New Houses, new opportunities

With renovations completed at the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) headquarters and underway at Central Police Station, the working lives of many RSIPF members stationed in Honiara are set to benefit from access to newly refurbished workplaces.

But for some officers, this week’s handover of the first of the new police houses means that the end of the working day will also bring access to much improved environs for both them and their families.

It has taken a number of years and a lot of work by many people to reach the point this week where the keys of the first four houses were handed over to their occupants; the first of 84 police houses being built by RAMSI – 54 funded by Australia, 30 by new Zealand – throughout the country.

Because it is a national project that will significantly improve police accommodation across the country, the benefits will flow to many areas of the force says RSIPF’s Acting Commissioner, Edmond Sikua.

“Currently, the RSIPF is faced with the major difficulty of not being able to move officers throughout the country,” Mr Sikua explained. “With better accommodation, officers will be more willing to take up provincial postings. In an environment as diverse and dispersed as Solomon Islands, the ability to post officers to different locations is critical to providing a police presence throughout the country.”

Poor, inadequate and barely maintained housing has been a long-standing problem for the RSIPF and one that was quickly noted by RAMSI when it first started working to help rebuild the force in 2003. But it wasn’t until 2006 that the then Commander of RAMSI’s Participating Police Force, Denis McDermott, decided that providing safe, clean and adequate accommodation for members of the RSIPF was a such a key to rebuilding the force’s pride and morale that the issue was prioritized.

As the Acting Commander of RAMSI’s Participating Police Force, Peter Bond explains, the decision by RAMSI to construct new police houses is about far more than simply providing decent accommodation for members of the force.

“Improving the quality of housing for the members of the RSIPF is just about as important as any of the other work that RAMSI is doing to help strengthen local officers’ skills and build their confidence. In fact, the two are naturally linked. Because all the work to improve the skills, drive and capacity of local police officers will eventually be wasted if their health, wellbeing and living standards are not improved.”

“Not only will the new houses potentially provide an enormous boost to the morale and quality of life of members, but they will also make the RSIPF a more attractive employer to potential recruits,” Mr Bond said.

Importantly, the 84 new houses have been designed to minimise upkeep, whilst ensuring their longevity. Constructed with a mix of locally-obtained and imported materials, the houses have been built with pressure-treated timber and are supported by concrete posts guaranteed for a minimum of 25 years. The tenancy agreements for the new RSIPF houses provide detail for officers and their immediate family about the use and occupation of each house, including requirements for maintenance and upkeep.

For those moving into the first of the 84 new houses, the allocation of a new house represents recognition of many years of service to the RSIPF, and the sacrifices that their families have had to make in the process. One of those whose family has suffered through many years of inadequate housing, Superintendent Phillip Kaukui, a father of three who has served with the Force for more than 34 years, says moving into a new house is a moment that he and his family have been dreaming about for many years.

To have the chance to move into a brand new house – it does feel like I have recognition,” Mr Kaukui said. “It is wonderful for me and my family. We are overjoyed.”

Mr Kaukui believes that the improvements to members’ working and living conditions will really help to strengthen the RSIPF.

“This is a sign of great respect for the officers of the RSIPF,” he said. “There are a lot of changes; a lot of improvements happening in the RSIPF… it is a great time to be here.”

His sentiments are echoed by Suzie Senika, a police constable and mother of five who has also been allocated one of the new houses.

“I am so happy to be one of those families to be selected to go into the new houses,” Ms Senika said. “The living conditions are very advanced and will give us access to a hot water system and a proper kitchen.

“I would like to thank and express my appreciation to those who have funded the new houses that have rescued us from the current unsuitable living conditions.”

Mr Kaukui and Ms Senika are clearly very pleased to have been allocated the new properties. However for the RSIPF, receipt of the new properties does present a difficult challenge of ensuring properties are allocated appropriately.

The RSIPF’s Acting Director, Human Resources, Maxwell Saelea, an officer of 29 years experience who is part of the committee assigned to the task, says the panel is strict in its processes to ensure housing allocations are fair and transparent.

“Should members of the RSIPF be seeking accommodation, they need to apply through a formal process within the RSIPF,” he explained.

“Each application is reviewed, with a points-based system based on the officer’s rank, years of service, the number in their immediate family, along with other criteria including their work requirements, and their time on the police housing waiting list. And only RSIPF officers and their immediate families who do not already own a house will be eligible to apply.”

Mr Saelea said that while not every RSIPF officer will be moving into a new property, the construction of these new houses helps to free-up other properties, and – alongside the additional improvements to police accommodation throughout the country – provides an important demonstration to officers and the public of the positive future direction of the RSIPF.

“Within the next few months, we will have 31 families moving into RSIPF properties,” he said. “Combined with the extensive refurbishments planned for existing offices and houses, this is a very positive time for our nation’s police force.”

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