- Solomon Islands
Like the preceding year, 2011 was politically intense for Solomon Islands, marred by political instability and the actions of citizens frustrated over leadership neglect of pertinent issues. The year's most dramatic events were related to the ongoing and never-ending "musical-chairs politics" of National Parliament. Moreover, there was a change in the leadership of the ruling government. Also notable were the activities of nongovernment organizations and civil society groups in pursuit of a better life and services for Solomon Islanders. Some encouraging events and decisions are highlighted in this review as well. Political developments throughout 2011 again confirmed the adage that in Solomon Islands politics "anything is possible."
After the national general elections and the election of the prime minister in late 2010, the ruling National Coalition for Rural Advancement (NCRA) and the official Opposition were closely matched in terms of membership strength. For instance, at one point in February 2011, then-Opposition leader Steve Abana claimed that the two sides were even, at 24-24 (SIBC, 3 Feb 2011), but there were uncertainties over the real allegiances of some members of Parliament. Prime Minister Danny Philip and his advisers were very tactful in maneuvering through this volatile environment after the 2010 elections. Even as citizens anticipated an immediate fall of government, new ministers from the Opposition side of the House were sworn in to replace those who defected.
The first sign of a crack in the Philip-led NCRA government appeared when Minister for Forestry Bodo Dettke was relieved of his portfolio. It was alleged that Dettke was overseas when his sacking was announced, and he protested, asserting that he had been sacked for ordering the seizure of logs from MV Pacific Banghu in the Western Province a few months earlier. Despite that assertion, people felt that his initial appointment as minister for forestry had bordered on a conflict of interest, as he owns the Success Logging Company (The Age, 1 Sept 2010). Nevertheless his ministerial appointment had gone through, along with those of some [End Page 407] other newly elected members of Parliament of questionable character. These included Jimmy Lusibaea, a former militant who was then facing murder charges; Mark Kemakeza, who has an unresolved case of abuse of funds for fisheries projects in his constituency; and Snyder Rini, the short-lived prime minister ousted by popular riots in 2006 over corruption allegations. Their appointments as ministers made the initial formation of NCRA somewhat unpopular.
The "musical chairs" in Parliament continued into the first half of 2011. While the government and Opposition were matched in numerical strength, Prime Minister Philip kept the country in suspense and delayed the parliamentary sitting until March. Meanwhile, the prime minister seemed to have been having difficulties in appointing ministers to head vacant ministries. His special secretary, Andrew Muaki, responded to this and the delayed sitting by saying that "the four vacant ministries have already been filled up by acting ministers" (PINA, 3 Feb 2011). When six government ministers moved to the Opposition, the Philip-led government nearly collapsed, but the insecurity was rectified by a countermovement of six Opposition members of Parliament to the government camp. By April 2011 Prime Minister Philip had a majority to rule at least for a little longer.
Besides having to live with numerical uncertainty, a string of allegations of corruption and use of insider information did not improve the NCRA's negative image. For instance, there was the so-called Intel Report by the prime minister's press secretary and veteran journalist Alfred Sasako, which was highly controversial and received an immediate rebuttal from the Australian government. This "secret intelligence report" suggested that the Australian Labor Government was behind moves to topple the NCRA and that their choice for prime minister was Opposition member Matthew Wale. It further alleged that Australia promised a reward of si$200,000 to each government member of Parliament who would cross the floor. Moreover, it claimed that Australia had set aside si$20 million in in-kind and monetary support to the Opposition for this cause (ISN, 8 Feb 2011). The Australian government and the coordinator of the Regional Assistance Mission to...