2 August 2020
A round up of recent local news stories
Undoubtedly, when looking at the news stories of the past week or so, and posted on my website www.solomonislandsinfocus.com. the most significant and encouraging news event was the story that the six people that went missing at sea when travelling in an outboard motorised boat from Kala Bay in Santa Cruz Island to the Reef Islands in Temotu Province on 11 July were all found safe and well near Ulawa Islands despite having been adrift for practically 3 weeks.
A search had including Police and Health officials at Lata as well as a New Zealand Defence Force Orion aircraft and a helicopter from Honiara,
The survival of the six passengers should serve to illustrate, once again, that boats of all sizes, should be properly equipped with life saving equipment and fully provisioned before setting out to sea.
The new Japanese New Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Solomon Islands, His Excellency Mr. Morimoto Yasuhiro presented his Letter of Credence to the Governor General His Excellency Sir David Vunagi, GCMG, on the 30th July, 2020.
“H.E Yasuhiro conveyed the cordial greetings of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan and the desire to maintain and promote the friendship and goodwill which happily exist between both nations.
“I am firmly determined to do my best to fulfill my important missions, in such manner as to merit Your Excellency’s esteem and trust.
“I sincerely hope that Your Excellency and the people of Solomon Islands will extend generous understanding and kind cooperation to me in the performance of my duty,” he remarked adding that his appointment will further promote and expand excellent relations with Japan in many fields.
The Governor General, upon accepting the credentials, conveyed to His Excellency, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the good people of Japan, his best wishes for good health in the COVID-19 era and the warm greetings from the Government and people of the Solomon Islands.
New Commissioner of Police
The Solomon Islands has appointed a local police commissioner for the first time in 19 years, and he is wished well on his appointment.
Commissioner Mostyn Mangau was sworn-in by the Governor-General Sir David Vunagi, GCMG.
He had been acting in the role since November last year when his predecessor Matthew Varley's tenure ended.
Speaking at his swearing in ceremony Mr. Mangau, who is from Ontong Java in Malaita Province, said he was humbled by the new opportunity to serve Solomon Islanders.
Mr.Mangau said that a regional assistance mission sanctioned by the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders and led by Australia and New Zealand helped restore law and order and start Solomon Islands recovery.
Commonly referred to locally by its acronym RAMSI the mission also helped rebuild the local police force from the ground up starting by laying off most of the officers who played an active role in the conflict.
“With the assistance from Australia and New Zealand as well as the Pacific island countries under the banner of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), the RSIPF has become a more professional police force striving to maintain high integrity and the confidence of the people it has been mandated to serve,”Mangau said.
The new Commissioner, having joined the police in 1996, will well remember the very poor state of the local police service in 1996 and 1997 when the total establishment was less than 700 personnel and a strict moratorium was in place preventing recruitment, when police facilities were in a very bad state of repair and police housing deplorable and inadequate, when policemen and policemen and police women had shabby uniform and no replacements, when salaries were often unpaid and transport and communication wholly inadequate.
Mr Mangau is supported in his role as Commissioner of Police by an army of more than 40 foreign police advisors and guarantees of ongoing policing support by way of training and operational assistance, as required, by Australia that has most recently taken on a more direct regional security role than was the case with a claimed foreign policy failure to aid the Solomon Islands (when appeals were made for help) in 1999, despite a security review having been conducted by Australia at the request of the Solomon Islands Government, in which all the limitations of the police service were apparent, but financial support, and other forms of support were not forthcoming until 2003 and for some 13 years thereafter, under RAMSI.
About 1342 people were tested for COVID-19 and to date, all have tested negative for COVID-19.
“That was according to the Minister for Health and Medical Services Dickson Mua.
The Minister told the parliament when contributing to the debate on the motion to approve the State of Public Emergency (SoPE) moved by the Prime Minister.
“I want to reemphasize that to date there have been no positive COVID-19 cases in the Solomon Islands,” he further added.
“This put the Solomon Islands as one of the very few countries in the world a COVID-19 free country.
“While this is a welcoming news, Minister Mua said the global COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to accelerate.”
Vigilance and border protection
Although the Solomon Islands remains free from Covid-19, the State of Public Emergency (SoPE) has been extended through a Parliament resolution for another four months.
The Prime Minister had spoken about the need for vigilance and had said there was no room for complacency given the coronavirus threat, especially given the recent spike of Covid-19 cases in Papua New Guinea and the vulnerable border areas between the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Radio New Zealand reported that the Bougainville Government was also planning to tighten restrictions to ensure Covid-19 doesn't spread from the Papua New Guinea mainland.
There have now been 63 cases, mostly in Port Moresby, and two deaths with probable Covid-links.For months Bougainville has had tight restrictions on flights and ships coming into the autonomous region, while there had been limits on the movement of people within the area.
In a statement President John Momis said these measures were to be "further strengthened with enhanced border surveillance" at entry points.
He said to ensure Bougainville remained free of the coronavirus, the Emergency Controller would make announcements shortly to strengthen current measures.
Mr Momis said the region, with the support of its development partners, now had quarantine and isolation quarters, along with triage facilities.”
To further enhance border surveillance and protection of the vulnerable sea borders with the Solomon Islands, the Australian Government will be donating two more speed boats to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force next month.
With the additional craft, the police will be able to tighten border patrols along the maritime border with Papua New Guinea.
Meantime, Solomon Airlines has today confirmed the airline will extend its suspension of scheduled international passenger flying from 31 August as previously advised, until 24 October, 2020.
Brett Gebers, CEO of Solomon Airlines said the airline would continue to follow the guidance of the Solomon Islands Government regarding operational precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in conjunction with continuing border restrictions in international markets
Donation of PPE
“Tongs Corporation donated Protective Personal Equipment’s (PPE’s) to help protect front line workers at the Camp Management Sector who are taking care of returnees in the Quarantine Stations.
“Tongs delivered a total of 3000 3-ply facemasks and 4000 hand sanitisers at National Disaster Management Office, Ranadi.
“The timely donation also marks the first private company to directly donate and provide free of charge storage facility towards the Camp Management Sector of the National Disaster Council COVID-19 response coordination mechanism.
“Tongs Executive Director, Kenny Tong, said that the donation shows their support and social obligation to help the Government's COVID-19 response.”
Gardening for added food security
The Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Senley Levi Filualea, has urged people to make gardens as part of food security during this coronavirus pandemic.
“Speaking in Parliament during the motion to extend the State of Public Emergency to four months on Wednesday, Filualea said what this health pandemic is teaching us is to be self-reliant.
“Our heavy reliance on imported food will put our people’s lives at risk of starvation,” Filualea said.
“If this disease continues to create more restrictions in the countries where we source our food there will be short supply of food for our people,” he added.”
A recent report from the Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) highlighted that logging as one of the country’s key export commodities could be affected by this global pandemic.
“It said China is the key destination for the country’s round logs export but the pandemic might cause an 11 percent fall in log output to 2.2million cubic metres.
“CBSI said that foreign exchange from logs could also decline by 9 percent to $2.3billion.
Mr. Kuma said in light of the country’s fiscal position, the outlook is challenging.
“If logging declines faster than expected then there will be a more profound impact on revenue directly via decreased activity in the economy leading to lower revenue collections across many revenue sources,” the Finance Minister said.”
“Logging is still one of the country’s key export commodities but its contribution is expected to decline soon as log exports move to more sustainable levels.
“Minister of Finance and Treasury Harry Kuma made this statement when speaking in parliament on Tuesday.
“Mr. Kuma said logging activities were severely affected by COVID-19 trade disruption in April.
“However, he said in recent months, the log volumes have recovered.
“While performing strong, there continues to be heightening uncertainty about impacts on trade for the second half of 2020.
“The total volume of log export for 2020 is expected to be contained to around 1.95 million cubic meters,” he added.
“A recent report from the Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) highlighted that logging as one of the country’s key export commodities could be affected by this global pandemic.
An ADB report says that Solomon Islands public debt is also projected to rise to 15.7% of GDP. 2020.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is highlighting the critical need to support health and social protection systems in the Pacific region, according to the latest issue of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Pacific Economic Monitor (PEM) launched today.
“While much of the Pacific remains free from COVID-19, the recent rise of cases in Papua New Guinea (PNG) shows that building capacity and strengthening health systems are integral parts of COVID-19 preparedness,” said ADB Director General for the Pacific Leah Gutierrez.
The latest issue of the PEM, the flagship economic publication of ADB’s Pacific Department, highlights country issues and explores policy themes centered on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On average, the economies of ADB’s 14 Pacific developing members are forecast to contract by 4.3% in 2020 as COVID-19 impacts tourism and trade. The projected growth rate in 2021 of 1.6% will rely on the reopening of international borders and the subsequent resumption of tourism, labor, and trade activity.
The ADB forecasts that the economy of Solomon Islands will contract by 6% in 2020. This is a result of higher government spending combined with lower revenues, particularly from log export duties.
The ADB report says that Solomon Islands public debt is also projected to rise to 15.7% of GDP in 2020.
The PEM says COVID-19 has had a far greater impact on the economy than on the health sector. ADB’s latest assessments suggest the effects of lockdowns and travel bans have been particularly severe on the region’s tourism-dependent economies, with some facing double-digit declines in gross domestic product in 2020.
The PEM provides updates on the potential short-term impacts of COVID-19 on poverty levels in the Pacific. Although decisive actions have largely prevented the virus from entering their countries, the Pacific’s priority now is to kickstart economic activity and ensure protection for the poor and vulnerable. Ongoing economic stimulus packages are a step in the right direction, but sound and timely execution of these plans will be key to the recovery, according to the report.
The PEM’s policy briefs examine the broader implications of the COVID-19 crisis on other critical issues including food security, waste management, and disaster response. It also examines the virus’ potential long-term effects on Pacific health systems and the pandemic’s poverty impacts, in which the number of those living in extreme poverty in the region could increase by more than 1 million—a 40% jump relative to pre-COVID-19 levels. There is also a brief examining how PNG is pursuing fiscal reforms amid the economic downturn.
The PEM is a bi-annual review of economic developments and policy issues in ADB’s 14 developing member countries in the Pacific and includes policy briefs on key policy issues and interests. In combination with the Asian Development Outlook series, ADB provides quarterly reports on economic trends and policy developments in the Pacific. The PEM welcomes contributions of policy briefs from external authors and institutions.
The ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.
Policing news – with drug finds
“Swabs collected from items seized from inside Mo Chuisle – the yacht that illegally entered Solomon Islands last month- have tested positive for a drug called amphetamine.
“Police Commissioner Mostyn Mangau revealed this on Thursday during the police weekly media conference at the Rove Police headquarters.
“Mr Mangau said a chemical liquid found in a plastic bag inside the yacht’s cabin was tested positive for amphetamine.
“Amphetamines are highly addictive drugs that stimulate the central nervous system.
“Mr Mangau said police also found parcels during their search inside Mo Chuisle which were linked to parcels and drugs found on another yacht that was recently arrested by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Australia.
“The investigation comprised of Australian police in collaboration with agencies from the United Kingdom (UK) and New Caledonia.”
Police in Papua New Guinea have seized $US58-million worth of cocaine they believe was destined for Australia.
“PNG police commissioner David Manning addressed media last night saying the 750 kilograms of cocaine were to be transported aboard a plane which crashed at Papalealea outside Port Moresby on Sunday.
“The Australian pilot of the Cessna 402C light aircraft had been arrested and charged with illegally entering the country.
“Police had said he was helping with their enquiries and the 28 cartons of drugs were located after his arrest.
“It is the largest drugs haul by value in PNG history.
“Commissioner Manning told EMTV both PNG and Australian police are continuing to work on leads to track down the source of the drugs and local accomplices in both countries.
“Manning said the bust is part of a two-year long investigation between the two forces and was a serious disruption to organised transnational crime.”
Botanic Garden and the need for added surveillance and police patrols.
Two young men have been charged and remanded in custody following the death of a man at the Botanical Garden hilltop, West Honiara last Saturday.
“The two young men were brought to the Honiara Magistrates’ Court where a remand application was made for them.
“Deputy Chief Magistrate Ricky Iomea granted the remand application and had them remanded in custody.
The arrest of the two students serves to illustrate the need for better surveillance of happenings at the Botanical Garden and for regular police patrols.
Land issues of concern
The National Government is conscious of the issue of land and encroachment of settlers into customary land.
“Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare highlighted this during his speech, at the Guadalcanal province 2nd Appointed Day Celebrations today.
“The Prime Minister acknowledged sentiments raised by the Premier of Guadalcanal province, for the Government to live up to its obligations under the now dismantled Townsville Peace Agreement (TPA).
“And that is to establish an inquiry into the lost and abandoned customary land to determine how their occupants occupied them in the first place.
“This is an issue which is not taken up in any land policy by all governments since the former TPA was dismantled and its relevant requirements and issues distributed to line ministries to implement,” he said.
“Prime Minister Sogavare said this is an area the National Government and the Guadalcanal provincial government need to work together to address.
The Prime Minister added that the Government was also equally concerned about the sale of alienated land on Guadalcanal by foreign investors.
Sources: Solomon Star News, Island Sun, Solomon Times Online and Radio New Zealand (with added commentary).