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12 November 2009
The Regional Assistant Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), the multilateral intervention force, led by Australia has lost its way and needs a good external evaluation, Bishop Terry Brown, the Anglican Bishop of Malaita believes.
Bishop Brown will examine the success or otherwise of RAMSI at a special seminar sponsored by Deakin University’s Alfred Deakin Institute at the University’s Melbourne Campus at Burwood next Tuesday 17 November.“The Regional Assistant Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), the multilateral intervention force, led by Australia, has been operating in the Solomon Islands for six years at a cost so far of about Aust$1 billion (for a population of 500,000 people),” he explained. “When RAMSI first came to the Solomon Islands in 2003, after the Townsville Peace Agreement, it was welcomed by almost all with open arms. It came at the invitation of the Governor General, Prime Minister and National Parliament at a time when the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal was still under the control of militants led by Harold Keke and when Malaita Eagle Force "special constables" were still stealing government money. The Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) was only beginning to rebuild, much of the judiciary system had collapsed and the prisons were run down and insecure.”
Now, despite its early success, RAMSI, especially the Australian portion of it, is losing the support of the Solomon Islands population, Bishop Brown said.“The 2006 Chinatown riots, in which the rocks were directed as much at RAMSI staff and vehicles as Chinese stores, were a warning sign,” he said. “Unfortunately, RAMSI has only responded by more self-promotion, - indeed, more expansion -- rather than having a totally new look at the operation. "
Bishop Brown said some of the problems with the intervention stemmed from attempts to introduce initiatives and technology which were not capable of being sustained locally and inequality of pay between the islanders and those employed by RAMSI.“For instance each year RAMSI brings in Australian lawyers to staff the SI Ministry of Justice with magistrates, public prosecutors and public defenders,” he said. “They are paid a very good tax-free Australian-level salary and have very good living conditions. “Local magistrates and other public legal staff are paid at a lower Solomon Islands rate and often flee from government service to the private sector.”
Bishop Brown said RAMSI personnel had legal immunity and were seen and in some cases behaved as if they are not in any way accountable to the laws of the Islands.“This is not the best example when RAMSI is supposed to be in the Solomons to bring back the rule of law,” he said.
Islanders also questioned whether the activities, such as weapons testing, were pursuing objectives which were not relevant to the Solomons.
Bishop Brown said the 2009 Australian aid budget to Solomon Islands totals Aust$223.9 million. Of this, $128.5 million (57.6 per cent) goes to RAMSI for security, finance and judiciary work (much, of course, going to Australian companies and citizens and never reaching the Solomons) while $95.4 million (42.6 per cent) goes to all the rest of the aid programme -- health, education, livelihoods, water, sanitation and gender empowerment.“Surely these percentages should be reversed,” he said. “It is no wonder poverty increases, Honiara often has no water or electricity, infant and maternal mortality rates remain high and violence against women and children continues.”
Bishop Brown’s address - The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands Six Years On: Taking Stock of Achievements and Difficulties will take place at 4pm in B2.20 (Blue Room) Deakin University Burwood Campus, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood.
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