DEAR EDITOR, the Solomon Islands Police Commissioner recently said the Force had 100 vehicles but struggling to maintain them,
Mr Varley explained, “A lot of our vehicles are breaking down regularly and a lot of them have been gifted and donated over the RAMSI years.”
The Commissioner went on to say that the Force was looking into an Australian programme to look into the overall fleet repair status and sustainability of the vehicles.
In 1999 I supported a plan to introduce a mobile repair and serviceability unit capable of inspecting and servicing the fleet of police vehicle which then consisted of less than 40 vehicles throughout the whole country. The plan did not materialise because the government could not financed the establishment of such a unit.
In those days there was no regional government support to prop-up the local resources and operational requirements of the police service, with the exception that in 1997, prior to the general election in the Solomon Islands, the Taiwanese Government gave the police some new land rovers, a bus and several motor cycles.
Several key historical problems existed in the RSIP in those days and these were the poor pay of police officers and limited resources for equipping members in their work and the very poor state of police facilities and housing.
In 1999 the strength of the RSIP was less than 800 because a strict moratorium on recruitment prevented recruitment to fill the authorized establishment set at 999.
The 14 years that RAMSI spent in the Solomon Islands brought about many of the reforms in the local police service that one had planned for but could not achieve due to the dire financial state of the Solomon Islands Government in the period 1997-1999.
All are appreciative of the help Australia gave in those years
It is no doubt in Australia’s strategic interest to continue to see the reformed RSIPF maintain standards and to be operationally resourced but I take the view that it is the responsibility of the Solomon Islands Government, not Australia, to ensure the needs of the local, sovereign, police service.
When I addressed the TRC in October 2010, I said,
“The police service must never again be allowed to degenerate into the state in which I found it in 1997 but must be fully equipped, trained, resourced and maintained in an operational state of readiness at all times.”
Some might disagree with me that in the ongoing circumstances of economic difficulties the Solomon Islands Government must assume the responsibility of providing for its own national police service but my view is the fiscal crises surrounding government spending must not threaten public safety as was the case when internal ethnic divisions erupted in late 1998.