***Office of the Premier Malaita Province ***
The MARA Malaita Provincial Executive have had another urgent meeting today 30 November 2021 in Auki the capital of Malaita Province.
This is the second time the Executive had met in a week in light of the ongoing issues facing its people especially the recent crisis in Honiara.
The Malaita Province therefore wishes to put out this public statement in the following manner
That the Malaita Provincial Executive:
The return of peacekeeping forces from Australia, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea at the request of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare;
That this return is only a little more than four years after the end of the RAMSI Mission in June 2017;
That RAMSI was also initiated at the request of then Prime Minister Kemakeza in 2000, following the so-called ethnic tensions which ignited in 1998;
That RAMSI was meant to improve economic governance, the rule of law, and the machinery of government and build a better state for Solomon Islands;
That there have been periodic outbreaks of rioting, mass looting, and violence over the years since the arrival of RAMS;
That RAMSI deployment was endorsed by Forum Ministers pursuant to the Biketawa Declaration, which inter alia;
- recognises indigenous rights and cultural values,
- commits the Forum to constructively address difficult and sensitive issues … including underlying causes of tension and conflict …socio-economic disparities, lack of good governance, land disputes…
That Australia’s current deployment of forces has been done in the context of Australia being part of “the Pacific family,” consistent with the Biketawa Declaration “for action to be taken on the basis of all members of the Forum being part of the Pacific Islands extended family.”
- Solomon Islands has experienced recurring unrest due to fundamental constitutional and development issues going unaddressed since before independence.
- That the events of November 24 onwards are not an isolated incident but are symptomatic of these ongoing unaddressed issues.
- These centre on needs for decentralised government, return of alienated lands, indigenous control and benefit from natural resources and a regional balance of economic and development opportunities.
- These issues go right to the beginning of Solomon Islands as a country. And they have been getting worse over the years, not better.
- In 1978, in the Western Province there was a refusal to join Independence with the rest of the country, leading to a standoff and police intervention. Their interest was federal government and the control of their own affairs.
- In 1999, similar issues ignited the tensions on Guadalcanal, with a focus on land rights and again a federal government as the central solution. These tensions resulted in the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement (TPA) which promised to implement solutions to all these issues.
- However, 21 years have passed with zero substantive progress on these issues. Instead, we have had 14 years of RAMSI, which has tried to cover these issues up and move on. But the reality is that Solomon Islands state is a house built on sand, unless the provinces have more autonomy and the issues of land, natural resource control and indigenous benefit are meaningfully addressed.
- From 2019 to 2021, Malaitan attempts to develop its own affairs have been blocked and frustrated by central government, which ultimately resulted in the protests which have spiralled out of control this past week.
- All these episodes have a common source in the unmet needs, desires and will of the people of Solomon Islands, desires which have never been met, even as the powers and institutions of the state have been increased, while the benefit of the state to the ordinary landowners and indigenous people has dwindled.
- Even worse, Solomon Islanders have witnessed even more of their prize lands taken by foreigners, their natural resources stripped for almost nothing, and the granting of jobs, opportunities and riches to corrupt companies who have bought our politicians away.
- The TPA was signed 21 years ago, and none of the main provisions have been implemented at all.
- The most fundamental one is a federal, decentralized government system, which has been the cry of our brothers and sisters in the West since the first day of Independence. This is something of benefit and impact to all of our country.
- The central one for Guadalcanal people concerns return and control of their customary lands and the ability to benefit from these lands.
- The core one for Malaita has been investment in our province to permit us to utilise our human resources and reduce population pressure on other parts of the country.
- All of these measures work together to contribute to a genuine prospect of “Joy Peace, Progress and Prosperity.”
- None of the measures have been advanced in any meaningful way. This is the responsibility of all of us – Central governments as well as Provincial governments. Why Is This? It is because various governments of the day – both provincial and national – always end up focusing on business as usual and putting off the hard work of change.
- The peace-keeping and reconciliation measures in the TPA which focus on security issues, disarmament, ex-militants and the compensation of lives and property, have been partially attempted and somewhat attempted albeit imperfectly.
- RAMSI concentrated on law and justice to implement peacekeeping and disarm militants, as well as economic governance and machinery of government, all of which strengthened the self-same institutions that created the problems and imbalances in the first place.
- The fundamental changes to put Solomon Islands on a secure footing for peace and development, which are in Part Four of the TPA, have not been progressed meaningfully at all.
- In fact these fundamental changes have been side-lined in the attempt to strengthen the central government instead of the provinces, safeguard the exploitation economy via logging and mining and thereby worsen the development imbalances that have been our national problem for so long.
- And the result is an ongoing worsening of economy, an increase in corruption, an increase in youth unemployment, an increase in informal settlements, an increase in unexplained wealth by politicians and a weakening of democracy. All of these are the opposite of what we want as a country, and what RAMSI was sent to do.
For the urgent start of a dialogue process on fundamental issues for Solomon Islands unity and development;
Fellow Provincial Executives and the National Government to engage in the process of forming this dialogue.
The Pacific Islands Forum to engage in facilitating and monitoring such a process under the auspices of the Biketawa Declaration and pursuant to the deployment that Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea are currently undertaking.