The increase in aid assistance to the Solomon Islands, announced by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, has been met with skepticism by Opposition Leader Manasseh Sogavare.

Despite welcoming the increase, Mr Sogavare stated that most of the money will go back to Australia. "At the end of the day, the assistance they give, about 80 percent of that is spent back in Australia...some people have referred to it as boomerang aid," Sogavare said.

"Recent reports of comments made by the Leader of the Opposition, Manasseh Sogavare, had understated the value of Australian aid," the Australian High Commissioner, Mr. Peter Hooton, said yesterday in response to the media statements made by Sogavare.
"While it was pleasing that Mr Sogavare had welcomed the Australian Prime Minister's announcement of additional assistance to Solomon Islands over the weekend, the reports of his comments greatly understated the value of Australian aid to Solomon Islands".

In a press statement Mr Hooton stated that on Saturday, Mr Rudd announced that an additional SBD 19.5 million (AUD 3 million) would be provided this year for rehabilitation and maintenance of rural roads. Hooton also stated that despite what has been said by the Opposition Leader, Australia's bilateral aid to Solomon Islands this year is expected to be SBD 183 million (AUD 28 million) but with the additional funds the estimated total for Australia's bilateral aid this year is now SBD 202.5 million (AUD 31 million).

Mr Hooton added that Australia will also provide a further SBD 9.7 million (AUD 1.5 million) for the construction of shelters in communities affected by the April 2007 earthquake and tsunami. Mr Rudd has also pledged an additional SBD 65 million (AUD 10 million) next year to support work in priority areas including infrastructure development, health, technical education and reforestation.

"Australia's total bilateral aid next year is likely to be in the vicinity of SBD 247 million (AUD 38 million)," stressed Mr Hooton. "Bilateral aid is separate from Australia's funding of RAMSI."

In addition to the bilateral aid program, Mr Hooton revealed that Australia contributes SBD 438.7 million (AUD 67.4 million) to RAMSI's civilian development programs each year as well as being the major source of funding for the police and military contingents.

Australia's combined bilateral and regional commitments to Solomon Islands on development-related activities are close to one and a half billion dollars per annum (SBD 1.45 billion or AUD 224 million in 2007-08).