In April 2003, the then Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Sir Allan Kemakeza, made an urgent request for assistance. After five years of ethnic tensions, and a coup in 2000, the problems facing his troubled nation were many and serious.
Law and order had broken down, officials and private citizens were subject to intimidation and violence, and corruption was unfettered. The Government and its institutions had ceased to function effectively. Corruption was widespread. Public finances were in ruin and many of the most basic services such as health and education were not being delivered to the people.
In response to Sir Allan’s request, the countries of the Pacific region, through the Pacific Islands Forum, agreed to support the formation of a regional assistance mission to be led and funded by Australia and New Zealand with membership from all Forum countries.
In June 2003, Sir Allan flew to Canberra, Australia to formally receive this offer of assistance. Together with the Solomon Islands Government, the Forum countries then agreed on a mandate to address civil unrest and lawlessness, economic decline, corruption and a dramatic drop in service delivery and government administrative standards.
On 22 July 2003, the Solomon Islands National Parliament unanimously passed the Facilitation of International Assistance Act 2003, which provides authority under Solomon Islands domestic law for RAMSI’s activities.
Shortly after the first rays of dawn struck the tarmac of Solomon Islands Henderson International Airport on Thursday 24 July 2003, soldiers, police and civilians from Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu began to arrive in their hundreds.
Eventually amassing over two thousand personnel, these security forces came not in anger but rather as friends determined to assist a neighbour in need. In what was to become one of the most successful experiments in regional cooperation, RAMSI - the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands - was born.
The partnership forged between the people and Government of Solomon Islands and RAMSI has achieved much in the years since. Law and order have been restored, national institutions are being rebuilt and considerable progress has been made towards stabilising and reforming the economy.
The Solomon Islands and RAMSI are now focused on working together to develop the capacity of the institutions of government, to build a sustainable economy and to preserve a stable and secure environment. This is being done through a partnership based on mutual respect, understanding and open dialogue.
RAMSI’s regional nature is its core underlying strength. Every Forum country participates in RAMSI and the Mission benefits from the diverse cultures and experience of the 15 contributing members. Over the past seven years, thousands of police, military and civilian personnel from across the region have served with RAMSI and worked side by side with Solomon Islanders. The individual efforts of those who have worked with RAMSI have combined to make a great contribution to the success of the Mission.
The role of the Pacific Islands Forum in overseeing this partnership has been crucial to its success. It has helped the relationship move forward in a constructive and cooperative way - most recently through the development of the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI Partnership Framework which is effectively the Mission’s work plan to guide RAMSI’s future assistance to Solomon Islands. Progress against this Framework will allow a phase-down of RAMSI’s work and ultimately the Mission’s departure from Solomon Islands.
Many challenges lie ahead, but RAMSI remains committed to addressing these challenges and to building on its partnership with the people and Government of Solomon Islands so that together we can give all Solomon Islanders hope of a better future.