SOLOMON ISLANDS OPPOSITION EDGES CLOSER TO HAVING NO CONFIDENCE VOTE NUMBERS

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (April 3, 2002 - Solomon Star/PINA Nius Online)---Sacked Solomon Islands Finance Minister Michael Maina is reported to have sided with the Opposition as it prepares a vote of no confidence in Sir Allan Kemakeza's government.

Opposition Leader Patteson Oti said they have secured the support of nearly half the 50 Members of Parliament.

He said 21 MPs have already signed on to support the motion, including Mr. Maina, who was dismissed after devaluing the Solomons dollar 25%.

As lobbying intensified, Prime Minister Sir Allan said he has the numbers to survive and claimed an Opposition MP, Danny Bula, has now joined the government.

Mr. Oti said they submitted the motion to the Clerk of Parliament last week intending to move it at the end of the national budget debate.

He said the motion was not over the devaluation. But it was about the way the government is handling the most pressing issues, such as continuing law and order problems.

He said Sir Allan's government had failed to retrieve hundreds of guns inside its first 100 days in office, even though the prime minister promised it would.

The guns are still in the hands of former militants and police rebels despite a peace agreement following two years of ethnic conflict and a coup.

Mr. Oti said: "Disarmament is the heart of an economic recovery for the Solomon Islands, which continues to lose the interest of potential investors.

"There is no guarantee the current investors in Solomon Islands will continue to remain in the country."

The Kemakeza government is a coalition of the People's Alliance Party, the Association of Independent Members of Parliament and small parties.

Sir Allan said over the weekend that he dismissed Mr. Maina because of his failure to consult with the Cabinet and Government Caucus on his decision to devalue the currency.

However, Mr. Maina said he consulted with Sir Allan and Central Bank Governor Rick Hou.

Mr. Maina said that he had decided to devalue after wide consultation with local and overseas experts and he believed it was the only way to resurrect the economy.

He said it was also essential to help protect the country's dwindling external reserves.

Mr. Maina said Sir Allan agreed to the devaluation but then came under strong pressure from the Government Caucus to sack him.

Mr. Maina said his removal from Cabinet has opened the way for the government to revoke the devaluation.

New finance minister Laurie Chan has already informed Mr. Hou that the dollar will be revalued.

But Mr. Hou said they cannot take up the instruction unless it is made officially in writing.

Mr. Maina said he had not publicized the devaluation in advance because it was a very sensitive issue.

He said that, for example, it could lead big businesses to withdraw their money from banks and send it overseas.

The same day Mr Maina announced the devaluation, many shops raised the prices of their goods on old stocks. The Prince Control Office called this illegal.

Mr. Hou said: "Would these prices ever go down when the dollar is revalued?

"Only the new finance minister has the answer to that."

Mr. Hou had earlier said the devaluation was necessary to stop the country running out of external reserves.

Mr. Hou said there is also an urgent need for the international community to restore aid.

Since the 2000 coup, aid donors have withheld funds. They said they need proof that the Solomon Islands is addressing law and order problems and has re-established credible financial management.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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