The transition of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) is “an opportunity for Solomon Islanders to take leadership of their country.”
This was among several messages emphasised at the first RAMSI Community Outreach Program for 2013 conducted at the Gold Ridge Bubulake airstrip relocation community east of Honiara on 20 January.
Solomon Islands Government’s Assistant Secretary RAMSI, Derrick Manu’ari, the Provincial Police Commander for Guadalcanal Province, David Diosi and RAMSI’s Assistant Special Coordinator, Mataiasi Lomaloma made presentations on the RAMSI transition to about 50 men, women and children at the community.
“In November 2011, the Government endorsed the RAMSI transition. The government agreed with RAMSI that it is time for a change. We Solomon Islanders must start to look after ourselves. It is an opportunity to take leadership of our country,” Mr Manu’ari explained.
“RAMSI was never meant to stay forever. The Government has discussed with RAMSI what areas the Mission will need to continue and what areas we need to invite other donor countries to assist with. Work will continue despite the RAMSI transition but we Solomon Islanders and communities must do our part,” said Mr Manu’ari.
The Guadalcanal Provincial Police Commander, Mr Diosi, who was attending his first RAMSI Community Outreach Program after taking up the position in the past couple of months, used the occasion to explain plans the police have for the province.
“Your police in Guadalcanal Province have plans to make more visits to the communities and listen to your problems and try to help you resolve some of these problems through our traditional and custom ways,” Mr Diosi told the community.
“I invite the chiefs of this community to feel free to come and visit me if you think you have some issues that you need to discuss or call me and I will come to meet with you and try and discuss whatever problems you may have,” PPC Diosi said.
RAMSI’s Assistant Special Coordinator, Mr Lomaloma explained why RAMSI was invited into Solomon Islands.
“RAMSI came here to do the work that was urgently required and then to handover to the Solomon Islands Government. We came to assist Solomon Islands to be a well governed state, and a prosperous and peaceful country. You have contributed to this prosperity by allowing your land for this mining. What you’re seeing is the result of your work,” Mr Lomaloma told the Bubulake community.
Mining at Gold Ridge started in 1998 but was abandoned in mid 2000 due to the social unrest on Guadalcanal. Production at the mine did not resume until the end of 2010. The Gold Ridge mine currently contributes approximately 20 % of the Gross Domestic Product of the Solomon Islands economy.
Mr Lomaloma explained that the RAMSI transition includes the three components of the Mission – the Policing, Military and Civilian contingents.
On policing, the Participating Police Force (PPF) is working together with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) in the transition. Already several police posts set up by the PPF in the provinces have closed with the exception of Auki, Lofang and Gizo.
“PPF is now focused on building the capacity of RSIPF. In the provinces that we have withdrawn from we have established mentoring programs. PPF will continue to assist the RSIPF until 2017 but PPF will be in the backseat and the RSIPF will be the driver.”
Mr Lomaloma explained that plans are underway for the military component of RAMSI to leave in the second half of this year but RAMSI police would stay and have the capability to respond should it be required.
“The withdrawal of the military component will show to the world that Solomon Islands is peaceful.”
On RAMSI’s civilian component, the Assistant Special Coordinator Mr Lomaloma said Solomon Islands Permanent Secretaries had decided how RAMSI’s development assistant programs would be absorbed into bilateral aid arrangements inJuly.
“For the development programs it is better that they are delivered under bilateral arrangements as these types of programs are usually long term as compared with RAMSI which was always meant to be a short term mission. Whatever gains there has been under the RAMSI civilian program, the aim is for these to be sustained.”
In response, Paramount Chief of the Gold Ridge area, Ishmael Totu welcomed the Solomon Islands Government, Police and RAMSI representatives saying that, “if RAMSI did not come, we won’t be where we are today.”
“Our big problem here at the moment is the abuse of alcohol by our young people. We would therefore like the police to assist us with the police post that we are building in our community,” Paramount Chief Totu told the visitors.
During the meeting, members of the Bubulake community raised several questions covering issues including the implementation of the Townsville Peace Agreement, the rearming of the RSIPF and what the authorities are doing to address the abuse of alcohol in the communities.
In response to the question on the Townsville Peace Agreement, the Solomon Islands Government Assistant Secretary RAMSI, Mr Manu’ari explained that the Government is waiting on the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to go before Parliament before it starts a program for the rehabilitation of the ex-combatants.
“The government wants the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be summarised and then submitted to Parliament before the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) with the government work on a program to rehabilitate the ex-combatants,” Mr Manu’ari said.
On the issue of political reforms raised in the Townsville Peace Agreement, Mr Manu’ari explained that the Government has a Constitutional Reform Unit which is working on the state government system for the country.
Addressing the question of the rearmament of the RSIPF, the RAMSI Assistant Special Coordinator, Mr Lomaloma said the rearming of the RSIPF is a matter for the Solomon Islands Government to decide.
“RAMSI is training RSIPF to handle any public order situation but the decision to rearm the RSIPF is for the Government to decide.”
On the question of how the abuse of alcohol could be addressed, the Guadalcanal Provincial Police Commander, Mr Diosi explained that there are a lot of ways that this problem could be addressed but he favours awareness on the effects of alcohol and other substance abuse.
“It is only when you are conscious and convinced of the effects of alcohol on the body and other social effects that you can be converted,” Mr Diosi said.
“Parents should also play a major role in talking to their children on all the problems associated with alcohol abuse.”
The Community Outreach Program conducted at the Gold Ridge Bubulake resettlement community is the first of a series that has been planned by the RAMSI Community Outreach Program in the lead up to RAMSI’s formal transition in June this year.
The Program will also include visits to other communities around the Gold Ridge area, school forums at secondary schools in and around Honiara and visits to several provinces.