Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Friday, 3 May 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part: 50 My Conclusions and a Look to the Future.

Extract from my memoirs.

Needless to say – a great deal of ‘conclusions’ ended up in both the RAMSI segment and the one that followed it– not intended, but that is how it happened.

Damned if I did and damned if I didn’t: just turned out to be the natural flow of the Islands affairs.

One does not want to end with either a whimper or an academic feast of platitudes – there are certainly enough of them around. Better be real than false. After all I owe honesty to the officers who served with me. Some did swerve: however in the main I am proud to have served with a fine group of men and women who did their duty and also fought their own private wars because they were doing their duty.

The trite remarks commonly used by today’s generation, “we have learn’t from this...” Or, “it must never happen again,” are wonderful for academic audiences, or the UN; far removed from a village life on a remote island, or even Honiara.

Here is an opportunity for the elders and village leaders to join forces with the younger generations that sincerely want to help their country. An example of what I mean is that when as a child back in the UK, a local farmer finally updated from using a horse to a tractor; an unexpected benefit turned out to be that his youngest son was a ‘natural’ mechanic.

This is a normal, natural, life cycle, only disturbed by war and natural disasters. What other groups are better suited to take over from RAMSI? I doubt if there any.

In writing these memoirs of my time in office as the Commissioner of Police in the Solomon Islands, in a simple, easy to read style; certainly not an academic work; one’s readers, will have gained a better understanding of what occurred in a continuous format; along with hindsight perspective from a decade later.

It is encouraging to see today at ground level the amount of increased development activity: the youth internship programme, a joint venture between the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Solomon Islands government. With the vast majority of Islanders under 30 years of age, this sort of programme is an encouraging step forward.

Violence against women remains a blight on Solomon's society and the recent signing of a grant agreement between the World Bank and the Solomon Islands Government to help improve services for those affected by gender-based violence is welcome news.

It must be hoped that with the signing of the joint agreement positive and early action will be taken to identify priorities and initiate services for victims of gender-based violence, with emphasis on domestic violence and female children who have experienced violence or abuse.

In other development news, it is interesting to learn that the Solomon Islands aims to produce 20,000 metric tonnes of cocoa by 2020 under a new Cocoa Policy initiated by the government.

The country is fortunate to have the services of Dr John Konan an agricultural scientist from PNG helping farmers improve their cocoa production.

For history buffs, the story is there; a repeated cycle of standard human ongoing events. Not as dramatic as other places. I like to think that here in these Islands the world wide image of basically, happy, peaceful, peoples is more than just a movie set.

It should be clearer now, how the so-called ‘ethnic tension’ or national ordeal occurred; a consequence of several factors and causes; the successive government failures since independence in 1978 to address the core concerns of the Guadalcanal people over their land rights; the lack of truly national development; a national identity; and the main cause the failure of leadership, being primary factors.

Playing into these failure factors, one has tried to illustrate frankly and truthfully how self centered politicians, by trying to oust the SIAC government from office in 1998, presented several Motions of No Confidence for pure personal political greed. Those moves failed to topple the government by genuine constitutional means. Then out came the then Opposition which regurgitated all the old demands of the Guadalcanal province from the past: this gave the usual group of extremists the opportunity to light the fires which allowed the GRA to surface: the ensuing wild fire could not be contained.

A prime problem is the ongoing misuse of Compensation; here being the example of the payments made to disgruntled parents of two Malaitan girl students, following unproven reports of rape, this being a good illustration of my point.

One wishes that one could wave a magic wand to divulge the whole sequence of this incident from start to where any dollars ended up.

Once laws and customs have been broken the process of legal and customary address must be allowed to take its full course. The past incidences of politicians attempting to score political points to topple each other from power by resorting the ‘Solomon’ or ‘Melanesian’ way of solving problems, even when serious laws of the country were broken, have proved very costly for the nation.

It is a worldwide fact that politicians promise one thing pre election and blow a different horn post election.

There is, currently, consideration to the adoption of a federal system of government for the Solomons with the argument being the present Westminster model has not been able to cope with the fragmented demands of the society and its ‘lack of a fit’ with local political culture.

While there appears to be general support for a unitary system, I believe any change in the style of government must be approached carefully and with caution. The danger, as I see it, is that a federal system could further entrench ethnic divisions, still not healed, and spread resources too thinly.

I have claimed on numerous occasions that the Solomons lack a national identity. However that view needs updating. In 2011 the UN Secretary General visited. In 2012 younger members of the British Royal Family. Also as I write, I hear that the Australian High Commission in Honiara has launched an official Facebook page call ‘Australia’ here in the Islands. All signs of ongoing positive change. One can call all these events ‘Firsts’ for the Islands.

Do Islanders really want to go backwards now? One doubt’s it.

The high birth rate, unemployment, urban drift, drugs and substance abuse, will continue to occupy the minds and plans of government officials and citizens alike and much will depend on the state of the economy, job creation, investment opportunities and stable government. The expected downturn in the log trade in 2015 will pose threats to the government’s revenue unless alternative sources of income and investments are secured: and they are out there waiting for honest, legal opportunities -- without all the payoffs involved.

Multiple languages and dialects, along with provincial inter-marriage are often blamed for ethnic differences. That is a smokescreen for both ignorance and political manoeuvring. Take a look at California, USA; the Hispanic population in Los Angeles is about to outstrip the white population – a reversal of fortunes from the mid 1700’s to present day. Take a look at the UK now. And don’t forget the migration shift across Europe from the 1960’s. They make the Solomon Islands similar situation very small, very manageable.

Certain areas have more economic development than others and here we have the standard situation of rural movement to city life – China is coping with that situation right now.

Corruption is defined as; ‘stealing from others by abuse of position,’ within society, especially in the public service, and government needs more than just urgent attention and showcased enquiries. Again as I write, one reads about questions concerning alleged misuse of funding – The Rural Constituency Development Fund.

The talk of an Independent Commission against corruption and staffed by personnel of integrity, professionalism and dedication; if brought to fruition will need a firm transparent hand indeed.

Citizens are probably now waiting to read the full disclosures in the TRC's Final Report since it has just been unofficially released in an unexpected, controversial and surprising move by the editor of the report, The Rt. Rev. Dr. Terry M. Brown.

In making the report available Fr Brown explained..

"The Report is very accurate and comprehensive and gives proper recognition to the victims of the conflict whose stories should be heard. It is not good enough to forgive the perpetrators and forget the victims, which seems to the approach of the Government.”

Fr Brown added that he is convinced that the TRC Report, as an exercise in truth telling, painful as the recollection may sometimes be, will help bring about the lasting justice, peace, reconciliation and unity that Solomon Islands so badly needs.

Let us all hope that Fr. Brown's words will indeed bring about the reconciliation and peace so long desired.

Land ownership is another major problem. That needs to be solved. Land for airports, police and other essential facilities should have some clear formula for compensation. Maybe based on practical usage versus plain ownership? It is not an insurmountable situation – incidentally neither is greed… both are recurring events, worldwide. Again, as I write, one reads about another land dispute where the Chovohio Midstream Association in the Gold Ridge area is demanding SBD$8 million from the St Barbara Mining Company.

Here we go again… compensation and land ownership butting heads. The nice thing about this is the instant public knowledge thanks to our modern communications. Hopefully, the limelight will force both parties to settle.

The signs are that one does feel politicians are slowly realizing that modern communications are affecting how ‘things’ are now done; the transparency brought about, is a main answer to the old ways of corruption.

The media, especially the parachute media in general, abandoned their principles of fairness and honesty in reporting the “ethnic tension” during my term of office, as has been illustrated: but today the press still claim they serve the public and believe they are entitled to certain rights and privileges.

Here the local press do a much better job concerning the ’facts’ overall. Again modern communications – posts, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, give worldwide coverage, boosts local recognition.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force must never again be allowed to degenerate into the woeful state I walked into, in 1997. RAMSI has been engaged in training, capacity building and providing much needed accommodation and police facilities, police stations and posts, but concerns remain over the force’s capabilities, especially in respect of investigation, prosecutions and logistics.

The RSIPF must have at its core community policies and practices to address the community’s needs and fears but rural community police initiatives still fall short of what is needed.

The police service must also become a key organization and at the forefront in dealing with incidences of domestic violence and help in giving support to victims of all forms of gender-based violence and abuse.

With the eventual withdrawal of RAMSI the question of re-arming the police service in the Solomons will need to be carefully examined. I am in no position to advise the government but in the light of what occurred after I had left the Solomons, I would urge that the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission be released and carefully considered with a view to bringing about a real sense of reconciliation amongst the people by implementing the report’s recommendations, before any final decision on re-arming. I would add, too, that a proper settlement of outstanding land issues and claims is of equal importance.

When I took up office in July 1997, I knew there was much to learn and I looked forward to the challenge. I sincerely did my best acting with truth, dedication, fairness and impartiality.

My sympathy is extended to all those who were victims of the conflict in the Solomons, to those who lost their love ones and those who suffered injuries and terrible injustices. My admiration goes to those victims who testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and said they were willing to forgive and forget their perpetrators and ready to reconcile with them.

The first aim of this series in the Solomon Times Online was to pre publish my book due out in October this year. I owe a debt of gratitude and thanks to the staff at Solomon Times Online.

By writing what I have I hope it will shed light on the true situation during my time in office and also bring a sense of healing to my own life after nearly 14 years of distress caused by the injustices I was made to suffer, including the blatant lies and racist abuse; despite having resigned to offer the Solomons the best chance of an enduring peace.

End.



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.