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

Four former Prime Ministers re-elected in last month’s national election could lead Solomon Islands again in the next four years after the surprise loss of incumbent Gordon Darcy Lilo. The four included Synder Rini, whose term as Prime Minister lasted for less than a month in 2006. He retained his Marovo Constituency seat despite stiff competition from former Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Dr Jimmy Rodgers.

The three other potential PMs are Opposition Leader Dr Derek Sikua, Manasseh Sogavare and Danny Philip. They have all served as PM in the Solomon Islands, but with the Political Parties Integrity Act (PPIA) making no specific mention for large independent candidates in the 50 member house, any member could be elected PM. A total of 245 of 447 candidates contested as independents, and 32 of these got elected. The introduction of PPIA by the outgoing National Coalition for Reform and Advancement (NCRA) Government of Lilo aimed to stop ‘grass hopping’ of MPs to form a ruling government.

Despite 12 political parties being registered as required by the Political Parties Integrity Commission, a few other parties refused to be registered and challenged the validity of the PPIA in court. The legislation was contested by former Deputy Opposition Leader Matthew Wale who said it infringed upon his freedom of association under the constitution. But the court disagreed, and upheld the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission’s right to ban parties that have not registered from participating in the election. The ruling also means that, once elected, independent candidates must choose a political party if they wish to have any part in governing the country.

The Democratic Alliance Party (DAP) led by Steven Abana had the highest members with eight being elected into the house, followed by United Democratic Party (UDP) with four, People Alliance Party (PAP) with three and one each for Solomon Islands Party for Rural Advancement (SIPRA), Kadere Party of Solomon Islands (KPSI) and Solomon Islands People First Party (SIPFP).

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How does a 10-day birthday celebration happen across the entire Pacific without a single mention? The answer is Kurukuru, the region’s most comprehensive maritime surveillance partnership targeting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in Pacific waters. In the same way that the vessels they are watching sweep for tuna, maritime surveillance relies on a strong code of behind the scenes silence. Kurukuru marked its tenth year with the hum of computers and fingers on keyboards in lieu of a birthday jingle; candles and cake replaced by the colours of Google Earth in a room lit up by flat screens.

A decade ago when the first Kurukuru operation was launched by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, that effort relied on coordination, information-sharing, and communications technologies to help meet the resource challenge of keeping watch over tuna fishing activity in more than 30 million square kilometres of ocean. For Cook Islander Tuariki ‘Stu’ Henry, maritime policing over fisheries activity has gone through huge changes to ensure it keeps track of the vessels tracking tuna across our oceans. “The biggest change is technology, and using the internet has changed everything,” says Henry, “It’s all computers now, keeping your thinking cap on, and tracking for suspicious activity. The whole ball game has definitely changed.” Henry was part of the joint control and coordination centre for Kurukuru 2007, in Tonga. By 2009, the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre at the Honiara headquarters took up that nerve centre function.

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I n September 1944, US Marines stormed ashore the beaches of Peleliu Island in Palau. The assault was preceded by a massive naval bombardment and air strike, to weaken the Japanese forces which were hidden in caves or entrenched in concrete bunkers. Seventy years later, the people of Peleliu are still dealing with the legacy of this military conflict, in the form of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Locals on Peleliu or visiting tourists still come across high explosive shells, sea mines, grenades and torpedoes that failed to explode in the 1940s, but retain their explosive charge. Today, young Palauans are being trained to help with the slow and painstaking task of finding, identifying and removing thousands of these dangerous weapons.

The British non-government organisation Cleared Ground Demining (CGD) is working with a team of young Palauans to remove the UXO that still litter agricultural land, gardens, beaches and tourist sites. Since September 2009, CGD has removed over 32,000 items on Peleliu. Technical field manager Andrew Johns said much of this weaponry is still dangerous despite the passage of time: “Seventy years on, things still go bang!” Johns said that there were a range of environmental hazards from the ageing weapons: “With sea mines corroding in the salt water for so long, picric acid leaks into the marine environment, which has a damaging effect on the reef or mangroves.” US military records for Palau show that 2200 tonnes of ordnance were dropped by aircraft, with another 600 tonnes fired from US Navy vessels. CGD’s community survey on Peleliu found that 31.2 percent of households had some form of UXO contamination.There are also hazards to key infrastructure on other islands: the de-mining team located a 1,000 pound bomb in the capital Koror, close to the city’s fuel supply and water storage facility.

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Within days of Joe Natuman (pictured) becoming Prime Minister in May following a well-planned and executed takeover of power from Moana Carcasses that many did not see coming, rumblings of a Carcasses-led bounce back motion surfaced. And they have never gone away. So for many it was to almost a relief when the Carcasses motion was lodged with the Speaker Philip Boedoro on August 29, but he decided that the motion was not in order, declaring six of the 27 MPs signatures on the motion to be invalid.

Opposition leader Carcasses and his team took the matter to the Supreme Court. On September 8, Justice Stephen Harrop dismissed the Opposition’s application and found in favour of Speaker Boedoro. In essence in an 83-point judgment, Justice Harrop said that there were simply not enough signatures to warrant the calling of an extraordinary session of parliament.

While the no confidence motion was before the court, it emerged that a former Chinese citizen, Ruihua Yau, had been declared stateless by the Vanuatu government. The Secretary General of the Citizenship Commission, John Enock Ware said that the agency revoked Yau’s certificate of Vanuatu citizenship in August. He said the Commission found Yau received Vanuatu citizenship in 2004 after just living in the country for seven years. Under Vanuatu’s Citizenship Act, a foreigner must live in Vanuatu for 10 years before being eligible to apply for citizenship.

The Carcasses Government had appointed Yau as Vanuatu’s Deputy Ambassador in Beijing but this was terminated when Natuman became Prime Minister. A successful businessman in Port Vila where he employs around 30 people, Yau has re-applied for Vanuatu citizenship. Natuman had made some general comments warning expatriates and investors not to become involved in Vanuatu’s politics.

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At the Pacific Islands Forum, regional leaders adopted a new agreement to strengthen enforcement and surveillance over the region’s fisheries. In a ceremony during last month’s meeting in Palau, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully signed the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA), while Samoa and Vanuatu ratified their signature. With 11 countries already signed on to the treaty and three previous ratifications (Cook Islands, Nauru and Palau), the agreement now enters into force for the countries that have ratified it. The NTSA is an amendment to the 1992 Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement, and will allow Forum countries to share powers over surveillance of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and fisheries enforcement.

It also approves the sharing of fisheries data and intelligence between countries, to improve law enforcement over illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. The agreement comes as the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) moves to develop new management schemes for southern albacore, a prolific species of tuna that is mostly targeted by long line fishing fleets. Meeting in Tokelau last July, Forum fisheries ministers agreed to develop a proposal for the next Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting, setting catch limits for the entire stock of albacore and placing a limit on the high seas albacore fishery.

In Palau, FFA director James Movick stressed that proposals on albacore management under the Atafu Declaration were similar to existing schemes for other tuna such as bigeye and skipjack. “These measures for albacore are based on similar principles,” he said. “Members have rights, and in asserting those rights collectively as the Pacific islands coastal states, we then require the other members of the WCPFC to adopt measures that are compatible with those that we have adopted in our zone.” In Palau, regional technical agencies received new funding pledges, with New Zealand announcing NZ$66 million (US$55.813m) for regional fisheries over five years and an additional $4 million (US$3.382m) for the FFA, while Australia added A$23.5 million (US$21.715m) over four years for the FFA and Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

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