Apr 13, 2021 Last Updated 11:41 PM, Apr 12, 2021

As Solomon Islands gears up for its national general election later this year troubling signs of corruption, economic woes and mounting debts are overshadowing preparations. No one really knows the exact date for the election yet, although October 29 has been widely tipped. Discussion on the subject, however, has been somewhat flat since this writer disclosed the date in a recent exclusive newspaper article, citing politicians and senior government officials as sources for the information. This year’s election is likely to be fought along management or rather mismanagement of public funds by the current 50 Members of Parliament. Estimates vary. One suggests that up to $300 million (AU$43 million) in grants passed through the hands of Members of Parliament in any one year.

These grants are intended for rural development in the 50 constituencies or electorates. This means that in four years a total of $1.2 billion (AU$172 million) will have passed through Members of Parliament by the time the election is held. The picture in the rural area tells a different story. As a start in unclogging the public system allegedly bloated by corruption, new measures have been introduced for this year’s national general election. One of these measures is the introduction earlier this year of a new registration regime known as the Biometrics Voter Registration (BVR) system. Each voter is issued with an electronically produced photographic ID which allows him or her to vote.

By law no one casts a vote without it. The BVR system was introduced to help identify multiple registrations, which has the potential for a voter casting his or her vote more than once. The practice was rather widespread during the last national general election in 2010. In that election one voter reportedly voted eighteen times at three different polling stations. Electoral officials are hoping that the introduction of the photographic ID or swipe card would totally eliminate this illegal practice.

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Pending any successful petition against winning candidates in last month’s general elections in the Cook Islands, incumbent Prime Minister Henry Puna (pictured) and his Cook Islands Party are poised for another term in government. Final election results put Puna’s CIP winning 13 seats in the 24-seat parliament while the Democratic Party took eight seats and the One Cook Islands two seats. One other constituency had a tie so a recount would have to take place. According to Cook Islands News newspaper, some big casualties of the elections included Democratic Party Leader Wilkie Rasmussen who went into the July elections as caretaker Leader of the Opposition. Also out is flamboyant Democratic MP Norman George who was unseated from his seat of Teenui-Mapumai by a political newcomer, Rose Toki Brown of CIP. Both veteran politicians have vowed to contest their loss in court.

The island’s elections office said 8,364 voters took part in the polls, representing a voter turn out of 79 per cent. Preliminary results had suggested a win by the Democrats but the table was turned when postal votes were counted. Declaring victory from his constituency on Manihiki Island, caretaker PM Puna flew back to the capital Rarotonga on the final week of July on a chartered flight. Final results showed Puna winning his seat by the slimmest of margins. He beat his opponent, Tereapii Piho of the Democrats by a mere four votes. Puna told Cook Island News that he would be visiting the island’s head of state – the Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters – “as soon as possible” in order for his government to resume office. When the swearing in would eventually take place could not be determined however because Cook Island News is reporting that the Queen’s Representative is overseas attending the Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

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The simmering political tensions created by the attempted arrest of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill by police over alleged corruption allegations have cooled - at least for the time being. Mounting pressure on the Prime Minister and the government was created by a buildup of antigovernment sentiment propagated and led by political activists, university students and supported by the Opposition. The groups took umbrage over O’Neill’s alleged approval of the settlement of legal bills for prominent PNG lawyer Paul Paraka. An attempted protest march to parliament on June 24 did not eventuate and the government used its numerical strength to defer a sitting of parliament.

Public anger resulted mainly from the continuous attempts by the Prime Minister to avoid arrest after a warrant was taken out following police investigations into the payment of K71.8 million (AU$30.459m) to Paul Paraka Lawyers as legal fees from 2012 to 2013. The Prime Minister initially denied authorising the payment, however the situation spiraled into political chaos after the revelation of a secret letter by the Task Force Sweep Team. Established by O’Neill in 2012 as one of his first acts as Prime Minister after election, the letter alleged fresh evidence implicating the premier and requesting police to arrest him.

O’Neill, who blamed political compromise as the key reason for his incrimination, went to court to stop his arrest citing abuse of police power. He later followed through with a string of events including the appointment of a new Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki to replace Tom Kulunga, termination of Deputy Police Commissioner of Operations Simon Kauba, the suspension of Assistant Police Commissioner for Crime Thomas Eluh who has been leading the investigations and arrest of the Prime Minister.

Then came the announcement of a Commission of Inquiry into the corruption charge, disbanding of the Task Force Sweep Team and the sacking of former Attorney General Kerenga Kua and replacing him with Ano Pala. However, on June 30 the National Court ruled that it could not interfere with the functions of police and allowed the Commissioner to carry out his duties. The court said it would only intervene in the clearest cases of abuse in a police investigation. In his ruling, Justice Ere Kariko said in this case there was no evidence of abuse of power.

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Papua New Guinea is embroiled in political turmoil triggered by the attempted arrest of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill by police on June 17 as part of ongoing anti-corruption investigations into payments to a prominent law firm. The investigations spiraled into political chaos after a secret letter by the Task Force Sweep Team, established by O’Neill in 2012 as one of his first acts as Prime Minister after the 2012 elections, carrying fresh evidence implicating him in the payment was leaked to the media. One of the key pieces of evidence in the investigation was a letter, written in 2012, that appeared to be from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill authorising some of the payments to Paraka Lawyers.

In January this year, Task Force Sweep Team chairman Sam Koim said the letter did not appear to have legitimately come from Peter O’Neill’s office, backing up O’Neill’s statement that it was a forgery. But the “very confidential” letter from Koim to PNG’s police commissioner, leaked to the media, outlines new evidence against O’Neill. The letter incriminating the Prime Minister reads in part: “This letter notifies you of the change of position from my previous letter to you dated 14th January 2014. The foregoing paragraphs contain the brief of our reassessment of the case as against Peter O’Neill in light of fresh evidence that have now become available. “In my previous letter, I briefed you of the findings of the Task-Force Sweep as against Hon Peter O’Neill, Hon Don Polye, Hon James Marape and Mr Steven Gibson. I did indicate that based on our investigation, the payments made to Paraka Lawyers were illegal and fraudulent. We recommended that Messrs Polye, Marape and Gibson be charged for their respective and joint roles as there were sufficient evidences to proceed against them.

“In respect of the case against the Prime Minister Hon Peter O’Neill, we found at that material time that there was no other evidence linking him apart from the alleged letter of 24th January 2012 which he openly denied authoring or signing it. Forensic test of the signature of PM O’Neill was not available at that time. We found that a case of fraud against Mr O’Neill on the basis of the questionable letter alone was unsustainable. We however advised that as the investigations into the allegations of fraudulent payments to Paul Paraka Lawyers were continuing, we would advise if there is fresh evidence warranting a review of the case against the Prime Minister.

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The two-day flash flooding that began on April 2 struck at the heart of Solomon Islands

The two-day flash flooding that began on April 2 struck at the heart of Solomon Islands’ administrative and business and commerce power base. It caught authorities napping. If there were any warnings at all, not many people took any notice. As in past natural disasters, Australia and New Zealand were the first to respond, offering financial and in-kind support. According to local news reports, Australia announced an initial SB$350, 000 (AU$50,000) assistance while New Zealand a similar amount. Unlike in the past, Canberra and Wellington now channelled their assistance through non-governmental organisations based in Honiara. The fear that their financial and material assistance could end up in the wrong hands for political gain had everything to do with the shift in aid disbursements by the two traditional donors. New Zealand also sent in medical teams. Taiwan, with which Solomon Islands has diplomatic relations also helped by announcing about A$290,000 aid package consisting of cash and inkind assistance. It also offered a three-man medical team including two doctors who are now working with medical authorities in Honiara.

tonnes of rice valued at half a million dollars. At this point, there are no clearer indications as to how much has come in so far. Locally, the Solomon Islands Government provided A$2.18 million to assist victims of the flash flooding. The problem is that, rather than give the funds directly to the National Disaster Management Office, Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo’s Government decided to share the money amongst Members of Parliament. Each of the 50 MPs received $300, 000. Criticisms have been levelled at the government for disbursing the funds through MPs with victims saying the government was using their misery to enrich themselves. Local businesses and organisations also made donations. The Solomon Forest Association (SFA) was the first to heed an appeal by the City’s Lord Mayor for help. It provided more than $200, 000 in foodstuffs and other urgently needed items.

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