Article originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald
An Australian-led peace mission in the Solomon Islands has created a virtual apartheid by driving up prices in the capital and should be wound down, an academic says.
Tim Anderson, who has written a report on the mission for a foreign aid watchdog, says personnel with the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) have pushed up inflation for house prices and services by about 300 per cent.
“There’s whole suburbs that really Solomon Islanders can’t afford to rent or buy in any more,” said Dr Anderson, an associate professor of political economy at Sydney University.
“It’s really created a dual economy and it’s created a type of apartheid system which is understandable in the short term, but it’s very undesirable to keep on going,” he told ABC Radio.
Food prices had been less affected by the presence of RAMSI.
The report – to be released this week by the private organisation AID/Watch – says the $1.3 billion mission, which began in 2003 to halt a breakdown in law and order, should be wound down gradually.
The paper is based on Dr Anderson’s own interviews and reports by AusAID and the Solomon Islands Development Trust.
“There’s a significant amount of confusion about the role of RAMSI there and a lot of the people in it that are earning a lot of money,” Dr Anderson said.
“Let’s be real about this, most of the money is going back into Australian pockets.”
He says RAMSI has become like a de-facto government of the Solomons.
AID/Watch co-director Flint Duxfield said RAMSI was no longer the welcome, successful operation it had once been.
“It (RAMSI) has evolved into this large cumbersome and ultimately counterproductive aid-delivery mechanism that’s not really doing what it’s supposed to do,” he said.
“It is causing more harm than good.”
The report found that local resentment towards the mission was rising because RAMSI had made thousands of arrests, but few convictions had followed.
But RAMSI Assistant Special Coordinator Mataiasi Lomaloma criticised the report as narrow-minded, and said it did not reflect RAMSI’s critical role in creating a stable environment.
“This report is from a very narrow mindset. It is quite the opposite – RAMSI has restored law and order and stability for rebuilding to happen,” he said.
“It doesn’t reflect what is happening here in the Solomons. A stable environment is needed for all areas of society to grow.
“And, if anything, we are an organisation working to become not needed anymore.”
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Derek Sikua has been supportive of RAMSI, in stark contrast to his predecessor Manasseh Sogavare who accused Australia of using it as a political tool to meddle in the country’s affairs.
A spokesman for Sikua said there was a lot of support on the ground for RAMSI “but no doubt, not everyone is happy”.
“Costs have gone up but there are other factors like rising fuel prices,” he said.