Feb 19, 2018 Last Updated 5:27 AM, Feb 19, 2018

Former banker promises cuts in government spending

Two months in the hottest seat of Solomon Islands politics, Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela is already geared up to steering his country to a new direction with the passing of his government’s 2018 National Budget as his foremost priority. Focused on his new calling, the former central banker has listed a few priorities that he needed to address urgently in this new year.

Topping the list is the passing of the 2018 National Budget, which he hopes to do in next month’s sitting of parliament. As the head of government, PM Houenipwela’s other priorities for this year include stablising his country’s political and fiscal situations as well as implementing the government’s selected priority infrastructure projects. Expect the 2018 budget to be lower than those of the previous years, he promised.

“This budget will be realistic, we will only spend what we earn.” Also a priority is a new anti corruption bill, which his new government is determined to bring to the floor of parliament as soon as it is cleared by the bills and legislation committee through its public hearings.

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Solomon Islands now boasts two branches

SIX months after successfully expanding its business to Solomon Islands, the European bank-BRED Bank- will open a second branch in Honiara by the end of the year and a third branch in the provinces in the next 24 months. BRED Bank CEO in Solomon Islands, Owen Thomson, told Islands Business they would now focused on improving the quality of their services by implementing mobile banking through Mobile Application and USSD – banking through text messaging “This is very important for us to deliver banking service to everyone as most of the population live in remote rural areas with no banking access,” Owen said.

He said they would work with NGOs and government agencies to promote saving groups and financial knowledge for the people in Solomons. With the successful establishment of operations throughout the Pacific (Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia and French Polynesia), the BRED Group began operation in Solomon Islands in August last year with one staff member. By opening day, it has installed eight ATMs and opened over 830 accounts.

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Battle for power

Australian, Japanese firms fight over deposits

THIS year marks the 70th year of the end of the war in the Solomons. Yet the battle over natural resources in these islands ended in the courts just months ago and there were no winners.

In fact the biggest loser has been the Solomon Islands in terms of lost opportunities for investment and job creation. The Australian media has tried to portray this as an epic David versus Goliath battle. In this case a small Australian mining company has been stripped of its rights to one of the Pacific’s biggest greenfield nickel laterite deposits, after a decision by the Solomon Islands Court of Appeal.

ASX-listed Axiom Mining has battled long and hard with the Japanese giant, Sumitomo Metal Mining (SMM) Solomon Islands Limited for control of the deposit in Isabel Province. Three overseas judges of the Solomon Islands Court of Appeal quashed ministerial approval of Axiom’s prospecting licences, finding that the transfer of land registration to Axiom’s landowner partners had not been completed properly and so was invalid.

“It is a setback, but it is not a major or material setback from our point of view,” said Axiom Mining’s chief executive officer Ryan Mount. ‘Most important case’ on land since independence.”

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Solomon Islands after RAMSI

ON June 30 the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) came to an end. Established in July, 2003, RAMSI has been a feature of life in Solomon Islands for more than a third of its history as an independent country. While much of what follows is anecdotal, recent visits to Honiara have provided some insight into the mood among Solomon Islanders as the end of RAMSI approaches.

The operation has been in a gradual wind-down since 2013 and is now much less visible that it was in earlier years. Even so, RAMSI still looms large in the minds of Solomon Islanders. RAMSI will be leaving Solomon Islands in an atmosphere of general goodwill.

The Solomon Islands government is planning a series of events to mark the end of RAMSI in late June. These will be the occasion for sincere and heartfelt expressions of gratitude for RAMSI’s role in restoring the rule of law and the functioning of government in Solomon Islands. Much stress will—rightly—be placed on the regional nature of RAMSI’s composition.

Although RAMSI couldn’t have been mounted or sustained without Australian funding and personnel, it was the participation of all of Solomon Islands’ Pacific neighbours in RAMSI that gave it its particular character, and lent it genuine legitimacy in the eyes of Solomon Islanders.

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Solomons stays unique

Islands Business talks to Freda Unusi, Solomons Islands Tourism Bureau’s marketing manager about the isand nation’s aspirations and tourism strategies IB: So the Solomons has the cleanest air in the world!

UNUSI: We just heard yesterday. We’re first and New Zealand is second according to the WHO.

IB: What does that mean for the Solomon islands as a desination?

UNUSI: Wow! That’s a catch phrase for us – If you want to relax and have clean, healthy air, come to the Solomons.

IB: How do you keep it that way?

UNUSI: I know! Well, for a start the logging industry is big in the Solomons so perhaps what we have to do now that they have announced that (but it’s slowly depleting. So we have no option but to revert to what we have in our lifetsyle and everything else...

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