May 21, 2001
This is just a note to go with the statement of the Church of Melanesia Council of Bishops on the current Solomon Islands political and economic crisis [ACNS2486]. Shortly after the release of the statement to the media, the Prime Minister withdrew the bill to amend the constitution to allow the government another year in power. There was great relief all around although the government may try again in June. It looks like we will be having elections at the end of this year although the government is insisting that they be paid for by overseas donors. The donors are mostly willing to do so.
I am writing from Santo in Vanuatu where we (COM Council of Bishops) are on our way to the consecration of the new Bishop of Banks and Torres in Northern Vanuatu on May 24th (Ascension Day). He is Fr. Nathan Tome from Guadalcanal in the Solomons. I am enjoying the peacefulness of Santo. Auki is better but still not very well settled. Two weeks ago a group of drunken Police Field Force and Special Constables (ex-Malaita Eagle Force) came through town on their way to an operation in North Malaita to clear out a rival group of "mafia" ex-MEFs who have been causing problems. The PFF put about 30 of them in the Malu'u town police cell and confiscated some guns but refused to turn the guns over to the International Peace Monitors. (Malu'u people are happy to see the group behind bars as they have been very violent and out of control.) As there is no magistrate in Malaita Province, if they are still being held, they are probably being held illegally. The plan is to take them back to Honiara. The MEF group with links to the PFF and who invited them in to do the clean up of their rivals are still armed. Sometimes it feels like we are moving more towards the "warlord culture" of Somalia and such places. However, Auki is generally quiet. We have been often without electricity or water and, of course, no telephone in the foreseeable future. But the land and sea are bountiful so we eat well.
There is more restlessness in Honiara and throughout the country, as teachers, police and other national and provincial employees are not receiving their pay. The government has run out of money. So unhappy ex-militants, now Special Constables, threaten the Treasury, steal the Prime Minister's car in protest and now demand housing in Honiara. Overseas donors continue to baulk at a large-scale rehabilitation project at this point (although the money is available) because of a fear (quite justified) that the money will be misused. Everyone is waiting for the election. I would say there is a need for election monitors and I think the Commonwealth will probably arrange this.
I have written on article for the Solomon Star on the peace and security situation in the Solomons. (I am not sure if it will be published.) If you would like a copy, please e-mail me and I will send it.
We now have a much cheaper e-mail access site in Honiara, an "internet cafe" subsidised by the European Union. Unfortunately, it has only five computers and is very busy. However, please feel free to e-mail me. I can now afford to read my e-mail, if the queue is not too long. I will be checking e-mail here in Vanuatu the next few days.
Here is a copy of the Church of Melanesia Council of Bishop's Statement. It was prompted by the Prime Minsters' and others' very critical and bitter attacks on the Solomon Islands Christian Association for their criticism of the government. The Prime Minister comes from a Seventh Day Adventist background which may partly account for his perspective although even some local SDA churches have joined in the "civil society" opposition to the government.
The Rt Revd Dr Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita