|The Courier N° 184 - Jan - Feb 2001 - Dossier: Press and Democracy - Country Reports: St Kitts and Nevis (EC Courier, 2001, 96 p.)|
|Face to face with....|
The road to peace
A coalition government took power in Solomon Islands in July 2000. Its top priority, says Minister Michael Maina, during a visit to the EU in Brussels, is to bring back law and order, and normality. Without peace there cannot be any development.
A positive note is that a Peace Agreement - the Townsville Peace Agreement - was signed on 15 October. Peace talks began in early September aboard the New Zealand frigate, Te Kaha.
The Agreement is wide-ranging, including an amnesty arrangement, a commitment to surrender arms, compensation arrangements for those who suffered during the tensions, and a restructuring of the police force.
When the new government took office back in July, it established a Ministry of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace. To underline the importance of its task, the Deputy Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza was put in charge of it. The two rival factions, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) were fully consulted, and came to agree with the new government that there must be a road to peace.
The first stop on this road to peace was the signing of a ceasefire agreement, followed by initial peace talks between the government and the two militant groups.
The purpose of the initial discussions on the peace process was to agree on common issues, and for the government to inform the two warring parties of its position and how it wants to deal with the issues. This paved the way for the peace talks proper, where the three parties fully discussed all the sensitive issues such as land, movement of people, the constitution of the country, and how it should be tailored to address these issues.
No peacekeeping force was sent to the country, despite requests by the previous Government.
The last executive government requested a Peacekeeping Force from Australia and New Zealand, but there was no positive response. During the ceasefire, a Ceasefire Monitoring Council was set up. Church groups, especially the Melanesian Brothers, played a key role in monitoring the ceasefire and patrolled the borders of the warring zones. Under the Townsville Agreement, unarmed peace monitors are expected from Australia, New Zealand, and Tonga.
The restructuring of the police force was one of the issues put forward by the Guadalcanal province. They, along with the IFM, felt that the police force was dominated by the Malaita police and people, and therefore they wished to see it restructured.
It is a big issue in the country, and it is our hope that we can resolve it. We do not know what the police force will look like at the end of the day. But we do hope that police officers will be drawn from all ethnic groupings in society, so that at least it will be a police force that we can trust. We do not want mistrust of our police officers. Although one ethnic group is already saying this, we still believe that the police force of our country is a force that you can trust.
The Townsville Agreement foresees a reintegration of the militant police officers into the regular police force, and a restructuring of the force to have a more balanced representation.
The economy has been shattered by the crisis, during which investment and foreign exchange earnings ground to a halt. Government revenue is now 20% below budget. External financial assistance is crucial if the country is to get back on its feet and keep tension from boiling over again. What can be done to restore the confidence needed for businesses to rebuild the economy?
The priority must be peace. We believe that when you bring normality back to the community, the rest will follow. The government has decided to cut down its expenditure, for example, to reduce the size of the public service. The ongoing cost of the government is being assessed, so that it can keep functioning with minimal number of staff. When normality returns, tax-paying businesses will return. Then we will be able to employ more public officers.
We must take advice on preserving our resources. We can't overexploit just because of the current situation. We have a role to play to survive.
One of the government's policies in restoring peace was paying compensation to those who had suffered loss or displacement during the conflict. Compensation is a traditional concept, usually used to solve small-scale, neighbourly disputes. It involves a lot of cost for the government, but we have seen the situation. Australia and New Zealand criticised us to the point where they said they could not give any help. But the achievements we have made are because of the large payouts to the people. It is viable, and the money involved comes back to create economic activity and development within the society. The money is not wasted as far as we are concerned. It is still held within the central bank, within the system. It must have its limits, but where nothing else worked, I think it has had an important role.
Avoiding desperate measures
In the past, Solomon Islands forestry resources were dangerously over-exploited. Nowadays, international partners stress the importance of protecting these resources, and often make assistance conditional on this. Now that the country is in such a vulnerable position, being strapped for cash and needing to keep unrest and ethnic tension at bay, there was an obvious temptation to use these resources as a ready source of income.
Our international partners will help us to survive. None of us in the government today can refuse their strict rules. We would be fools not to listen to their sentiments about exploiting our resources to ensure the survival of future generations. It is important that we take advice on preserving our resources. We can't overexploit just because of the current situation. We will continue to abide by instructions. We have a role to play to survive. Our responsibility is to society, and also to our friends outside.
The international community will wholeheartedly support this approach.