- Solomon Islands
The year 2017 has been one of intense political maneuvering in Solomon Islands, which had impacts on the functionality of the state apparatus. This started with media reports early in the year, revealing that the country was experiencing cash flow problems due to financial mismanagement (Aatai 2017a). It was alleged by former Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo that the government's reserve had been reduced within two years from si$1.5 billion to si$150 million (si$100 = us$12.63). As a result, the government had to borrow to pay its bills and settle other financial commitments (sibc 2017b). Minister of Finance Snyder Rini assured the general public that government finances were stable and under control. This was contrary to the government's actual financial performance throughout the year because the government continued to delay the payment of bills and meeting its financial commitments. For example, the Solomon Islands Government (sig)–sponsored students studying inside the country at Solomon Islands National University and at regional tertiary institutions such as the University of the South Pacific continued to experience delays in the payment of their allowances (sfb 2017c; Abana 2017). The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (sibc), the country's national broadcaster, took drastic measures to ensure that it continued to operate, despite the government's cash flow problem (Runa 2017).
Apart from the country's financial situation, the decisions of the Democratic Coalition for Change Government (dccg) on a number of political issues were questionable. One of the government's decisions was to purchase a fixed-term estate title held by Levers Solomon Limited and acquire 20 percent shares in Russell Islands Plantation Estate Limited. The decision [End Page 531] to purchase the land was for the establishment of a bomb disposal training facility, a World War II memorial park, and a sporting facility. The agreement to settle the land purchase, signed in Brisbane between government officers and a Levers Solomon Limited representative, was questionable because there was no justification as to why the government opted for an outright purchase of the land while under law it could reassume possession of the land for a public purpose (see section 142a, Land and Titles [Amendment] Act 2016). There was also no evidence of any due diligence checks being undertaken before the government signed the agreement to acquire the land and the 20 percent shares (SS 2017a).
Another issue was the undersea fiber optic cable project to provide faster and cheaper Internet connectivity (Kafo 2017). Initially, the Asian Development Bank approved a loan for the project but later withdrew it because of bidding irregularities (Solomon Times Online 2017b). However, in 2016, through the Ministry of Finance, the dccg created a private company, the Solomon Islands Submarine Cable Company (siscc), to implement the project. In January 2017, it announced that Huawei Marine would be contracted to carry out the fiber optic cable project work (Solomon Times Online 2017a). Huawei Marine signed a contract with siscc in July to do the project. Australia raised security concerns that Huawei might have links to the Chinese government and would not allow the company to run the cable from Sydney to Honiara (abc News 2017). The dccg's reaction was to consider an alternative strategy. There was also an allegation that Huawei had given monetary political donations to the prime minister and his senior ministers, but this was denied by the prime minister (sfb 2017b). Despite such denial, it was apparent that Minister of Finance Snyder Rini played a key role in shaping the commercial arrangement. The creation of siscc as a commercial arm of government could be subject to political manipulation since its establishment was through the Ministry of Finance.
An important event in 2017 was the exit of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (ramsi) on 30 June. The purpose of the ramsi intervention had been restoring law and order as well as state rebuilding through the strengthening of government machinery. As pointed out by the ramsi coordinator, Quinton Devlin, ramsi's purpose was not about creating a perfect state but rather restoring stability and assisting "in establishing institutions that the Solomon Islands can continue to develop...