Community consultations on the staged limited rearmament of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) have commenced outside of Honiara with meetings recently held in Western and Makira-Ulawa Provinces.
Community consultations on the staged limited rearmament of the RSIPF are a major component of the project approved by the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) in 2013. The consultations started last year with discussions held with various groups and communities in and around Honiara.
The project is described as a “staged limited rearmament” of the RSIPF. This is because each stage must be approved by SIG, and rearmament is limited to three units of the RSIPF – the Police Response Team, the Close Personal Protection Unit and police providing security at the Henderson international airport.
Senior officials of the Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services, the RSIPF and the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) held discussions with members of the Western Provincial Assembly at a meeting in Gizo on 19 March and met with the members of the Makira-Ulawa Provincial Assembly at KiraKira on 20 March.
Speaking during the meeting with the Western Provincial Assembly on 19 March, representative of the Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services, Mr Morris Maitaki said: “The decision to rearm our police is not a RAMSI decision but entirely is the Solomon Islands Government’s decision.”
“After the Solomon Islands Police Act was passed in 2013 and came into force last year, the Government had requested that RAMSI now do everything possible to prepare the RSIPF for the limited reintroduction of lethal firearms. RAMSI cannot stay in Solomon Islands forever and it is important that the RSIPF be ready to take up the full range of security obligations required of a sovereign police force,” said Mr Maitaki.
Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Gabriel Manelusi told members of the Western Provincial Assembly: “The RSIPF needs to be rearmed to enforce law and order in Solomon Islands, to protect communities, life and property, and to protect officers themselves.”
“The RSIPF also needs to fulfil the national security requirements of Solomon Islands, provide protection to dignitaries and VIPs, fulfil an international requirement that all international airports must maintain an armed security presence as well as manage crocodiles in the country,” said Assistant Commissioner Manelusi.
He emphasised: “The RSIPF is ready to be rearmed. The RSIPF is a very different police force today than it was during the tension period. Between 70 to 80 percent of its officers have been recruited after the Tension and RSIPF has benefited from over a decade of extensive and rigorous capacity development from RAMSI.”
Senior RAMSI representatives thanked both Provincial Governments and their members for recognising the importance of the staged limited rearmament of the RSIPF and incorporating the consultations into their Assembly meetings.
“This provincial consultation process is critical as the national government wants to hear the views of the public on limited and staged police rearmament. The consultations are being led by SIG, with support from RAMSI. It is important that the full range of community views, whether for or against the project, are aired and respected” said RAMSI Special Coordinator Ms Justine Braithwaite during the session in Western Province.
RAMSI Participating Police Force’s Superintendent Eric Grimm explained that the limited rearmament project is a complex one and due to this a comprehensive approach has been taken.
“There are seven work streams that all operate to achieve the overall project goals. This includes firearms selection, infrastructure, training, governance, monitoring and evaluation, change management and community consultation,” said Superintendent Grimm.
Members of both the Western and Makira-Ulawa Provincial Assemblies commented on the need for the RSIPF to provide an independent and credible national security and police response capability and the importance of the public having confidence in the police.
After a broad-ranging discussion, the Western Provincial Assembly supported the project. Noting the sensitivity of the issue, the Province’s Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon. Jane Tozaka commented:
“Although most people in Western Province would agree with the reasons for rearming the police, we need to remember that there are still people in the community, especially some women, who remember when guns were around and are worried about what could happen.”
Makira-Ulawa Province Premier, Hon. Thomas Waepe, emphasised: “We are in support of rearming the police. It is important for communities to support the police to make our communities safe and to trust them.”
Further Provincial consultations are planned for the coming months.