Australia offers to fund elections, Timing of the offer inappropriate says Solomon Islands

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Australia has made an offer to fund Solomon Islands National General Elections.

In an interview with ABC RN Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the offer reflects Australia’s long-standing and historic commitment to supporting democracy and the democratic processes in Solomon Islands.

“We have made an offer for assistance and it’s a matter for Solomon Islands as to whether they will respond and how they will respond.

“We made an offer,” Wong said.

She said this is a reasonably common approach that Australian Governments have made over the years.

Australia’s offer for assistance came as the National Parliament of Solomon Islands Bills and Legislations Committee (BLC) gave the public two weeks to respond to the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) proposal to extend the life of parliament by one year.

The DCGA is seeking a one-off deferral of elections to allow the country to host the 2023 Pacific Games, which, also coincides with the national election year.

The Government said hosting two large events at the same time is costly for the Government and the appropriate option is to defer the election and host the games, which, is the only opportunity for Solomon Islands now.

Chairman of the BLC John Maneniaru said his committee has until 28 September to gather written submissions from individuals, groups and organisations who wish to express their views, knowledge or understanding of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2022 that is now before parliament.

The BLC is a Parliamentary Standing Committee established under Standing Order 71. One of its mandates is to review all draft legislation prepared for introduction into Parliament.

The Opposition Group said the government’s move is against the will of the people.

Member of Parliament for West Makira Derrick Manuari said the government is pushing people to the edge knowing well that the people are not in support of any plan to extend parliament because they are confused and not convinced by the reasons given by the government.

However, the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said the Bill was put on notice since 5th August and not a single inquiry was held by the BLC.

Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands Government says the timing of the announcement by the Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong that Australia is willing to fund the Solomon Islands upcoming National General Election was inappropriate.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Government said it acknowledges and appreciate the offer, however, its announcement came at a time when a bill to defer the elections for a period of 7 months is now before the National Parliament of Solomon Islands for deliberation.

The bill is set for the elected Members of Parliament to debate and vote on as required by the Constitution of Solomon Islands and NOT the Australian Government to influence.

“The timing of the public media announcement by the Australian Government is in effect a strategy to influence how Members of Parliament will vote on this Bill during the second reading on Thursday 8th September 2022. This is an assault on our parliamentary democracy and is a direct interference by a foreign government into our domestic affairs,” the statement said.

The Solomon Islands Government has conveyed to the Australia Government its concern on the conduct of bilateral relations via the media through the Australian High Commission Office in Honiara.

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2022 was put on notice in Parliament on 5th August 2022. This is the Bill that seeks to delay the dissolution of Parliament by 7 months, which in effect will see the conducting of the National General Election (NGE) for the 12th Parliament around February or March 2024.

On 01 September 2022, the Solomon Islands Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade received a letter from the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, offering to fund the National General Election. The Solomon Islands Government was in the process of replying when the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister made an announcement to the Australian media about this offer. This announcement was made on the same day that the Bill was read for the first time in Parliament.

“Solomon Islands is a sovereign country and its Parliament must not be seen to be coerced or unduly influenced by ill-timed offers that is directed to a matter that is before Parliament,” the statement said.

The Solomon Islands Government will make a formal response to this offer after Parliament has disposed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2022.

SOURCE: SOLOMON STAR/PACNEWS