The U.S. ambassador to the Solomon Islands has issued a warning against the misuse of aid funding and has spoken out for the first time on recent riots that saw parts of the capital, Honiara, burned to the ground.
Erin McKee, U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, said development assistance was an “investment in people, from the American people.”
“It is an investment that lasts a lifetime and endures through generations. We don’t build roads; we give governments the power to build a road and build their capacity and self-sufficiency to maintain it on their own without outside help,” she said in a statement on Dec. 10.
McKee added that aid gives communities the “power to keep children healthy” and allows individuals to “acquire skills needed to generate wealth” and stand on their own two feet.
“So, I ask you to decide for yourself what type of development and future you want for you and your families. Do you want aid that benefits one person, one party, and one bank account?” she said.
“Or do you want assistance that empowers entire families, strengthens entire communities, and enriches entire nations? As democratic and independent states, you have a choice of who to partner with. And I believe that the choice is obvious.”
The issue of bribery and corruption among Solomon Island members of Parliament has bubbled to the surface after riots in November placed the Pacific nation’s domestic issues under the international spotlight.
Bradley Tovosia, the minister for mines, energy, and rural electrification, attempted to galvanise support to stamp out corruption by admitting the practice was widespread.
“Who is not corruption, tell me and stand up,” he told Parliament. “When I decided to join politics, these are the elements of politicians whether you like it or not.”
“Let us stand up and tell the truth,” he added. “I don’t like to hide it. We must change now, and we used people to stand up and defend us or use this kind of activity happening here.”
A recent survey by Transparency International of 6,000 individuals (pdf) across ten Pacific nations found 61 percent of respondents believed corruption in government was a “fairly big” or “very big” problem.
When broken down, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea came out on top with the highest percentage of respondents (97 and 96 percent, respectively) believing government corruption was a major issue.
Dissatisfaction with Sogavare’s rule and his decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing contributed to the unrest last month, leaving three people dead. Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea responded by sending police and troops to help restore order.
McKee said the loss of life was tragic and “should not have happened.”
“Those who wish to appeal to their government must do so in a peaceful manner. My sympathies go out to everyone who suffered in the Nov. 24 to 26 unrest in the Solomon Islands,” she said.
This comes amid increasing competition between the U.S.’s democratic allies and Beijing in the South Pacific, with both sides pushing for influence in the region.
For example, in late October, the Australian government and major telecommunications firm, Telstra, pulled the trigger on an AU$2.1 billion (US$1.6 billion) acquisition of mobile business Digicel, which is the main carrier for Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga, and Fiji.
While in July, newly elected Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa vowed to tear up a $100 million Belt and Road Initiative project to build a port near the nation’s capital.