DEAR EDITOR, it was reported in the Island Sun newspaper last week that Prime Minister Hou met in Honiara with the visiting Head of Australia’s Intelligence Organization, ASIS, Mr. Paul Symon, when the PM was briefed on the proposed South Pacific Intelligence Dialogue (SPID) to be held in June this year.
The planned SPID meeting will follow a previous one held in Fiji last year.
During the course of his meeting with Mr. Symon, Prime Minister Hou was reported as having informed the ASIS head of the challenges faced with national security in the country, mentioning the Solomon Islands border with Papua New Guinea, confidentiality of information, cyber security and financial intelligence.
Rather surprisingly the PM was quoted in the paper as having said to Mr. Symon, “I believe we do have a national intelligence committee in the country but it has been operating on an ad hoc basis. Therefore, there is a need to establish a proper institution to address these issues.”
Taking the meaning of ad hoc for “a special or an immediate purpose without previous planning”, it was perhaps not untimely for the PM to add there was the need for a proper institution to address these (security) issues.
Twenty years ago there was a body in the Solomon Islands known as the National Security Council but that too seemed to have functioned on an ad hoc basis.
Just as PM Hou said the incumbent police commissioner briefed him and his Cabinet on the most recent incident regarding the much reported apprehension in February of 29 Boungainvilleans for allegedly entering the country’s border illegally, I too, as a former Commissioner of Police, reported security matters weekly to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet during the Solomon Alliance for Change (SIAC) administration.
My weekly reports were presented on information that had been provided to me by the RSIP Special Branch which was a valuable and much needed security intelligence branch that had been instituted during the Colonial era and its most senior personnel, including the Director of Special Branch and his Deputy, trained in security intelligence matters in the United Kingdom.
The Special Branch’s function and mandate was to identify any threat or potential threat to the security of the Solomon Islands and to develop intelligence of a political or sensitive nature and conduct investigations to protect the country from perceived threats of subversion, terrorism and other extremist political activity.
The Special Branch reports provided me with the means of giving the SIAC government the very early warnings of the serious threat posed by the activities of the GRA in November 1998 and subsequent reports provided by the Special Branch, aided by a British intelligence specialist I recruited to the Special Branch, provided the accurate ongoing security assessments which were disregarded by SIAC and by regional governments during my time in office from 1997 to mid 1999.
When the Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI) arrived in the country the RSIP Special Branch was disbanded.
A Strategic Review of the Solomon Islands Security was conducted in 1998 by Australia at the request of the Solomon Islands (SIAC) Government and at my urging.
The concluding report of the Strategic Review which was handed to Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa’ala in April 1999 set out some specific recommendations on barrier control measures needed and I will quote some of the measures that were publically released at the time.
It has to be said that the Strategic Review did not spell out any financial support for any of the recommendations and in 1999 the SIAC government was faced with a dire financial crisis (a staggering USD 200 million debt) and soon became overwhelmed by the onset of militant activities (although predicted by the regular Special Branch reports). As a consequence none of the recommendations made in the Strategic Review were implemented. As I left in July 1999, I cannot say what happened to implementing anything in my absence from the Solomon Islands.
Quoting from the Strategic Review on Barrier Control and generally here is a précis.
“The key to effective barrier control operations lies in the implementation of a comprehensive surveillance regime to provide early and a reliably high probability of detection together with the effective coordination of response operations among relevant control agencies.”
“The situation will be significantly improved with the introduction of a new layered strategy. The first layer will be the information provided by regional intelligence sharing.” (Then there was little or none taking place but occasional drop-in visits from liaison officials from security agencies in Australia and New Zealand).
“Cooperation with neighbours in this regard is not well developed at present and it will be the task of the National Security Operations Centre (through the Intelligence and Communications Cell) to promote such exchanges.”
“The maintenance of a comprehensive national picture of sightings and movements is essential to developing this cooperation.”
“Some wide area surveillance will also be provided by patrols of the two Pacific Patrol Boats and aerial surveillance reports from flights by cooperating security partners.” (In 1997-1999 I received no such aerial surveillance reports).
“All government agencies must work together to manage current problems and to tackle the underlying causes of any future instability.” ( A remarkable sentence given that when the Strategic Review was given to Prime Minister Ulufa’ala in April 1999, GRA militancy was then intense and thousands of Malaitan plantation workers and their families coming under attack and being forced out of Guadalcanal)
It went on – “The contribution of areas such as education, youth affairs, and national development plans play a valuable part in avoiding tensions and dislocation within society and promoting realistic expectations and support networks, especially for the nation’s youth. Similarly, the effective administration of justice is essential to giving credibility to enforcement operations.”
“The National Security Council is being revived as a focus for this new approach.”
I do not believe the National Security Council got off the ground.
There was much more in the Strategic Review, including the suggested composition and make-up of the National Security Operations Centre, but hardly worth going into more details since the many recommendations were all ‘pie in the sky’ given what I have already had to say about the SIAC government’s finances, no support for the implementation phases of the Review from Australia and the onset of armed militancy.
In conclusion, I would like to endorse the words of Prime Minister Hou in saying that the Solomon Islands does, indeed, need to have a proper functioning institution to address the nation’s security situation if all that exists is a ad hoc Committee in 2018.