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The country continued in 2005 to recover from a coup five years earlier and the ethnic conflict that engendered it. During the year, former rebels were brought to trial and several high-ranking officials were tried for alleged corruption. The government passed a new investment bill to facilitate foreign investment to help rebuild the economy.
The Solomon Islands, consisting of more than 27 islands and 70 language groups, gained independence in 1978 after having been a protectorate of the United Kingdom. Clan identity remains much stronger than national identity and is a deep source of ethnic rivalry. Tensions between the two largest groups-the Guadalcanalese, natives of the main island of Gaudalcanal, and the Malaitans, who come from the nearby province of Malaita-over jobs and land rights erupted into open warfare in 1998. The Isatambu Freedom Movement (IFM), claiming to represent native Guadalcanalese interests, forced the eviction of 30,000 Malaitans from Guadalcanal. Scores were injured or killed in the fighting that ensued between the IFM and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), a band of armed Malaitans. In June 2000, the MEF seized control of the capital, Honiara, and forced Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu to resign. Fighting officially ended with the Townsville Peace Agreement of October 2000, which Australia and New Zealand helped to broker.
Parliamentary elections in December 2001 brought a new government to power under Sir Allan Kemakeza. After the June 2003 departure of a UN mission-which had been sent to help restore peace-the Australia-led, multinational Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) took over to assist local police regain control and to help restore and reform the government. Since coming into office, Kemakeza has been struggling against substantial resistance to reforming the government and revitalizing the economy. Change has been slow, but some important progress has been made. In May 2004, the national parliament convened for the first time since the MEF took the capital in June 2000. Several leaders of the civil war factions have been arrested and brought to trial. Harold Keke, a former MEF leader, and two associates were sentenced to life in prison in 2005 for killing a cabinet minister in 2002, and several senior officials have been arrested and charged for their alleged involvement in the 2000 coup and related crimes. The police's new Corruption Targeting Task Force has been working with RAMSI to investigate official corruption; several high-ranking officials were arrested and charged in 2005. For example, the minister of health was arrested and charged with theft of development aid money, and former prime minister Ezekiel Alebua was arrested for the inappropriate use of a victims' compensation fund. Another cabinet minister and a former finance minister were also charged with corruption.
RAMSI marked its second anniversary on July 24, 2005, and the operation was deemed to have been a success in restoring stability and peace to the country. Some legislators have said that the country needs RAMSI for many more years to help it to recover and reform. Improving peace and order is encouraging new investment in mining and oil plantations. In May, the government passed a new investment law that would fast-track foreign investment, but critics charge that more actions are needed to remove bureaucratic barriers and curb corruption to spur investment and growth.
Citizens of the Solomon Islands can change their government democratically. As a member of the Commonwealth, the British monarch-Queen Elizabeth II-is the nominal head of state. She is represented by a governor-general who is chosen by parliament for a five-year term. Nathaniel Waena, the current governor-general, was elected to this office in July 2004. The government is a modified parliamentary system with a 50-member, single-chamber Legislative Assembly; members are elected for four-year terms. A parliamentary majority elects the prime minister, who appoints his own cabinet. The next general election is scheduled for 2006, but the government maintains that it lacks funds to register voters.
The leading political parties are the People's Alliance Party and the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change Coalition. However, politics is driven more by personalities and clan identities than party affiliations.
Corruption is a serious problem, resulting in public dissatisfaction and significant economic harm. Frequent allegations of official corruption and abuse of power have tied politicians and government officials to logging contracts, licensing, and public contracts. At the end of November, there were reports alleging that Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza was involved in stealing millions of dollars of compensation funds for victims of the ethnic conflict from 1998 through 2000. Children of high-ranking government officials were also reported to have received a large number of government scholarships for overseas study. Petty corruption among the lower ranks of government officials also appears to be widespread. The Solomon Islands was not ranked in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression and of the press is generally respected. Reports on corruption and abuses by police and politicians appear in the local media. Those charged with wrongdoing sometimes use legal and extralegal means to intimidate journalists, but the government generally leaves matters to the courts for adjudication. The print media includes a daily, a weekly, and two monthly publications. The government operates the only radio station. There is no local television station, but foreign broadcasts can be received via satellite. Internet access is low, mainly because of the lack of telecommunications infrastructure and prohibitive costs.
Freedom of religion is generally respected. Academic freedom is also respected despite serious disruptions in instruction and research as a result of the recent violence and a lack of government funds. A 2005 government decision to provide free primary education will benefit 75,000 school-children and their families. There are no universities in the country, but students can obtain instruction and university degrees through an extension center of the University of the South Pacific, which has campuses in Fiji, Samoa, and Vanuatu.
Many civil society groups operate freely, with the largest numbers of groups promoting development and religion. The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and the government generally recognizes this right. Laws require organizers of demonstrations to obtain permits, which are typically granted. Workers are free to organize, and strikes are permitted. Wage earners represent 10 to 15 percent of the workforce; the rest engage in subsistence farming and fishing.
Threats against judges and prosecutors have weakened the independence and rigor of the judiciary. Judges and prosecutors have also been implicated in corruption and abuse scandals. In October 2004, the chief justice was dismissed for alleged misconduct. A lack of resources limits the government's ability to provide legal counsel and timely prosecution of trials. Traditional chiefs have asked the government to provide more funds to rural traditional courts to ease demand on the formal court system.
The constitution provides for an ombudsman, with the power to subpoena and investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. The ombudsman's office has potentially far-reaching powers but is limited by a lack of resources.
There is no army. Domestic security and law enforcement relies are provided by a civilian-controlled police force of about 1,000 people. Factional and ethnic rivalries within the police since the 2000 coup have rendered the police virtually useless. Many Malaitan officers joined the MEF, and the hiring of 1,200 untrained former militants as "special constables" to stop fighting also caused problems. Many of these "special constables" have been involved in criminal activities; police reform is a major focus for RAMSI. Prisons conditions are basic, but they meet international standards. A new prison building, with a recreation center, kitchen, toilets in every cell, and a family visitation center, has improved living conditions for prisoners. In 2005, two police officers were charged with the abduction and rape of a woman.
Despite legal guarantees of equal rights, discrimination limits the economic and political roles of women. No law prohibits domestic violence, although rape and common assault are illegal. Reports of violence against adult and teenage women have increased since the 2000 coup. The conflict in the late 1980s, along with a lack of funds for public education and health programs, have contributed to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS; 16 percent of the population is infected with the virus.