By Roderick Brazier, Australia’s High Commissioner to Solomon Islands
After five years of ethnic tensions, and a coup in 2000, the problems facing Solomon Islands were many and serious. Law and order had broken down, officials and private citizens were subject to intimidation and violence, and corruption was unfettered. The Government and its institutions had ceased to function effectively. Corruption was widespread. Public finances were in ruin and many of the most basic services such as health and education were not being delivered to the people.
The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was formed to help lay the foundations for long-term stability and prosperity in Solomon Islands.
When disaster strikes, the world’s focus can lock into a region for a short period and then as quickly as it trended on the world’s headlines it is forgotten. This can lead to the risk that donors will fatigue or the political will is insufficient to stay the course until the job is done.
This was not the case of Solomon Islands.
Our region, under the auspices of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), has worked together through good times and bad for 14 years to ensure that the job that was started in July 2003 was finished.
So what did RAMSI achieve?
On a recent visit to the Weathercoast, one of the most affected areas, I was told about the commitment Nick Warner, RAMSI’s first Special Coordinator, made to the people of Solomon Islands. He said to the terrorised villagers of the Weathercoast that RAMSI would leave behind a transparent, disciplined and professional Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF). It gives me great pleasure to say that this has been achieved.
Solomon Islanders should be proud to say that their Police service is one of the best in the Pacific. It is providing training to other countries in the region and it is sending its officers to support United Nations Peacekeeping deployments. After 14 years the RSIPF has turned itself around and is now contributing back to the region and the international community that helped it in its time of need.
Australia will continue to support this impressive story through the ongoing deployment of over 40 Australian Federal Police who will continue to mentor and support the RSIPF to ensure its positive path continues.
What occurred in Solomon Islands is certainly one of the saddest periods in our region’s history. People are still affected – still scarred – from these events. It will take a long time to rebuild trust in Solomon Islands institutions and in each other but Australia will be here to support every step of the way.
Australia will never shirk from its responsibilities in the Pacific, and the departure of RAMSI is certainly not the departure of Australia. We are here to stay and we will continue to support this country’s positive trajectory. Our aid program is close to one billion Solomon dollars a year to provide support for economic growth, infrastructure and essential services. Last year we announced the replacement of Solomon Islands’ patrol boats ‘Auki’ and ‘Lata’. We are also close to finalising a security treaty that will permit Australia to support the Solomon Islands in an emergency.
As Solomon Islands says thank you to RAMSI, I feel a big tagiu tumas is also needed for all of the Solomon Islanders who welcomed RAMSI. Several thousand servicemen and women from across the Pacific have fond memories of their time on these islands – many I’m sure are watching this week’s celebrations with warm hearts and enduring interest.
Roderick Brazier: Before his appointment in December 2016, Mr Brazier was Deputy Director-General of the Office of National Assessments, a position he held since 2014. In Canberra he has served as First Assistant Secretary, East Asia Division (DFAT); Assistant Director General, Indonesia and East Timor Branch, AusAID; and Senior Adviser, International Division, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. He previously spent 13 years working for The Asia Foundation in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, and for the private sector in Jakarta.