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Solomon Islands: Too little, too late

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8 October 2010 09:58

Charles Prestidge-King is a former editorial staff member at East Asia Forum. He is based in Honiara and has contributed to the Sydney Morning Herald.

When he was elected Prime Minister on On 25 August, Danny Philip promised we'd have a policy framework for his Government in thirty days. He didn't quite get there, but the launch was held on Tuesday this week.

Pictured at the launch of the  NCRA Policy Statement (left to right): Archbishop of the Church of Melanesia Rev. David Vunagi, Deputy Speaker Namson Tran, Prime Minister Danny Philip, and Pastor Ellison Bako of Solomon Islands Christian Association.

The problem isn't that it's late. The problem is that the framework, called the National Coalition for Reform and Advancement (NCRA) Government Policy Statement, adds little new information on policies, and the big reform items, what Philip has called 'Fundamental and Sectoral Reforms', aren't outlined in great detail.

Constitutional reform and customary land reform are the foundations of Philip's vision for the country, with investment in key infrastructure, including economic 'centres' to allow better access to markets for primary producers. But where there is detail, it's optimistic. Danny Philip is on record saying that 'once (the reforms) are done, the rest will simply blend in.' It's not enough.

The NCRA Government also wants to ensure that '85% of Solomon Islanders have access to telecommunications'. It's a laudable aim, but not something the Government can achieve on its own, and the Papua New Guinean company BeMobile, which won a major contract from the Solomons Government last year, lost a US$1.5M bond earlier this year for missing a deadline in their tower-building operations.

Competition has been heating up in recent months between BeMobile and the Solomons-owned OurTelekom. For OurTelekom users at least, the inclusion of a new mobile provider has sent prices down, though the mobile network is frequently overloaded in Honiara. If this is the case in Solomon Islands’ largest city, it's tough to see how companies will be able to provide any kind of service to the remote, rugged, often roadless provinces.

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