Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Sunday, 13 January 2013 12:20 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 3: Considerations

Excerpt from my memoirs.

I eventually accepted the job as Police Commissioner but only after very careful consideration and perhaps there was the detection of a hint of relief in Joses Sangu’s voice when I did agree to take the job.

My concerns had centered on several issues. The Solomon Islands was then in serious economic decline. Three quarters of the population were involved in mainly rural pursuits, fishing and farming. Logging the export mainstay, was at the point of over exploitation and the industry was in danger of becoming unsustainable unless re-planting occurred.

The biggest potential was the vast Pacific Ocean and a start had been made here by the Japanese who had built a cannery in the Western Province to process tuna caught by their offshore fleets. However, the cannery was in an ‘iffy’ situation and facing fierce competition as other Island nations were bidding for the foreign fishing fleets and their catches.

The local Solomon’s press also updated me as to why a new Police Commissioner was needed.

It seemed that local recruitment to the position over the last fifteen years had not met the expected standard and that to regain credibility the government had decided that the post of Police Commissioner was going to revert to an experienced expatriate for the next two years.
A clear definition one would suppose.

Yes, there were others who thought themselves more qualified or indeed more capable of doing the job: and yes that situation would soon be met – indeed face to face in some instances. However, I sensed that I had been pre-selected for a purpose – that of bringing the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force back up to the standard it once held.

My past experience in other related positions around the world told me this new posting was going to be a challenge – and then some.

Standards associated with the old British Colonial Service had been integrity, dedication and honest forthrightness; principles that appeared to have slipped in the vastness of the Solomon Islands group.

The old Colonial service tended to think how our traditions of rule of law and fair government had to be upheld first and foremost. We brought along those we thought to be honest, capable people to run things as we drew back: a wary eye was kept on those ‘locals’ who professed Independence but underneath were more often self seeking.

Many of Britain’s former colonies and overseas possessions had occurred because of accidental colonization. Accidental trading came first and then expanded in line with other of its possessions.

The Solomon Islands were a perfect example of accidental colonization, firstly by the Spanish when, in 1568, the Spanish explorer, Alvaro de Mendana, named the islands “Isles of Solomon”, after discovering gold, believed to have belonged to King Solomon. The fact is however, the islands had been inhabited for around 5000 years before the European discovery was made -- according to historians.

Honiara had become the national capital on the island of Guadalcanal in replacement of the original capital of Tulagi after World War 2.

From about the 1950’s both the Solomon’s economy and population expanded. Ocean fishing fleets arrived to use Honiara as a base, local timber exports expanded. Buildings were constructed and other entities grew. The economy began to flourish and job seekers began to migrate to the capital from the provinces.

However, the migration of many Maliatans to the more prosperous island of Guadalcanal also increased. Their culture and traditions differ largely from those of the indigenous Guadalcanal people. Over time clashes occurred and other problems surfaced. Land ownership being one of the biggest concerns – who sold what to whom – where was the written proof. Add intermarriage and therefore inter property and ownership rights.

Another important factor now became one of age. Most of the population were under 30 years old, unemployed, with limited education, or none at all; unwanted. Some lived rural lives, but increasingly urban and in mushrooming informal settlements on the outskirts of Honiara.
Cultural clashes, old traditions trying to move with the times; or rejecting them – all needed strong government and wealth. These last two needs were basically missing.

And there was one already smoking gun that at the time of my arrival that was neither really thought about nor understood…….

It was finally the hint that the government had embarked on structural adjustments to find remedies to the plight of the government’s coffers, that persuaded me to accept the job.

To be continued ………..

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

This post is part of a series. Next post: Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 4: Seeking Support