Leader of Opposition, Manasseh Sogavare, describes the decline in Solomon Islanders support for the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, RAMSI, as shown by the recently released 2008 people's survey on the Australian-led intervention arrangement as "not surprising."

The survey, carried out by the Australian National University Enterprise, recorded a four percent drop in support for RAMSI this year from the 90 percent recorded in the 2007 survey.

Mr. Sogavare said that as the country moves forward from 2003, a general decline is to be expected "unless the legal framework governing its presence is amended to suit the changed law and order environment."

"This is now the fifth year since the deployment of RAMSI and it was tasked to address specific issues. There was unanimous support for RAMSI by all Solomon Islanders of all levels in the society and that popularity was necessitated by the situation then.

"But as we proceed, the scenario changed. Law and order was restored and the government regained effective control over the governing system.

"The legal framework actually gives them the power to be immune from being prosecuted for committing any punishable offence in Solomon Islands. It is designed in such a way that protects members of the visiting contingent from punishment and that undermines the sovereignty of Solomon Islands.

"There are complicated processes that Solomon Islands Government has to go through with a RAMSI member country should any of its personnel commit any punishable offence in Solomon Islands before he or she can be prosecuted and in most cases one can get away unpunished," the Leader of Opposition said.

Mr. Sogavare said, "When we are concerned about the issue of sovereignty, a lot of people misunderstood us. They seem to think that the presence of RAMSI brings back the sovereignty of Solomon Islands.

"Of course that definition was correct in 2003 when the country's sovereignty was undermined by militants and the government had no effective control over the government system, but the situation was effectively addressed.

"So what I'm saying is that we are not surprised with such an outcome and I will not be surprised to see further declines next year and the years onward unless the issue of legal framework is addressed," he said.