SOLOMON ISLANDS: Leaked email exposes RAMSI's neocolonialism
On May 4, by 28 to 22 votes, the Solomon Islands parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as the country's prime minister. The Solomon Islands is a South Pacific archipelago-nation of 552,000 people — 80,000 of whom, mostly young men, are unemployed or underemployed, while most of the rest of the population eke out a subsistence living from garden agriculture. Only 9% of the adult population has formal employment.
Sogavare, a former civil servant who served as PM from June 2000 to December 2001, had originally aligned himself with opposition MPs after voters in the April 5 general election reduced the government coalition headed by PM Sir Allan Kemakeza and deputy PM Snyder Rini from 33 to 17 MPs.
Sogavare deserted the opposition after failing to be chosen as its candidate for PM. He "then attempted, allegedly with the financial backing of a local logging interest, to build a following of his own with the support of MPs from the [Solomons' main] island of Guadalcanal", the April 29 Australian reported.
"After failing on the floor of parliament to garner more than 10 supporters other than himself, Sogavare, ever the pragmatist, quickly switched his support to Rini in the second round of voting, later accepting the lucrative commerce and trade portfolio as his reward.
"But less than four days later Sogavare, the son of a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor, appeared to have a trip on the road to Damascus. Declaring that the 'people wanted change', he returned to the opposition but only with the guarantee he would be its candidate for any vacancy in the prime ministership. The opposition was then two members down due to their arrests over last week's riots and welcomed him with open arms. Sogavare had switched sides for the third time in almost as many days, in effect guaranteeing Rini's ousting when parliament sat the following day."
The election of Rini as PM by 27 of the 50 members of the Solomons parliament on April 18 sparked protests by opposition supporters in the capital Honiara that led to the looting and burning of most businesses in its Chinatown district.
Rini is the parliamentary leader of the Association of Independent Members of Parliament, whose president is naturalised Chinese business tycoon Sir Thomas Chan. Rini's opponents accuse him of using money provided by Chan and other wealthy ethnic Chinese businesspeople to buy the votes of a majority of MPs in the April 18 election.
Within 24 hours of the rioting, Australia dispatched several hundred heavily armed troops to protect Rini and his big-business allies from the wrath of Honiara's impoverished Melanesian residents.
Since July 2003, the Solomons police, prison system, judiciary and key government departments have been run by 120 civilian "advisers" and 280 police from the Australian-dominated Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
The April 30 Sydney Morning Herald reported that an "Australian official has been sent home from the Solomon Islands after writing a private email suggesting Australia tried to influence the choice of prime minister before riots broke out in the capital Honiara".
The official, since identified as Mick Shannon, had written in an April 17 email to a colleague in Australia: "I was speaking to [Australian high commissioner] Patrick Cole this morning (after I had soundly thrashed him in the Rotary fun run) and he is equally pessimistic as, he noted, are business interests here.
"Cole said he had talked to Tommy and [his son] Laurie Chan as to why Rini had been selected given that they had given him assurances that he wouldn't be." Shannon added: "Looks like Tommy Chan's main business interest is in getting a second casino licence and he can no doubt depend on Rini for that."
The Chans are closely associated with Patrick Leong, another naturalised Chinese business tycoon, who owns the US$20 million Pacific Casino Hotel, located three kilometres from Chinatown. It was also looted and torched during the riots.
In his April 17 email, Shannon wrote: "Of the candidates, the depressing choice will be between Rini (most likely) and Sogavare (social credit — anti-banks) but either way things do not look good for the future of RAMSI or the future good governance of [the Solomon Islands]."
The May 3 Solomon Star reported that following the April 5 general election, RAMSI had favoured the selection of either Laurie Chan, who had served as Kemakeza's foreign minister, or Milner Tozaka, who had been Kemakeza's ambassador to Australia, as the government coalition's candidate for PM.
Shannon's email also said Rini would never allow Peter Boyers, Kemakeza's finance minister, to keep his portfolio and that this would mean "we will end up with no effective voice in cabinet to guide economic and fiscal policy".
The results of the RAMSI-"guided" economic and fiscal policies were summed up by Anglican Bishop Terry Brown in an article in the January 18 Solomon Star as "increasing poverty and unemployment, high school fees, a downward-spiralling economy, higher inflation and lower incomes, declining medical services, ongoing corruption in government ministries, lack of planning and implementation of how Solomon Islanders will competently run all parts of their own government, crumbling infrastructure, millions and millions of RAMSI funds spent on Australians with the money going back to Australia with minimum cash benefit for Solomon Islanders, continued centralizing of everything in Honiara, etc."
From Green Left Weekly, May 10, 2006.
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