- Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands sailed through another turbulent and attention-grab-bing year in 2014. Natural disasters struck the country, arson and looting marred efforts to national unity, and a new government was formed. Notable events on which this review focuses are those leading up to and following the national general election. Indeed, this was a critical general election for a variety of reasons. It was the first election after the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (ramsi) announced the commencement of its transition and gradual handover of policing control to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (rsipf). It was also an election after civil society organizations aired frustrations with a Parliament that had legitimated the channeling of state resources into the hands of legislators who were allegedly not very prudent in their decision making. Moreover, the election was the first to be conducted after new legislation on political parties’ integrity was passed and implemented, and it offers an opportunity to assess the impacts and effectiveness of that legislation. The election also offers the chance to comment on political stability and gender equality ideals in the country. Finally, the review should enable us to assess what the future holds for the newly elected Democratic Coalition for Change (dcc) Government.
I highlighted in the conclusion to the 2013 Solomon Islands review that there was anxiety and uncertainty over what 2014 had in store for the country (Nanau 2014). Certain events made 2014 seem like business as usual. Throughout the year, tertiary students from regional universities and local institutions continued to suffer from delayed allowances and stipends. At the University of the South Pacific and other Fiji-based tertiary institutions, students continued to be distressed by serious delays in their monthly stipends throughout the year (ssn 2014e). The same can be said for those studying in Papua New Guinea’s tertiary institutions as well as in the country’s own local university, the Solomon Islands National University (ssn 2014d). These students’ concerns highlight the fact that the government failed to work within budgetary provisions earmarked for [End Page 528] tertiary training. Part of the explanation may be attributed to political interference by members of Parliament and public officers in the selection and awarding of scholarships. It was recently reported that two officers of the National Training Unit (ntu) were suspended for giving awards to a group of students outside of the National Training Council’s approved list (ssn 2015a).
Another set of practices that seemed to continue in 2014 was that of the looting and burning of businesses and private properties. In the aftermath of the devastating flash floods that struck Honiara and parts of north Guadalcanal in April 2014, 21 people died and 30 went unaccounted for; about 52,000 people were displaced and moved to shelters (Business Advantage PNG 2014; ssn 2014b). They were the first-ever flash floods that destroyed homes, businesses, and buildings along the Mataniko River. In response to this, humanitarian support came in both locally and internationally. The various embassies and international organizations such as the Australian and New Zealand governments, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Red Cross International, and Solomon Islands communities residing abroad, especially student communities, responded in cash and kind. The Asian Development Bank (adb), for instance, gave us$200,000 toward the relief effort (ssn 2014b). Locally, church organizations, the Forum Solomon Islands International, the National Disaster Council, and individual families contributed to alleviate the hardships faced by citizens who lost their homes and/or members of their families. A controversial si$15 million was distributed to members of Parliament to assist their constituents, despite the fact that only parts of the country were devastated and in dire need of rehabilitation (One Solomon Islands dollar [si$] was equivalent to approximately us$.13 in 2014.). A Solomon Islander academic, Dr Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, noted that “the Cabinet’s recent approval to release a total of 15 million to the 50 mps is fishy” (sibc Online 2014c).
Difficulties faced in the evacuation centers and the lack of clear messages coming from responsible authorities regarding rehabilitation and resettlement led to uneasiness among the displaced Honiara population. A number of them refused to...