SOLOMON Islands voters are on the verge of choosing their next government as the country goes to the polls amidst major economic and environmental challenges.
The 3 April election is a test of the country’s electoral system after the departure of the Regional Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). International support for the process remains, with the Australian Government committing around 100 police and military officers during the election period. The New Zealand Government has also pledged its support. The two countries took the leading roles in the Pacific Islands Forum-backed RAMSI.
At close of nominations, 335 candidates were confirmed, 310 of them men and 25 women. 15 registered political parties and many independent candidates are contesting the election. Women make up around 7.5 per cent of candidates, however they face a formidable task. There was just one woman sitting in parliament when the election was called, the independent member for Gizo/Kolombangara, Lanelle Tanangada.
The hot topic during the campaign for most Solomon Islanders is easing of the expense of daily living. Many are also angry about the tax-free salaries that parliamentarians receive. Last December the government announced it was doubling the minimum wage to SBD8 (US$1) in a move it hopes will play well with voters. The Central Bank of Solomon Islands put inflation at 3.7 per cent in January 2019.
Some candidates are promising more jobs by tapping into the labour trade with Australia and New Zealand. A much talked about newcomer to the political scene is Peter Kenilorea Jr, son of the country’s first Prime Minister Sir Peter Kenilorea. Kenilorea Jr, who is running under the banner of the United Party, spent close to 10 years working at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and returned to take the post of Permanent Secretary to Foreign Affairs for a year. However, the call of his father’s legacy has been strong.
Posting online after being welcomed by thousands on his arrival at Manawai village in the East Are Are constituency, Kenilorea Jr said: “A truly moving and emotional homecoming. They are looking for change. My message to them, I am ready. Together, we can.”
Other candidates believe the demand for change is rippling through the islands, from village to village and in the urban areas. “Our people are suffering now, we still have a shortage of medicine, proper health facilities and much needed infrastructure,” says Wendy Vahoe Amangongo, who is contesting the election as an independent candidate for Malaita Outer Islands constituency. The incumbent government and caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou of the Democratic Alliance Party have also come under fire for their response to the Rennell Island oil spill (see our story on page 19).
Hou says mining companies, shipping operators and their insurers are to blame for the spill. However Amangongo claims this is but one of the many disasters that have befallen the country because of bad political leadership.
“Our leaders also just voted themselves a tax-free salary whilst our women, youth and children struggle everyday to survive the expense of daily livelihood,” she angrily says.
Interestingly this election, seven candidates are former Prime Ministers. One of them, Gordon Darcy Lilo has decided to re-enter the race saying in this campaign: “We must be able to put our house in order before we try and address external matters. That is the number one priority.”
Solomon Islands Transparency International is calling for Solomon Islanders to choose wisely.
Rising above the noise, a few facts remain. The government has committed to hosting the 2023 Pacific Games which will coincide with the next national general elections. The administration of government funds to develop the constituencies is in serious need of review and change. The tax-free salaries voted in by the previous house must be cancelled to ensure the trust of the people is restored. Immigration must be controlled with the influx of Asian and Bangladesh nationals flooding various industries with no check. The shortage of medical supplies in the hospital and clinics around the country is still a serious risk to ordinary folk. Roads, bridges, schools and basic infrastructure is still lacking on the ground.
With young people between the ages 15 to 35 being close to 67 per cent of the entire population of Solomon Islands, jobs are needed to engage the young, or Solomon Islands sits on a time bomb again.
WITH the world going out in a large way towards adopting green and clean energy that is renewable, it makes no ecological or economic sense for any country in the Pacific not to be part of this exciting phenomenon.
For figures do not lie. More and more nations around the globe are switching to solar, wind or hydro energy. In fact in 2017 alone, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that an additional 167 GW of renewable capacity were installed around the world. That is enough capacity to power a country as big as Brazil.
The good news does not end there. With the increasing uptake of renewable, the costs are tumbling to record lows. Prices of solar PV module for instance have fallen by around 80% since the end of 2009, according to IRENA. Wind turbine prices on the other hand have dipped by 30 to 40%.
The agency calculates that prices of renewable can outmatch natural gas prices in fact. Abundant resources, coupled with strong enabling frameworks have caused solar PV prices to crash to below 3 cents per kilowatt hour and dispatchable concentrated solar power (CSP) of 7.3 cents per kilowatt hour.
Thanks to the foresight of island leaders and their policy advisers, some islands of the region are giants in this field. Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand to the north of Samoa, is already running on solar power 100 per cent. Samoa and the Cook Islands are almost there, with 80% of their energy needs now powered either through solar or hydro.
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THE flying visit by Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, this month through Fiji and Vanuatu has been hailed as the beginning of a new era in regional détente.
It was the first bi-lateral visit made by an Australian prime minister in more than 20 years – a period in which China has increased its sphere of influence throughout the Pacific.
At this point in geo-political relations, Beijing can argue that it probably has the ears of every Pacific leader while Canberra can no longer claim to have such an audience.
With China and India increasing their economic powers and political influence and a belligerent heavily armed neighbour – Indonesia – on its northern border, Australia has been forced into its current position.
Australia has been forced to return to its eastern neighbours for whom it was Big Brother post-World War II until John Howard decided to play global policeman with the United States.
Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama is not the first leader of his country to turn the nation’s focus north after being rebuffed by the Australians for the illegal takeover of an elected government.
In 1987 Sitiveni Rabuka sought alliances with Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea in order to equip his burgeoning military which plays an unsupervised influence over national politics.
As Rabuka mellowed and moved from military ruler to statesman, he courted the Commonwealth and warmed previously frozen relationships with Australia and New Zealand.
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THE recent disparaging remarks made by Australia’s Environment Minister, Melissa Price, to former Kiribati President Anote Tong is a reminder of all that is bad about Australia and its views of the Pacific. That a serving Australian Cabinet minister would insult an esteemed regional leader and international climate change warrior and accuse him of being driven by money is a measure of the woman. And that she should accuse the Pacific of only being in the war on climate change for the money shows her lack of knowledge of the issue, the region and its people.
Price stands accused of walking up to Tong – a Nobel Peace Prize nominee – while he was dining with friends in a restaurant and saying: “I know why you’re here. It’s for the cash. For the Pacific it’s all about the cash. I have my cheque book here, how much do you want?”
This from a representative of a country which for decades has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol which would limit greenhouse gas emissions and guarantee a safer environment.
This from the representative of a country which continues to mine coal and contribute to the factories which keep global warming at dangerously high levels.
This from the representative of a country which for years has treated Pacific seasonal workers with disrespect, issuing them visas at a lower level than European backpackers.
For Tong and the Pacific, the battle against climate change has never been about the cash; the fight has always been about justice and dignity.
Price – as a dinky di Australian – should be familiar with the term “fair go” which means to treat people fairly or give them a reasonable chance.
On the world stage, Tong has appealed at every possible forum – the United Nations, the Commonwealth, among others – on behalf of the Pacific people for a fair go.
With the ocean rising rapidly and no end in site to global warming, Tong has led the charge for migration with dignity as the last possible option for his people.
Under his watch Kiribati negotiated the purchase of land in Fiji on which to grow food and provide refuge should the day come when the i-Kiribatis must relocate.
And Price’s Australia continues to pump carbon into the atmosphere with scant regard for the Pacific.
Under Tong’s leadership Kiribati has trained young people in seafaring and nursing skills to international level so that should the need arise they can find employment in Australia and New Zealand.
And Price’s Australia continues to argue that perhaps it need not reduce emissions to levels accepted in Paris in 2017 by the international community.
At no stage has Kiribati or Tong asked for charity or suggested that cash is the answer to the problems faced by his country, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and much of the Pacific. The Pacific people are not beggars. By her comments Price has implied that the region is lined up at the doors to Australia’s treasury, cap in hand, waiting for freebies. Nothing can be further from the truth.
We would not presume to speak for former President Tong. But on behalf of the Pacific people, we say this: The region does not want handouts from Australia. What we want is a reduction in carbon emissions so that global warming is reduced, and the Pacific can fight climate change. What we want is Australia’s support in the battle against global warming through a reduction in the sale of coal and the eventual closure of its mines.
In recent years Australia has fought to claw back its influence in the Pacific, a region which it has neglected for nigh on two decades in its efforts to become an international player. The United Nations and the War on Terror have been Australia’s focus for so long that it forgot the Pacific.
Now that China has found its way into the region, Australia has struggled to re-acquaint itself with its island neighbours. Price has dealt a heavy blow to any progress that has been made thus far. Her failure to apologise to Tong when the chance availed itself will be remembered for years.
If Australia wants to make friends in the Pacific, it would do well to rid itself of representatives like Price and replace them with individuals who understand the island people and their psyche.
The fight against climate change is real. For the Pacific this is a matter or urgency. This is an issue beyond money, charity or the much-vaunted cheque book of an Australian Cabinet minister.It is a battle for survival.
What the Pacific and Tong deserve immediately is something without price – an unreserved apology,
As we are faced with darkness there is hope.
The special report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius has been released. The messages within the report will generate both hope and fear, yet are abundantly clear in terms of the need for action.
The report is all about the Pacific - anything above 1.5˚C threatens the very fabric of our communities and islands - and not just about the Pacific – climate change is a threat that no nation, however wealthy, can afford to ignore.
A 1.5˚C world will bring huge challenges to the Pacific, our people and our ecosystems. Yet compared to 2˚C and above it is a world of possibility and hope.
By keeping temperatures below 1.5˚C, climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth will be reduced. There will a future for at least some of the coral reefs so intrinsic to our Pacific identities and economies. Atoll communities will suffer as sea levels rise, but there will be hope that the ocean will stabilise. Adaptation limits may be reached in some places, but enhancing resilience will bring possibilities for an improved future for many, including moving us closer to achieving our Sustainable Development Goals.
Let us not dwell on 2˚C and above – for Pacific Islanders it is simply not an option.
This report gives us hope – it is clear that it is possible to keep global warming to 1.5 ̊C and that we now have the specific information we need to be able to make this happen.
Humanity has the power to make the changes needed. This report is our guiding document, it shows our current state, where we would like to be and what it is that we need to do to get there.
While our Pacific islands are small and face many challenges, we are strong in unity. We are strong when we work together with all Small Islands Developing States. This was demonstrated loud and clear when we worked together to negotiate for the Paris Agreement to include text for Parties to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increased even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We, a group of Small Islands Developing States, mobilised in Paris, 2015 to have the global community agree to this. And we were right to do so, this report tells us so.
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the IPCC “Special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.”
According to the IPCC, over 6,000 research papers were assessed, 42,000 comments were received in the three reviews resulting in a report that had 91 authors and editors of whom 32% were women and 68% were men from across 40 countries.
We are beyond disputing or questioning the report and the science from the IPCC. We now need to question ourselves.
This report is the impetus, it’s the wakeup call for Governments, it gives us all a road map for our future. We no longer have time for complacency or delay on taking action to avert dangerous climate change.
If we take action and make real changes to lower our greenhouse gas emissions these changes in our lifestyle will also benefit our sustainable development.
Our global community has ten years to halve our global greenhouse gas emissions. We need to make an urgent switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and an immediate global priority must be to phase out our use of coal. We need to redouble our efforts to increase our level of ambition to lowering our greenhouse gas emissions in the next round of our national commitments which are due by 2020. We must decarbonise the electricity sector by 2050 – goals that we in our Pacific islands are already committed to and are on the journey towards achieving.
This report provides us further science to support our calls for action on the global stage. We ourselves are also making sure we take action at the national and Pacific regional level with actions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We are displaying global leadership for all humankind.
As we head towards the UN Climate Change Conference at the end of the year, our Pacific island nations remain steadfast on this journey towards lowering our global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Science tells us that we can reach the 1.5 global warming target. What we are experiencing in our Pacific island lives tell us that we must. We must persevere. We must commit to action and change. It’s “hashtag doable” as this current tech generation would say.
It’s in our hands, as a global family to do right.
Let us not be the generation that failed our planet and humanity.-
The above was released by the Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Mr Kosi Latu on the day the IPPC released its special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Further information on the IPCC “Special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty can be accessed on http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/