Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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This post is part of a series. Previous post: Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 23: Election Results.
Monday, 4 March 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 24: Early Post Election Revelations.

Extract from my memoirs.

Prime Minister Ulufa’ala and the ministers of his new administration were immediately confronted with enormous challenges on assuming office, not least of which was the perilous economic situation.

More than a decade of border conflict had consumed much of the country’s revenue and the economic position had been further eroded by a combination of less fair tax policies, remissions, exemptions and concessions: the country was virtually bankrupt and its credit rating was lower than ever.

A staggering S$1 billion was owed to creditors and foreign reserves. – enough to pay just three weeks of imports.

The collapse of the log trade, the mainstay of the Solomon’s economy further weakened the situation at the time. Employment prospects – especially for the younger people, who were now the majority of the populace, were going in the wrong direction. A pot was simmering.

However, despite the financial crisis, at least in the first few weeks after the election, popular support for the coalition government appeared positive, if not actually strong.

The public service employees expected the government to begin to eradicate corruption and those found responsible for corrupt practices bought before the courts. Optimism was in the air

We did have the problem of a missing S$3million to sink our teeth into. This surfaced due to allegations brought to light by some senior public servants which rattled cages and attracted unwanted public attention.

Apparently this was money that had been paid as fines by an Asian company for fishing infringements: it had disappeared from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Relations, which had received these fines on behalf of the government.

To its credit, SIAC promptly instituted an investigation and it was discovered that the Ministry had actually used the money as a “slush” fund and issued it out on a first come first serve basis.

Within weeks, it was claimed the whole amount had been used up. The investigation, allegedly, revealed that the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Permanent Secretary were the sole signatories to the account.

No action was taken against those who, reportedly, broke the law by siphoning off these funds. The fact that no person was brought to justice undermined the new government’s swift action in having the alleged theft of money investigated.

Another serious setback occurred over the weekend 16th - 17th November when the Ministry of Finance Building in Honiara was mysteriously gutted by fire and most of the financial records destroyed in the blaze.

I brought in an independent fire investigator from Australia who confirmed the police’s suspicion that the fire in the building had been an act of arson. We did arrest two suspects but later they were released due to a lack of evidence.

It was patently obvious that the arson attack on the Finance Building and the destruction of the records was a deliberate act of sabotage designed, no doubt, to conceal past financial transactions and dealings.

To be continued ……

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