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Radio Australia/ABC Interview January 11, 2000

With ABC’s Kanaha Sabapathy and Alfred Sasako, Minister of State Assisting the Prime Minister, Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is in national mourning after opposition leader and former prime minister Solomon Mamaloni died earlier today from a kidney related ailment.

One of the Pacific's more controversial leaders, Mr. Mamaloni served as prime minister for various terms between 1983 and 1997 -- periods marked by stormy relations with neighboring Papua New Guinea and allegations of corruption and mismanagement of funds.

Despite these allegations, Alfred Sasako, the minister of state assisting the prime minister, told Kanaha Sabapathy that Mr. Mamaloni will be best remembered as an architect of the modern nation of the Solomon Islands.

SASAKO: People in Solomon Islands will certainly remember the late Solomon Mamaloni as someone who not only was part of the architects of this nation achieving nationhood. Certainly there are people with differing views, but that would not take away the fact that he was one of our Prime Ministers. As you know politics in the region is really to do with personalities, and so a lot of people in the Solomons, in fact most of the people in the Solomons, would remember Solomon Mamaloni as one of the architects of building Solomon Islands as a nation.

SABAPATHY: But certainly in his latter years that charisma had been tarnished by allegations of corruption and misconduct, didn't it?

SASAKO: Yes, that was true, but what other nations in the region whose leaders escaped those sorts of allegations and perceptions, allegations that perhaps were based on perceptions, and perhaps because his views were not held to be an accepted view across the region, or across the political spectrum in the nation, and therefore a lot of people would try to see that as part of the legacy that he had left behind.

SABAPATHY: I suppose one of the things that saw his exit from politics was basically the claim that during his premiership he was more interested in protecting foreign business interests rather than the welfare of the people, and this is especially the case in the logging industry?

SASAKO: As I said that might the view of certainly a section of the community. I think the rush now that he was trying to advance in advancing those views is that when you look at Pacific Island countries in terms of raising revenue to support and sustain the livelihood of its people, there's very little to go around and therefore because of the pressure from population growth, increasing population growth, demands for more classrooms, clinics, health centers, hospitals, basic infrastructure, such as roads and wharfs and all that. If there were any resources that the nation had then certainly the only means of getting finance, funds to support the infrastructure that the government had to support, then you know perhaps the choices were very very narrow.

SABAPATHY: How would you describe relations between the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea when he was Prime Minister?

SASAKO: I think there were times when relations between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands went through rough patches. I think from his own perspective he saw that the spill-over effects from Bougainville were adding extra pressure on whatever meager resources that the Solomons had, but it was a time that we were going through, I suppose, the pain of growing up as a nation, and perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that we had to go through all those because over the last 12 months we had to toy with the same problem that was experienced by Papua New Guinea in relation to Bougainville. So I would say, yes, the relations between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in those years were not at the best, but we maintained talking with each other as two Melanesian neighbors.

(First broadcast January 11, 2000)

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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