Freedom in the World
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Status Change, Ratings Change:
The Solomon Islands’ status improved from Partly Free to Free, and its civil liberties rating improved from 3 to 2, due to a recent record of free competition among opposing political groupings and a pattern of increased judicial independence.
Political rights and civil liberties are generally respected in the Solomon Islands, though corruption remains a serious issue, and the government does not operate with openness and transparency. Violence against women is a significant problem.
- Investigations by a new anticorruption body known as Taskforce Janus led to the arrest of several high-profile government officials.
- A law criminalizing domestic violence and enabling victims to apply for protection orders came into force.
- In October, the Solomon Islands Court of Appeal upheld a government decision to make legislators’ salaries tax-free.
The most recent parliamentary elections, held in 2014, brought the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to power and were considered a significant improvement over previous polls. The improvements were largely attributed to the introduction of a biometric voter registration system, as well as a single ballot box system, both of which reduced incidents of electoral corruption and fraud. There are several political parties, but alliances are driven more by personal ties and local allegiances than formal policy platforms or ideology. Independent candidates dominated the 2014 polls, taking 32 of the 50 seats in the legislature.
The so-called “second election,” in which a parliamentary majority elects the prime minister, is the focus of many of the country’s political difficulties. Lawmakers either without party affiliation, or affiliated but prepared to switch sides in search of ministerial portfolios, frequently form factional alliances seemingly in contrast with the platforms they ran on. Additionally, there have been reports of businesses offering incentives for lawmakers to vote a particular way. Splits within the cabinet are frequent, and ministers often conduct their affairs unilaterally.
Sogavare pledged to usher in new anticorruption laws in 2016, but has had difficulty acquiring parliamentary support. However, in December, investigations by a new anticorruption body known as Taskforce Janus led to the arrest of Edmond Sikua, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Police, National Security, and Correctional Services, for allegedly manipulating his ministry’s tendering process to favor a family-owned firm. The financial controller in Sikua’s ministry and an inland revenue officer were also arrested during the year as a result of Taskforce Janus investigations.
In 2015, a parliamentary commission granted lifetime pension payments to all lawmakers, as well as tax-free status on their salaries. The benefits’ introduction drew strong public criticism given the size of the national debt, high unemployment, and other public spending needs. Later in 2015, the High Court ruled that granting payments tax-free to lawmakers was unconstitutional, but the ruling was overturned in October 2016, with the Solomon Islands Court of Appeal saying that while the move was unpopular, it was not unconstitutional. Generally, the courts have demonstrated greater independence in recent years.
Discrimination limits economic and political opportunities for women. Rape and other forms of violence against women and girls are serious problems. The 2014 Family Protection Act, which formally criminalized domestic violence and enabled victims to apply for protection orders, came into force in 2016.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in the Solomon Islands, see Freedom in the World 2016.