Canberra escalates bullying

As part of Canberra's campaign against the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, on September 29 the Australian Federal Police had Solomons attorney-general Julian Moti arrested by Papua New Guinean police at the Port Moresby airport while he was flying back to the Solomons from Singapore. A PNG magistrate released Moti on bail that evening.

As part of Canberra's campaign against the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, on September 29 the Australian Federal Police had Solomons attorney-general Julian Moti arrested by Papua New Guinean police at the Port Moresby airport while he was flying back to the Solomons from Singapore. A PNG magistrate released Moti on bail that evening.

The AFP has sought to have Moti, a Fiji-born former law professor who holds Australian citizenship, extradited from PNG to Australia to again face charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu in 1997 — charges that were dismissed in 1998 by Vanuatu's Court of Appeals.

The October 4 Australian reported that Vanuatu police commissioner Patu Navoko Lui told journalists he was surprised the AFP had reopened the case against Moti after seven years. "We felt the case against him was cleared, finished", he said.

"Australian justice minister Chris Ellison was unable to explain why the AFP had taken more than seven years to launch their investigation into Mr Moti, who lived in Australia for five years after the case was dismissed by the Vanuatu court", the Australian added.

Sogavare immediately responded to the news of Moti's arrest by accusing Canberra of a "serious violation of the sovereignty of Solomon Islands".

Canberra's attempt to put Moti on trial in Australia on charges dismissed in Vanuatu seven years ago came in the wake of threats by Australian PM John Howard to punish Sogavare's government for ordering the expulsion on September 12 of Australian ambassador Patrick Cole.

Cole was ordered to leave because he had been agitating against a government plan proposed by Moti for an independent judicial commission of inquiry into the causes of the April 18 riots in Honiara.

Cole was also accused by government ministers of lobbying MPs to back a parliamentary motion by opposition leader Fred Fono to have Sogavare ousted as PM.

Since July 2003, the Solomons' police have been under the control of the AFP, the country's courts have been staffed by Australian judges and key government departments have been run by Australian "advisers" as part of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

RAMSI's blueprint was set out in a June 2003 document issued by the government-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which described the Solomons as a "failing state" that was "depriving Australia of business and investment opportunities that, though not huge, are potentially valuable". It argued for a RAMSI-type operation to have "a strong focus on stimulating private enterprise" by reducing Solomons' government expenditures on health and education, and by privatising government-owned businesses.

The results of RAMSI 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".

The April 18 riots were provoked by an AFP tear-gas attack on a peaceful gathering outside the Solomons parliament of opponents of newly elected PM Snyder Rini. Rini had been deputy PM in a pro-RAMSI government that had been decisively rejected by voters in the April 5 general elections.

In the days before the April 18 parliamentary vote to elect a new PM, opposition MPs and their supporters accused Rini of buying MPs' votes with money provided by the country's ethnic Chinese business elite headed by Sir Thomas Chan, the president of Rini's party.

The April 30 Sydney Morning Herald reported that Cole had had private discussions with Chan on who Canberra wanted as the Solomons' next PM so as to ensure RAMSI had an "effective voice in cabinet to guide economic and fiscal policy".

Rini was forced to resign on April 27 after it was clear he would lose a pending no-confidence motion. After being elected PM on May 4, Sogavare told journalists he wanted to see a RAMSI "exit strategy".

Cole and his masters in Canberra have publicly opposed the judicial inquiry into the causes of the April riots in order to cover up Canberra's role in the corrupt political machinations that led to Rini's election as PM. Instead, they want to use an AFP-run police investigation to put the blame for the riots on Sogavare and his supporters.

In a September 17 national radio address, Sogavare accused Canberra of using "bullying tactics" to block the independent judicial inquiry into the riots. The AFP's extradition move against Moti represents an escalation of these bullying tactics.