Leaked details of a proposed ‘loan’ to Solomon Islands
Details of what was proposed as a ‘loan’ to the government of Solomon Islands have been leaked. Emails between the Minister for Finance, Harry Kuma, and someone claiming to be able to broker a US$100 billion loan to the country have surfaced and been widely circulated in the media. This equates to nearly 80 times the Gross Domestic Product of Solomon Islands. What information has come forward has led some to write the whole scheme off as a scam. Minister Kuma has confirmed that the leaked emails are authentic. He has said that this is one of a number of concessional loan proposals that are under consideration by his Ministry and the government. It is not clear to what extent other members of the government (including the Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare) was aware of this proposed loan.
House of Representatives rejects proposed changes in Bougainville
The House of Representatives has rejected proposed changes to governance in Bougainville. After a consultation period, MPs voted against a proposal to extend the period for which a President can hold office from two to three terms. There will be elections to the House and for the office of president later this year. Whilst some felt that allowing the current President, John Momis, the opportunity to stand for a third term would allow for some stability this has been rejected by the House. MPs also voted against changing the name of the government to ‘Constitutional Transitional Bougainville Government’. They voted to retain the three seats in the legislature reserved for ex-combatants that were due to be removed. The make-up of the next legislature will be very significant in light of how negotiations proceed further to the overwhelming vote in favour of independence in last year’s referendum.
New research focuses on infrastructure in the Pacific
New research focuses on infrastructure projects in the Pacific islands region. The report into this work was launched at the Australasian Aid Conference held recently in Canberra. It was published by the Research for Development Impact Network and the Australian Council for International Development. The research was carried out by a team of Pacific and Australian researchers. They present seven principles to guide future investments in infrastructure in the Pacific islands region. They note the importance of fully engaging with civil society at all stages of infrastructure projects. The researchers believe that Australia and other development partners should adopt the principles they have identified for new infrastructure projects. They stress the need for quality to be the driving factor for all infrastructure projects to ensure maximum returns not just economically but socially and environmentally, including by promoting resilience and increasing inclusivity.
New Zealand continues to reset relationships in the Pacific
Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea has spent four days in New Zealand on a state visit, hosted by his counterpart Jacinda Ardern. The two leaders have pledged to ensure that they meet more often than has previously been the case. Ardern also reconfirmed New Zealand’s participation in the PNG electrification project agreed to at APEC in 2018 with the governments of PNG, Australia and Japan. This week Prime Minister Ardern will visit Fiji. She is the first New Zealand prime minister to have visited the country in four years. In Fiji, Ardern will focus on how the two countries can work together on climate change. She will also meet with civil society leaders to talk about supporting women in democracy. She will then travel to Australia for meetings with Scott Morrison.
Australian Parliament launches an inquiry into relationships with Pacific islands countries
The Australian Parliament has launched an inquiry into the country’s relationships with countries in the Pacific. The inquiry is being conducted by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. It is one of four Parliamentary inquiries into aspects of Australia’s engagement with the region that is currently ongoing. There is also a departmental review of the aid and development policy being undertaken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This latest inquiry “will provide the Committee with an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of initiatives undertaken to support the ‘Step-Up’”. This inquiry was announced in the wake of the release of research undertaken by Peacifica on behalf of the Whitlam Institute. Data collected from people in Fiji, Solomon Islands examines their perspectives on the world including how they feel about Australia’s relationships in the region.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.