This is a momentous occasion in the history of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF); a major milestone in the re-building and resurrecting of the RSIPF.
In 2003, the national government, with the help of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and the National Peace Council, stripped the police force of its weapons. As we all know, the police force had been compromised. A significant proportion of RSIPF members had been part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. And for those transgressions, the RSIPF lost the trust of the government and the people to carry weapons.
The decision and process of rearming the RSIPF has therefore, appropriately, been slow, cautious, deliberate and incremental.
Fourteen years later, on the eve of RAMSI’s departure, the carefully-selected and highly-trained men and women of the Police Response Team and the Close Personal Protection team have re-earnt the trust of the Government.
And a clear majority of Solomon Islanders support the limited rearmament of these specialist units.
RAMSI, too, is confident that the officers are ready to be re-armed. For the last three years, RAMSI has been training them – not just how to fire a weapon, but much more importantly how to think and react to any incident; with drawing a lethal weapon always the absolute last resort.
We have also stood alongside government officials and police officers all over the country over the last three years consulting communities: explaining what was being proposed; and, and how RAMSI would ensure that the necessary safeguards were in place.
To that end, I stand here today, to affirm that the RSIPF has standard operating procedures and accountability and oversight systems that meet international standards.
RAMSI also built and handed-over a state-of-the-art armoury with many checks and balances, and appropriately trained armourers.
RAMSI has done everything conceivable to prepare the RSIPF for this day.
We will closely monitor, audit and evaluate the RSIPF’s roll-out of the rearmament process and, importantly, from a safeguards perspective, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) will continue this oversight role and it will continue to advise the National Response Department after RAMSI departs.
The rest is now up to the officers before us, and their commanders.
No one wants a repeat of the darkest days of the Tensions.
Carrying a lethal firearm is a heavy responsibility for any police officer. Given this nation’s history, it is a particularly weighty responsibility here in Solomon Islands. The community, understandably, expects nothing but the highest standards of professionalism and restraint as armed RSIPF officers protect the communities, border and waters of Solomon Islands.
From a RAMSI perspective, this is also the last major piece in the jigsaw of the rebuilding the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
Limited rearmament enables the RSIPF to resume full responsibility for policing and national security. It removes the requirement for an armed, operational foreign police force to be on Solomon Islands soil. It means Solomon Islands can independently look after its own security. It means the RSIPF and the nation can stand on its own two feet.
RAMSI will leave on 30 June confident that this nation and its police force can manage the law and order incidents that it is likely to face – in part, aided by the ongoing advisory support from 44 Australian Federal Police and a smaller team of New Zealand Police. And with the reassurance provided by an arrangement that is currently under-negotiation and that hopefully will never need to be used – that is, an arrangement that would fast-track a request for emergency assistance from Solomon Islands to Australia – and potentially other Pacific countries.
So, let me end by taking this opportunity to congratulate the Government, the RSIPF Executive, the members of the specialist teams, their operational safety trainers, and the armourers, as well as the hundreds of RAMSI advisers that have trained and supported the RSIPF throughout the limited rearmament project.
This is a truly significant day in the story of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. But it’s not the end. Indeed, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter; a chapter where the re-armed RSIPF must prove every day that it deserves the trust that has been placed in it.
God bless the RSIPF, God bless these officers, and God bless Solomon Islands.