China funding is a shame – sharp/soft power at work: TSI

TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands is flabbergasted to sight the Letter written by the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands to the Financial Controller of the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet informing him of full Caucus’s agreement with regard to the remaining balance of the Peoples Republic of China Constituency Development Fund for 2020.

Caucus agreed for the funds to be paid out as additional National Development Funds to support constituencies COVID-19 economic recovery effort.

It said that the funds are held at the ESCROW Account jointly operated by Solomon Islands Government and the Embassy of the Republic of China.

The first question Transparency Solomon Islands asks is who holds the authority and the decision-making power of the political parties that form the Executive Government.

In whose hands is the Executive Government of the people of Solomon Islands eating out of politically and for whose benefit. 

What can be seen is a foreign Government financing the people of Solomon Islands Executive Government to stay in power, for the benefit of that foreign government and the party that holds the Executive Power of the Solomon Islands Government.

The timing of the release of the funds speaks volumes with regard to the true purpose of the ESCROW Account – National Development Fund.

The use of Solomon Islands Government in his memo is misleading. Solomon Islands Government includes those members of Parliament not in the Executive Government, the Governor General as the Head of the State, and the Judiciary – the three arms of the government.

In this case the beneficiaries of the so-called National Development Fund are only the Members of Parliament who are in the Executive Government no more nor less.

The funds can therefore be assumed to be for political financing than for National Development.

China through its Embassy here in Honiara is involved in political activities of this country when that should be an activity left to the people of Solomon Islands to be engaged in – making, preserving, and amending the rules under which they live in with their government. 

Would China allow for such a practice in China. 

The answer is no, so why do it here in Solomon Islands. Now that this has become public, the Executive Government needs to inform the public who the signatories to the ESCROW Account are.

In examining the ESCROW Account, Transparency Solomon Islands reflects back on its submission to the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee that was tasked with the issue of Taiwan/China Relationship switch 2019.

Whilst Transparency Solomon Islands acknowledges the Prime Minister’s statement that it has always been the Executive Government who decides on such matters, it is our view that the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Standing Committee is the legislatures process that provides checks and balances for the Legislature, as well as ensuring the Executive Government does not misuse and abuse the unlimited power and authority of the State.  

The Committee provides public participation, inputs, scrutiny, monitoring and evaluation of the Executive Government’s plan making it more transparent and accountable to the people of Solomon Islands.

At that time and in media, Transparency Solomon Islands as do others shared views that Solomon Islands is not ready for this relationship and that it should prepare itself first, by strengthening its already very weak and corrupted poor governance systems and put in place systems that would ensure the country benefits transparently and accountability and with integrity from this relationship.

Transparency Solomon Islands shared publicly and to the task force information on how the Chinese Communist Party influences and the many forms it comes in or takes.

As can be seen in this so-called National Development Fund the Executive Government fails to inform its people   and more importantly provide an avenue for people of Solomon Islands to comment on the ESCROW Account of China.

It is important that the Executive Government and China provide the avenue where citizens of our country can raise their views and know how ESCROW Account is in the best interest of the people of Solomon Islands whose power is being exercised by the three arms of the Government.

Some of the forms the Communist Party Influences take.

1.            Economic Influence both licit and illicit –

Here in Solomon Islands climate change has affected us, our families, our land, and communities. Logging companies harvesting logs in Solomon Islands are doing so at 19 times the sustainable rate.

More than 80% of Solomon Islands log exports go to China.  

In the meantime, Solomon Islands loses 1,440 square kilometres [556 square miles] of tree cover between the year 2001 and 2017.

This acreage continues to increase at an alarming rate.  The accrued benefit of these resources is not paid to the country or the owners of these resources but to the loggers.

The Solomon Islands State of Environment reported that the forest harvest rates are a concern for the environment and long-term sustainability of the forestry sector.

Whilst forestry is a major contributor to the Solomon Islands economy, forest logged, and logs exports remain a very serious concern for long-term sustainability and climate change mitigation.

Trees as young as five to ten years were re-harvested, pictures of round log the size of a coconut trunk were posted on social media, Western Province raised its concern with regard to the size of logs appearing too young to be harvested and the story goes on.

China is committed to addressing climate change.  Whilst this is the case, it seems it does so only in China. There is no law in China banningthe trade of unsustainable trade of round logs.

This means all the imports are perfectly legal.  The high risk of illegality at the point of harvest is of no concern to China. 

Illegally harvested logs through trespass, into conservation areas, with no timber right hearing process, with fake licence, etc. are example but are of no concern to China. 

As long as it is not harvested illegally in China these are allowed to reach their shores. Logging has caused a lot of problem to the social well-being of the communities.

It does not bring genuine development to the lives of people.

As other countries in Southeast Asia and Africa tightened restrictions on timber exports through such measures as log export bans, China has turned to other sources of timber such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

High demand in China for timber continue to put pressure on Solomon Islands Forest depleting it to the level way beyond its sustainable rate.

Had the Executive Government done its work in the best interest of Solomon Islands, it could have negotiated with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for certain standards for sustainable with regard to logs/timber it imports from Solomon Islands.

China’s demand for logs is depleting the forest resources of Solomon Islands.

China could and still can introduce certain standards for sustainable harvest of forest resources similar to the Pacific tuna harvest with the introduction of IUU [Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated] harvesting of tuna.

China importing 80% of round logs from Solomon Islands and as our diplomatic partner it could do the same instead of providing political financing through the National Development Fund of the ESCROW Account to the Executive Government MPs only.

This is but one example that the Executive Government could have negotiated from the beginning and now, serving the country.

Instead it is now coming out what they negotiated for or sold our country for Political Financing through National Development Fund financing only the members of parliament in the Executive Government in order for them to stay in power.  Solomon Islands is a democratic State.

It is not the private company of those members of parliament in the Executive Government running is a business to serve their cronies.

2.            “Sharp power/ Soft Power” to manipulate the political and information environment

The ESCROW Account is nothing more than Corrosive Capital provided by China to the Executive Government of the people of Solomon Islands. It is “Sharp power” at work to manipulate the political and information environment.  

It is State-backed capital that lacks transparency or accountability and flows from authoritarian regime into Solomon Islands where there is weak rule of law putting our democracy at risk.

This is a bad deal concluded behind closed doors for the benefit of the Executive Government of the Day.

Whilst to date it is noticed that China has not behaved as it did in our neighbouring countries, let us not be confused for this could be the start of something big and beyond our control.

Slowly Solomon Islands is witnessing the manipulation of information, focusing on winning the information battle, shaping the national media and online environments, propaganda, borrowing the boat, buying the boat, shaping the discourse, and neutering debate.

The ESCROW Account is nothing more than Direct Political Interference, using ‘captured” elites to shape policy, supporting pro-China cronies and candidates and targeting investments for political influence.

We have seen pushbacks that lead to “sharp power” in other countries such as Australia, Maldives etc. 

Transparency Solomon Islands accepts that China is our diplomatic friend, and they can do good for us, but this cannot happen if our representatives think of themselves than the country. China must be congratulated has changed its approach from loan to grant in Solomon Islands.

This is a good sign, but this non-transparent ESCROW Political Account should be of concern to every right thinking Solomon Islanders. We need to watch out for Corrosive Capital for there are correlations between corrosive capital and governance failure in recipient countries.

Solomon Islands already has Governance gaps as a recipient country of any of these types of corrosive capital. 

It has weak laws and where rule of law is also weak. There are lack of checks and balances over government. ESCROW Account or the National Development Fund’s Governance from its country of origin is non-transparent, non-compliant and state-directed it would seem from the Prime Minister’s memo. 

The danger is that Solomon Islands as a recipient country allows negotiations behind closed doors, it has huge gaps in standards and implementation, rule of law is weak and the civil society inactive. 

Having these issues, it will be very prone to any “sharp power” and the political and economic intention of such funding as held in the ESCROW Account/National Development Fund.

How the ESCROW Account, the so-called National Development Fund has been allocated or being a discretionary fund for the ruling DCGA government demands the putting in place Corrosive Capital prevention and mitigation standards and practices.

It is also time for citizens and their representatives together build internal defences for our young democracy. It is time to assess the ESCROW Account – National Development Fund against its capacity, ability, and accountability to the following; Sovereign-Upholding; Transparent; Financially sustainable; Locally engaged; Geopolitically Prudent; Environmentally sustainable; Corruption -Resistant.

Transparency Solomon Islands calls on the Executive Government to explain to the people why the $200,000.00 is given to those in the Executive Government only. 

Is DCGA telling the people of Solomon Islands that Solomon Islands has been re-drawn and is made up of only 39 Constituency. Isn’t this discriminating, divisive, and threatening peace and stability.

If people are arrested for causing instability is the Executive Government excused by the law.

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