A nostalgic look back at 1998 in the Solomon Islands
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Marcus Garvey
The Solomon Islands will hold a national General Election on 3 April this year and it has been gratifying from a personal point of view to have read of the superior numbers of police officers, transport and communications equipment being available to meet the challenge posed by holding the election in the vast stretches of the country where transportation, communications and physical security measures will be needed.
I cast my mind back to the General Election in August 1997 when police numbers were very thin on the ground, police vehicles virtually non-existent and communication equipment lacking.
Despite the limitations posed by the lack of police personnel, resources and equipment the election went off smoothly and returned a coalition government led by Bartholomew Ulufa’alu.
The successful election operation performed by the police, against the odds, prompted the Republic of China government (ROC) to make available to the police several land rovers, motor cycles and a bus, a much appreciated and generous donation totaling some $3.5 dollars.
The transport fleet came at a convenient time for 1998 proved to be both a successful and eventful year for the country and for the police service.
In July of 1998 the Solomon Islands hosted the very first Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival in Honiara with 1,500 participants taking part.
Hundreds of artists and performers from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and the Solomon Islands paraded into the festival village in Honiara for the opening ceremony.
The celebration of traditional Melanesian culture passed uneventfully and had an underlying theme over concern at how quickly traditional cultures were dying out in some parts of the world.
At the time, the then Solomon Islands Cultural Affairs Minister Leslie Boseto said Melanesian governments should take every possible step to ensure their indigenous cultures survive into the next millennium and beyond.
The festival culminated a day before the Queen’s Birthday celebration and parade took place at the Lawson Tama Stadium when a full contingent of police women paraded for the very first time.
During the reception at Government House, following the Lawson Tama events, I had the pleasure of the company of Brigadier General US Marine Corps (ret) Jay W Hubbard and, at his request, introduced him to the representative of the Government of Japan.
The ROC’s Prime Minister and his entourage visited Honiara the same year and held talks with the Solomon Islands government.
Mid-year, there was also the event which marked the 60 Anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal when many, surviving, US Marines and other important signatories visited Honiara and participated in official ceremonies held to commemorate the epic war time battle and the first landing of US Marines in
One notable ex-US Marine was Wilbur Bewley (now sadly deceased) who visited police headquarters and who delighted in witnessing the members of the police service perform a “Beating the Retreat’ ceremony at Rove.
Wilbur posed with me alongside the large displayed painting of Sir Jacob Vouza, GM, MBE, CPM (G), CPM that I had displayed in the reception area at police headquarters.
During the 60th Anniversary celebrations the then Hon, David Vouza the son of Sir Jacob attended a short wreath laying service at the site of Sir Jacob Vouza’s statue alongside the entrance to the Rove Police headquarters.
Wreaths were laid on the same occasion by the visiting United States Ambassador to the Solomon Islands and by the US Defence Attaché accredited to the Solomon Islands, but based at the US Embassy in Canberra.
In November, a Remembrance Service was held at the Cenotaph adjacent to Honiara Police Station and to which in addition to the Australian High Commissioner, James Batley, being present, there was the representative of the European Union and, at my request, the resident representative of the Government of Japan.
His Excellency the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the British and New Zealand High Commissioners attended the ceremony.
In October there was a meeting held in Honiara under the auspices of the SPCPC Committee on a Common Approach to Weapons Control. This meeting facilitated the visit of the police commissioners from Fiji, Vanuatu and the representative of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, Gary Baki (now the RPNG Police Commissioner and decorated with a CBE).
From a police perspective there occurred substantial changes in the service, including the initiation of community policing, a re-building programme (funded by the ROC government) to re-build or renovate police accommodation in the Rove Police Camp, the establishment of a rapid response team to deal with incidents effectively and with the use of minimum force, the re-furbishment of police headquarters, the introduction of Force Orders, routine orders, a Purpose and Direction document (with a Mission Statement and Code of Conduct ) and the introduction of new uniforms to the senior officers of the Force befitting their responsibilities and supervisory roles.
The newly built White River Police Post was opened in a ceremony attended by the High Commissioners of New Zealand, the United Kingdom and by several government and local officials.
The police post had been re-built from scratch with funds donated by the New Zealand and British High Commissions with labour undertaken by the police maintenance team led by Inspector P Matoko, BEM.
In addition, several officers attended community policing courses in Singapore and Japan (courtesy of the Singapore Police Commissioner), other courses in Hawaii, Australia and in New Zealand.
A detachment of Military Police officers was seconded to the force to help personnel with report writing, use of communications, first aid and investigation work generally.
Additionally, a full course of instruction was conducted on aspects of humanitarian law for the members of the NRSF who regularly were deployed on border control duties.
A busy and progressive year (1998) indeed and a pity that the RSIPF website records only the briefest paragraph of the history of the Police Force with no mention of the early years or details of the distinguished service of Sir Jacob Vouza or Sir Fred Soaki or indeed notable events such as the visit of HM the Queen in 1974 and that of the Duke of Cambridge and Duchess of Cambridge.
Perhaps, in fairness, the site might still be under-construction.
Quoting the RSIPF website :
“HISTORY OF RSIPF
1906 - Resident Magistrates
The Protectorate government begins focus on the Western Solomon, and establishes government bases, at Gizo in 1899 and in the Shortland Islands in 1906. Each Resident Magistrate had control of their own small police force.”