Former Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo says the country needs an economic solution to its instability problems, not a security solution.
Lilo said he could not understand how current Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare could justify signing a security cooperation agreement with China to quell public discontent in his government’s handling of national affairs.
Earlier this week Honiara and Beijing confirmed the signing of a security treaty despite serious concerns raised locally and internationally about the deal.
Lilo was supporting calls for the document to be made public in the interest of transparency and accountability.
“The best thing to help our people … to understand better on government is for government to take responsibility to manage our economy,” Lilo said.
“Create more employment, create more investment, that to me is a better way of securing a better society for our country, than to militarise this country,” he said.
Lilo served as prime minister of Solomon Islands from 2011 to 2014.
‘Beggars have no choice’
Meanwhile, another former prime minister, Danny Philip, who is now a backbencher in the Sogavare government, said Solomon Islands was “open to all sorts of things” because “beggars do not have a choice”.
He said Solomon Islands was mindful of the interplay between the superpowers in the Pacific, but the country did not want to be drawn into geopolitical battles.
“Yes, the US has always been there. But for the first time ever in 80 years they’ve sent very high officials to the Solomon Islands at the moment,” he said.
“We have with arrangements with Australia, which is very much US-mandated agreement. Australia is referred to by President Bush, I think as the as the ‘deputy sheriff’ of the United States in the Pacific.”
Solomon Islanders treated with ‘disrespect‘
A senior journalist in Honiara said Solomon Islanders were being treated disrespectfully and kept in the dark over the government’s security pact with China.
Speaking at a panel on the contentious treaty, Dorothy Wickham said most of the news coverage on the security arrangement had been focused on Australia and America’s positions.
“The government’s handling of the way it went about handling this treaty shows disrespect … to Solomon Islanders that there was no discussion, no consultation,” she said.
“Even a press release on the eve of the signing would have been a standard procedure and until today we have not had a press briefing or a press statement for a press briefing from the Prime Minister’s Office,” Wickham added.
She said the government had not meaningfully engaged with journalists to ensure that they could inform Solomon Islanders about what the security deal meant for them.
Wickham said local media had been struggling to refocus the narrative so that it was about Solomon Islands.
Pacific Islands Forum best place to discuss contentious security pact
Meanwhile, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said discussions on the security agreement signed between China and Solomon Islands needed to be inclusive of other Pacific nations.
Mahuta said the Pacific Islands Forum was the best platform for discussing regional security concerns.
“I have concerns that based on a number of representations to ensure that this is fully discussed because of the regional implications that this has not been given priority, certainly by Solomon Islands, they have given us assurances, we must take them at their word, respecting their sovereignty,” Mahuta said.
“However, regional security issues, regional sovereignty issues are a matter of a broader forum. We see the Pacific Islands Forum as the best place for this.”
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.