SOLOMON ISLANDS GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

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Radio Australia PACIFIC BEAT April 17, 2002 Melbourne, Australia

The Solomon Islands government has survived a no-confidence motion, but the economy faces further challenges.

Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza survived a challenge to his short tenure as the Solomon Islands’ leader, when the opposition withdrew a no-confidence motion after more than six hours of parliamentary debate on Tuesday.

Opposition leader Patterson Oti withdrew the motion after it was clear he didn’t have the numbers to roll Sir Allan Kemakeza, who had held his position as Prime Minister for less than four months.

The Opposition had agreed to allow the government to pass the Solomon Islands 2002 Budget before bringing on the no-confidence motion. But the country faces serious economic problems, following the abortive attempt to devalue the Solomon Islands dollar by 25 percent, and the sacking of Finance Minister Michael Maina.

ABC correspondent Sean Dorney reports from Honiara for Pacific Beat.

Sir Allan Kemakeza took over as the country's leader at the December 2001 elections, following turmoil between militias from Guadalcanal and Malaita, and the overthrow of the Ulufa’alu government in June 2000.

This coup was the culmination of years of tension on Guadalcanal, the main island, over long-standing land grievances. The dispute opposed indigenous people from Guadalcanal and migrant communities - mostly from neighboring Malaita - settled on their land. Clashes between armed militias such as the Malaita Eagle Force and Isatabu Freedom Movement left scores of people injured or killed during the crisis between 1998-2001. An estimated 15-20,000 people - mostly Malaitans - fled rural Guadalcanal.

Today, the community is seeking disarmament of the former militants and criminal elements, and measures to restore the country’s battered economy.

More Time Needed

In the lead up to this week’s no confidence motion, Sir Allan Kemakeza told Parliament his administration needed time to properly address the many problems confronting Solomon Islands.

The Opposition leader, Patterson Oti, says there’s been long enough for the country to realize the Kemakeza government doesn't have the answers: "It's total collapse of the entire social, political, economic structure that constitutes Solomon Islands. The moving of this motion is in recognition of that, and we believe that that's not addressing the key issues that need to be addressed to revitalize the entire country to hold it together."

Last week, the Opposition lost its bid to have the no-confidence vote held by secret ballot. Each side accused the other of using former militants in an effort to intimidate members during the lobbying for numbers over the past fortnight. Many former militants still have guns and have refused to hand them in.

In the debate last Friday on whether the no-confidence vote should be by secret ballot, even one of those members who rejected that move by the Opposition admitted that the parliament was under duress.

One Hundred Days

Sir Allan Kemakeza has claimed it was a gross misrepresentation for the Opposition to accuse him of failing to achieve benchmarks in his first one hundred days as Prime Minister, like the return of all the guns used in the conflict. Hundreds of weapons - including high-powered rifles - remain in the hands of former militants and criminals, contributing to a law and justice crisis in the capital Honiara.

Moving the adjournment debate, the Prime Minister claimed that the Opposition was misrepresenting the situation by suggesting he failed after just one-hundred days: "May I remind all of us that we are not elected to Parliament for only a hundred days. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we have been elected to this honorable house for the next 1,440 days, and the one hundred days is just about six percent of the total term of this Parliament."

Sir Allan told Parliament his administration is working on a four-year plan to pull the Solomons out of its problems.

He also said it was interesting that notice of the no-confidence motion was given just before Easter, when Christ was crucified, reminding members of Parliament that Christ had risen again three days later full of glory and forgiveness.

Barrel Of The Gun

Addressing the chamber during the debate, the former Prime Minister, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu claimed the Parliament was meeting under duress. In a speech interrupted several times by points of order, Mr. Ulufa'alu claimed that 11 of the 50 Members of Parliament elected last December got their seats through the barrel of the gun. Asked to name them, he said there was no need. But later in his speech he singled out the Prime Minister as being one of them.

However, six hours into the debate on the floor of the Parliament, the Opposition leader Patterson Oti withdrew his no-confidence motion in the Prime Minister.

The government was certain to defeat the motion if it had gone to a vote, with the Opposition likely to fall well short of the necessary 26 votes it needed to unseat Sir Allan. It was clear there was going to be no defections from the government's side, and with several members still wanting to speak, Mr. Oti informed the speaker that he would like to conclude the debate.

Economic Reform

There is ongoing pressure however for the government to be accountable for its economic policies.

The government has agreed to consider setting up an independent inquiry into how a US$ 25 million loan from the Export and Import Bank of Taiwan has been used to pay compensation for lost, damaged and abandoned property.

Sir Allan Kemakeza was the Minister responsible for the fund in the last Solomon Islands government, but was sacked amidst claims that he'd paid himself first for property he'd lost. In the latest disbursement, Sir Allan has had almost half a million Solomon Islands dollars paid into his bank account. He says that's just to allow him to write out checks to constituents in his electorate who are victims of the conflict.

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

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

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