Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare says his disputes with Australia are in the past and has enthusiastically welcomed Canberra’s new emphasis on supporting private sector development in the Pacific.
Mr Sogavare began his third term as prime minister last month having served as prime minister of Solomon Islands from 2000 until 2001 and again from 2006 until 2007.He is one of Solomon Islands most experienced politicians and before politics he served at the head of his country’s finance department and as commissioner for internal revenue.
During his last term in office, his fiercely independent approach and his support for his Australian attorney-general, who was facing sex charges in Brisbane, led to prickly relations in Canberra.Mr Sogavare said history had vindicated him and relations with Australia were now on a strong footing.
“Australia will always and has always been a friend and a major developing partner in Solomon Islands and the relationship has been very good,” he said.
“There were ups and downs in the history but that’s past and we would like to take things forward.”
During his last term as prime minister, relations with Australia hit a major low and Mr Sogavare expelled the Australian High Commissioner and an Australian police commissioner.He said there were things he would do differently this time.
“Yes, I think that both sides have learnt some serious lessons from that [period]. At the end of the day I was correct. I was vindicated by that court that cleared the former attorney-general,” he said.
Australian help needed in the region
Seven years ago Mr Sogavare was a critic of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which helped restore law and order after ethnic tensions at the turn of the century.
Now he says RAMSI’s success was due to Australia’s leadership. He goes further and said Australia’s role in security in the region saw the Pacific islands remain more peaceful then other developing nations.
“The region enjoys peace compared with other regions. And we would like to continue to see that that peace is maintained. And that peace has always been maintained because of the awfully important role played by Australia,” he said.
Mr Sogavare this week announced an ambitious agenda for his four-year term, including a raft of measures to clean up corruption, improve democracy and boost economic growth.
Solomon Islands is the second most aid-dependent country in the world – a status Mr Sogavare is determined to shake off with Australia’s help.
He wants Australia’s aid for health, education and essential services to continue but is foreshadowing changes.
“There are specific needs in Solomon Islands future – redirecting the emphasis of aid. Those are things we can work on together and Australia’s open to that in negotiations and talks.”
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has put support for the private sector at the top of her agenda in the Pacific. Mr Sogavare said that was a “very, very welcome approach”.
“Yes, that’s very interesting. And we welcome if they can aggressively put their money in the private sector and to invest in the Solomon Islands. We would like to, probably, talk more about that,” he said.
The Solomon Islands prime minister has had one telephone conversation with his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, since taking office.
Mr Sogavare said an early plan to meet in February at a regional leaders meeting in Sydney has now been postponed in favour of a meeting at the Pacific Forum later this year.
SOURCE: ABC NEWS