Solomon Islands Politics

The tragic rioting in Honiara earlier this week has focused attention on the political problems of the Solomon Islands. On page 973 of the 8th edition of Moon Handbooks South Pacific I have this to say under the heading "Government":
The 50-member National Parliament elects a prime minister from its ranks, while the cabinet is chosen by the prime minister from among those members of parliament who supported him; opposition members routinely cross the floor after being tempted with ministerial appointments or paid bribes by special interests. Most members of parliament belong to one of several political parties based on personalities rather than issues; others are nominally independent and sell their votes to the highest bidder. There's a 50 percent turnover of members each election as voters try to toss the rascals out, but it isn't long before the new parliamentarians are doing the same things the former members were wont to do.

That's exactly what happened in the Solomon Islands parliament earlier this week. The discredited old guard led by Snyder Rini managed to buy enough opposition votes to have Rini elected prime minister by secret ballot. Former prime Minister Billy Hilly told the Solomon Star that members of his group were offered bribes of between SI$30,000 and SI$50,000 to change sides and vote for Snyder Rini.

As Minister of Finance in a previous administration, Rini was known as "Mr. Money Man". In 2002 he enacted regulations which allowed Asian businessmen to import merchandise into the country duty free, costing the government millions of dollars in waived customs duties. Later Rini served as Deputy Pime Minister in the government of Allan Kemakeza, himself the object of numerous allegations of corruption. Rini's party was headquartered in the Chinese-owned Honiara Hotel, just across the road from the Chinese quarter burned to the ground by protesters earlier this week.

Many of the Chinese in the Solomon Islands have been there for several generations, working their way up the retail trade by hard work and thrift. I believe that a majority of those who lost their shops earlier this week were innocent victims of a popular resentment enflamed by the greed of a handful of rich businessmen and corrupt politicians. Solomon Islanders had hoped for a change with the recent election, and when it turned out to be the same old same old, the frustration of the mob was uncontrollable.

Billy Hilly's group has tabled a motion of non-confidence in Snyder Rini and crew which will be voted upon next week. Whatever the outcome, it seems that Australia and New Zealand are going to have spend a lot of money on peacekeeping and economic assistance to this troubled country. After the manifest failure of the 2003-2006 "Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands" (RAMSI) to stabilize the country, one can only hope they will get it right this time. There can be no more untouchables when it comes to rooting out corruption.

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