Solomon Islands riot cost SI$534m (US$66m)

Following last week’s Solomon Islands riots, the U.S. consular agency in the Solomon Islands has warned U.S. citizens there of a “possibility of demonstrations” on Monday, when Parliament will vote on a motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

“The National Parliament of Solomon Islands is scheduled to vote on a motion of no-confidence in Prime Minister Sogavare on Monday, December 6, 2021. U.S. citizens are advised of the possibility of demonstrations leading up to, during, and after the vote. Remember that even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent without warning,” the U.S. Consular Agency in Honiara said.

Tensions have yet to subside after last week’s riot, in which protests led by disgruntled groups from Malaita, Solomon Islands’ most populous province, turned into a 3-day siege of the nation’s capital Honiara. Buildings were burnt, shops were looted, critical infrastructure damaged and four people died.

Early this week, the Malaita Provincial Government released an 11-point statement calling for a nationwide dialogue on “fundamental issues” it raised last week, more transparency in government dealings and a closer engagement between the Sogavare government and the people. 

“For too long our people have been treated as rubber stamps, lied to at election time and discarded like empty tins until the next election. People like Sogavare and his Cabinet take this as a mandate to ignore, demean and violate our people and their hopes and their resources for their own purposes.  We in the MARA (Malaita Alliance for Rural Advancement) government have felt this for two years, with life-saving equipment held for no reason, aid projects blocked and redirected, our PS falsely accused and improperly suspended, and two motions of no confidence bought through bribery,” the statement reads.

“MARA government has zero confidence in the character of Sogavare and zero confidence in the false version of democracy that he practises, which is built on corrupt money from loggers, hidden deals that drain public money from our people, and the abuse of legal powers to intimidate, subjugate and attack true democracy. We are sad to see the looting that has happened this week.  We are even more sad to see the looting of our national treasury, the rape of our children by loggers and miners, the pillaging of our lands, forests and seas by foreigners for the years past, aided and abetted by Sogavare, the OUR (Ownership, Unity and Responsibility) Party personnel and their cronies. We see that all the issues that caused the ethnic tension in 1998 remain alive and well, especially the loss of land by Guadalcanal people and the lack of development on Malaita. We also note the desire of the Western Province for federal statehood which has been their cry since Independence.”

Last week’s riots has put the nation on a “development in reverse” trajectory, according to the Solomon Islands Central Bank (CBSI), which released an updated assessment on the cost of damage yesterday (Friday, December 3). 

“The extent of the adverse impact on the economy is extensive and estimated to have reached SB$534 million (US$66m), up from the SB$227 million (US$28m) initially estimated. There are around 63 buildings being burnt and looted, revised up from the initial 57. With this level of damage, economic growth for 2021 is now estimated to contract by 0.6 percent, with growth for 2022 expected to weaken subsequently. This reverses the positive 0.4 percent growth projected earlier,” CBSI said.

Other sectors are expected to feel the brunt in the coming months and the central bank is forecasting a bleak economic scenario as government stands to lose a third of its monthly revenue, inflation will rise, driven by a shortage of food and tobacco, while external reserves will be stretched thin by high imports and outward remittances related to rebuilding activities.

CBSI also warned that non-performing-loans will rise, as affected businesses held a total of SB$43m (US$5.3m) in loans from financial institutions.

“With cash buffers already stretched, and a pessimistic revenue outlook, it will be a challenging fiscal task to maintain critical services and at the same time provide stimulus support to affected businesses in 2022 and beyond. More budget support or debt financing will be needed for this,” it said.

This week, an Australian-led defence mission made up of police and soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji was deployed to Honiara where it is expected to stay for a few weeks.  

The main body of the NZ contingent left for Honiara this morning.

Police depart RNZAF Base Auckland for the Solomon Islands on a Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757

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