In March 1998, as the then Commissioner of Police in the Solomon Islands, I was invited to address a 40 multi-national gathering of senior military officers at a Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS) in Manila, Philippines, when I outlined what I perceived to be the threats to the internal security situation in the Solomon Islands.
I again referred to the threats when I presented evidence during the Solomon Islands and Australia Mutual Aid talks with Australian Defence officials at the Honiara Mendana Hotel in May 1998. (Interestingly, the same, basic, facts used for the intervention of RAMSI in 2003).
The threats focused on the prevailing social conditions in the Honiara settlements and the need for Government action in addressing its policing obligations.
I also spoke, on both occasions, of the likely threats of future criminal activities including housebreaking and theft, substance abuse, vandalism, unlawful assembly, looting, rioting and even the potential for regional insecurity, given the wide scale urban drift, unemployment and an underprivileged social class.
It is sad to reflect that given all my early warnings, the Solomon Islands suffered the tragic, wasted years of the inter-island ethnic violence and the outcome of the 2006 April riot report merely painted a more depressing picture of the decline in social standards in the Honiara urban settlements with the threat of rioting re-occurring in the future.
At the end of 2003, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force was said to be better equipped and trained to deal with future trouble and I welcomed this, but it came at the expense of years of hostilities which divided a nation, the intervention of RAMSI and a Commission of Inquiry with a predictable outcome.
Once more after 4 or five days of recent rioting, arson, looting, street violence, assaults, intimidation and wanton destruction of property in Chinatown, AFP and Australian Defence (IDF) personnel are back once more in Honiara with orders to restore the fragile peace.
This time around Australian personnel are briefed not to become involved in the SI government affairs but to secure and maintain the peace allowing the Solomon Islands government the opportunity to function in accordance with its democratic principles and laid down Constitutional rights and obligations as a sovereign nation.
The Australians have returned to Honiara in different circumstances after the RAMSI engagement ended and the reason being the Solomon Islands has now full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), having ceased its former diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (on Taiwan).
The current engagement of Australian personnel has come about as a result of a cooperation treaty signed with Australian by the Solomon Islands government on the cessation of the RAMSI assignment.
Not an altogether easy situation for the Australians one will gather, but a situation which the Australian Prime Minister agreed to as, “helping our family.”
Extraction of the Australian deployment could take some weeks but one must hope their security presence will allow the SI national politicians and provincial leaders to get down to holding serious talks about the political differences that has brought about the latest crisis.
It seems to me that any such talks should focus on equal development, equal infrastructure, the transparent and audited use of rural development funds, stopping corruption and early moves to get the Independent Commission Against Corruption up and running, tangible rural projects and how best to reconcile issues that concern diplomatic relations, widely reported in offshore news stories.
Prophetic as my advice was in 1998 how very sad the truth of the words still holds good now 23 years on.