Nov 13, 2018 Last Updated 7:59 PM, Nov 12, 2018

THE Solomon Islands celebrated 40 years of independence this month.

Despite four decades of tumultuous and often debilitating national events the Happy Isles remain positive that the best times are yet to be seen and positive changes to the economy are on the horizon.

Producer of leaders and luminaries

In order to overcome its unfortunate past, the Solomon Islands will need to draw on the wealth of wisdom and knowledge that exists in its remarkably well-educated society.

Through its history as a British protectorate and later as an independent nation, the country has ensured that potential leaders received the best education possible at home and abroad.

This investment has paid off for the Pacific which has benefitted from the work of such Solomon Islands luminaries as Dr Jimmie Rodgers – anaesthetist and former Director-General of the then South Pacific Commission.

Dr Rodgers’ term at the SPC was a period of rapid reform in regional institutions. He led the organisation through what is now recognised as the single largest reform process of a regional organisation in the Pacific.

In doing so he set the platform for the long-term viability of the region’s leading technical agency.

More recently, Hawaii-based scholar Dr Tarcisius Kabutaulaka has assumed the role of his country’s leading academic and regional voice on conflict.

He is the Director of the Centre of Pacific Island Studies at the Univeristy of Hawaii and has written extensively on governance, natural resources development, conflicts, post-conflict development, international intervention, peace-making, Australian foreign policies, and political developments in Melanesia in general, and Solomon Islands in particular.

Any discussions of Solomon Islands leaders would be incomplete without mention of Dr Transform Aqorau, former CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and instrumental in the protection of fishing stocks for Pacific people.

His no-nonsense stance at international meetings ensured a fair price for tuna sold by the region’s major producers and gained reluctant respect from the representatives of Distant Water Fishing Nations.

While these men may not stand for elections, they show the calibre of leaders produced by the country.

One person who will stand for elections is former Foreign Affairs Secretary, Peter Kenilorea Junior, son of the country’s founding Prime Minister.

Kenilorea Junior has worked at the United Nations for 18 years working in the areas of good governance and the eradication of corruption, financial abuse and mismanagement.

These are some of the biggest challenges which face the Solomon Islands today.

In 2000 the people of the Solomon Islands went through perhaps their darkest hour so far when the country descended into communal violence.

Brighter future is ahead

Ethnic war started due to the huge rural to urban drift and absence of a credible land tenure system and housing. Families were displaced, people were killed, law and order descended into chaos and the economy hit a brick wall.

Six years later frustrations overflowed again with attacks on the Chinese community.

With the intervention of its neighbours through the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, order was gradually restored and governance structures rebuilt.

Today the country stands on the cusp of a brighter future supported by a growing private sector.

Although small compared to other regional countries and internationally, the private sector is still the mainstay of the economy because it is where jobs are created and it is where goods and services are being marketed.

Dennis Meone of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned, however, that while potential exists, the correct priorities must first be put in place.

He pointed to the need for continuing policy dialogue between government and private sector and a collective vision for the national economy spanning 20 to 40 years.

If the private sector and government can cooperate, investments should go ahead with the benefits spreading to even the most remote communities.

Tourism is one of the largely untapped industries in the Solomon Islands but its visitors bureau has launched a huge global campaign to attract tourists.

The public and private sector will need to collaborate to build more rooms, provide transport and grow food which can supply the hotels and feed visitors.

If the Solomon Islands can reduce the cost of holidays, tourists will visit.

Finally there is the issue of extractive industry and the devastation it can wreak on the environment. This is another area in which the government and private sector must collaborate closely for the benefit of the nation.

If the people of the Solomon Islands can set their priorities and work together their journey to happiness and prosperity will be assured of an excellent outcome

Former banker promises cuts in government spending

Two months in the hottest seat of Solomon Islands politics, Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela is already geared up to steering his country to a new direction with the passing of his government’s 2018 National Budget as his foremost priority. Focused on his new calling, the former central banker has listed a few priorities that he needed to address urgently in this new year.

Topping the list is the passing of the 2018 National Budget, which he hopes to do in next month’s sitting of parliament. As the head of government, PM Houenipwela’s other priorities for this year include stablising his country’s political and fiscal situations as well as implementing the government’s selected priority infrastructure projects. Expect the 2018 budget to be lower than those of the previous years, he promised.

“This budget will be realistic, we will only spend what we earn.” Also a priority is a new anti corruption bill, which his new government is determined to bring to the floor of parliament as soon as it is cleared by the bills and legislation committee through its public hearings.

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Solomon Islands now boasts two branches

SIX months after successfully expanding its business to Solomon Islands, the European bank-BRED Bank- will open a second branch in Honiara by the end of the year and a third branch in the provinces in the next 24 months. BRED Bank CEO in Solomon Islands, Owen Thomson, told Islands Business they would now focused on improving the quality of their services by implementing mobile banking through Mobile Application and USSD – banking through text messaging “This is very important for us to deliver banking service to everyone as most of the population live in remote rural areas with no banking access,” Owen said.

He said they would work with NGOs and government agencies to promote saving groups and financial knowledge for the people in Solomons. With the successful establishment of operations throughout the Pacific (Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia and French Polynesia), the BRED Group began operation in Solomon Islands in August last year with one staff member. By opening day, it has installed eight ATMs and opened over 830 accounts.

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Battle for power

Australian, Japanese firms fight over deposits

THIS year marks the 70th year of the end of the war in the Solomons. Yet the battle over natural resources in these islands ended in the courts just months ago and there were no winners.

In fact the biggest loser has been the Solomon Islands in terms of lost opportunities for investment and job creation. The Australian media has tried to portray this as an epic David versus Goliath battle. In this case a small Australian mining company has been stripped of its rights to one of the Pacific’s biggest greenfield nickel laterite deposits, after a decision by the Solomon Islands Court of Appeal.

ASX-listed Axiom Mining has battled long and hard with the Japanese giant, Sumitomo Metal Mining (SMM) Solomon Islands Limited for control of the deposit in Isabel Province. Three overseas judges of the Solomon Islands Court of Appeal quashed ministerial approval of Axiom’s prospecting licences, finding that the transfer of land registration to Axiom’s landowner partners had not been completed properly and so was invalid.

“It is a setback, but it is not a major or material setback from our point of view,” said Axiom Mining’s chief executive officer Ryan Mount. ‘Most important case’ on land since independence.”

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Solomon Islands after RAMSI

ON June 30 the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) came to an end. Established in July, 2003, RAMSI has been a feature of life in Solomon Islands for more than a third of its history as an independent country. While much of what follows is anecdotal, recent visits to Honiara have provided some insight into the mood among Solomon Islanders as the end of RAMSI approaches.

The operation has been in a gradual wind-down since 2013 and is now much less visible that it was in earlier years. Even so, RAMSI still looms large in the minds of Solomon Islanders. RAMSI will be leaving Solomon Islands in an atmosphere of general goodwill.

The Solomon Islands government is planning a series of events to mark the end of RAMSI in late June. These will be the occasion for sincere and heartfelt expressions of gratitude for RAMSI’s role in restoring the rule of law and the functioning of government in Solomon Islands. Much stress will—rightly—be placed on the regional nature of RAMSI’s composition.

Although RAMSI couldn’t have been mounted or sustained without Australian funding and personnel, it was the participation of all of Solomon Islands’ Pacific neighbours in RAMSI that gave it its particular character, and lent it genuine legitimacy in the eyes of Solomon Islanders.

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