TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) on day one condemned the selective manner in which the Executive Government applied the Emergency Powers Regulations. Regardless of where the flights, vessels, were originating from, it called for the closer and proper management of our borders by the government applying the provisions in the Emergency Powers Regulation. This is especially so from all countries that are badly affected by Covid-19 including China. These Emergency Powers Regulation were specific in that only those coming into the country on work related to Covid -19 were to be allowed to enter the country during the SOPE. But this was not how those regulations were applied. No one in the country is unaware of how the Executive Government applied the regulations selectively, putting the people of this country to risk. It still allows loggers and miners to come in, but not those who were working on various national projects whose governments repatriated them prior to starting their borders. The argument raised in the social media questioning TSI’s supposedly opposition to only China flight is wrong. The question on TSI’s supposedly silence on the recent trip from Brisbane is one big misleading view. TSI has been advocating against the selective use of the Emergency Powers and for closure of our borders be it sea or air while calling for Executive Government to consider building a separate Covid – 19 facility away from the National Referral Hospital preparing the country. The Emergency Powers Regulation is clear, and most certainly those being brought from China are not working for Covid – 19 related work but SPG23 facility. TSI still expects the government to abide by the SOE Regulations and we call for the same with regard to any flight coming into the country. And again TSI calls for the publication of list of people being brought into the country through these flights with information on what is their business in the country and we can then all judge for ourselves on how Executive Government is implementing the Emergency Powers Regulation with regard to in-coming foreigners.
Transparency Solomon Islands points out that since the virus is now affecting our neighboring Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji and Australia we have been watchful of the vulnerability of Solomon Islands to the entry of the virus into the country. Thus, TSI advocated strongly that the government to reconsider allowing any direct flight from countries affected by covid-19 because the virus is killing and continued to kill people in our neighboring countries that have much better and state of the art health facilities compared to Solomon Islands. However, government has not listened to anyone including students in the Philippines who begged to be repatriated right from the beginning who have now tested positive. Instead of prioritizing our very own people it prioritized others and allow the first flight from those countries badly affected starting with China the origin of this Covid-19. We now know that this virus is laboratory grown in Wuhan. Even though TSI and the public strongly opposed the flight, the executive government and the cabinet stand with their decision to allow the Guangzhou-Honiara flight which landed at the Henderson airport on the night of Wednesday 2nd of September 2020. The government priority is more on bringing in Chinese engineers and diplomats than protecting the health of citizens. This is something none of us will deny the fact that government did not want to listen to anyone’s call including our call to stop the China direct flight.
Furthermore, Transparency Solomon Islands was concern and spoke out in the media about the fate of the students studying in the Philippines since after the flight from China government did not show any sign of urgency on Philippine. We must know that despite public outcry and criticisms, the country is under state of public emergency which the Prime Minister and the executive government holds all the power to say yes or no. Like the China flight, Brisbane flight to Honiara is equally under condemnation by TSI on the reasons that our health and safety continued to be compromise by the executive government. Australia is not an exception from countries badly affected by the pandemic and TSI also listed it as one of the countries not to be allowed any flight bringing in foreign nationals. TSI holds the view that any flight that comes from the country where covid-19 is high should be cancel, including China, Australia and the Philippine complying with the requirements of the Emergency Powers Regulation. But given the constitutional rights of our citizens stranded in those affected countries, TSI urge the government to now build a separate Covid – 19 facility away from the National Referral Hospital for the repatriation of our citizens infected citizens overseas. If those coming in from Brisbane Australia Flight are to help with this then SOE provides for that. We know that there are those married to Solomon Islanders wishing to re-join their families but have been denied so there is something not transparent about how government makes its selection. TSI later learned that those two direct flights from China and Australia were majority passengers are foreign nationals. In the case of Australia flight, it is understandable that out of those eight Solomon Islanders repatriated, the foreign nationals are residing and working in Honiara but were caught in the travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Those foreign national may have been working in Solomon Islands and contributing to development of the country prior to the pandemic. With a non-transparent government, we just do not know what is going on and how government makes its decisions. The China flight we know is of nearly all Chinese nationals onboard the Guangzhou flight. These were first time entry into Solomon Islands. They come from a country where there is almost no information unlike our neighbours. This too should concern us apart from the fact that China is the country of origin of this virus. We can complain to Australia and they will listen and that is the difference between Australia and China. Government still needs to inform us why the Brisbane flight.
Given how this Executive Government has conducted itself it will not be a surprise that, the Brisbane-Honiara flight was announced by the government because they felt guilty about the direct flight from China and therefore allowed its savior during the ethnic tension to enter the country. This should be obvious something that they would deny if asked. Had the China flight not been allowed the Brisbane flight will not happen either. However, Australia and China cannot be compared on the argument that both are high risk covid-19 countries. One reason is China as a communist country cannot be trusted and believed for their reports that covid-19 is now under control and the country is not as risky as other countries affected by Covid-19. If they can suppress information of truths and alleged to have suspiciously murdered their own medical doctor who publicly speak out of the virus then that shows the type of leadership and country, we are dealing with.
Second reason we should not be comparing Australia to China is the difference earlier mentioned that those Australian in the recent Brisbane flight were working in Honiara prior to the laboratory birth of covid-19. They have offices in Honiara and been working for sometimes now before the pandemic affects China and spread across the globe. These Australians are renting apartments here with their belongings left here in Solomon Islands and they have all the rights to come back to their job and properties here. Third reason we should not compare Australia to China is the fact that China is the founding nation of covid-19 and should have contain the virus from spreading to the rest of the world, but they fail to do that. Now the virus is everywhere resulting in global economic recession and hundreds of thousands of people died and brings misery to the lives of people and families. What is China going to do about the disastrous consequences of the virus to the lives of people and countries? Does China carry any sense of guilt of the misery they brought to the rest of the world? Not even thinking of admitting their failures and say sorry to the rest of the world. Australia a pacific nation always stood beside Solomon Islands ever since the country secede from Great Britain. Australia been helping Solomon Islands in terms of financial aid, security, scholarships, infrastructure development and many other forms of assistance over the years before China came yesterday to be boasted about by the executive government. They will also be the first, were the first to respond helping us in this pandemic. These are facts and TSI believes Australia will do all it can not to compromise our COVID 19 free status. TSI re-iterated that it will continue to advocate strongly against direct flight from countries affected by Covid-19 be it Australia, China or Philippine, if the reasons for their coming into Solomon Islands is on activities that do not benefit this country much other than return all benefits to its own country like SPG23, logging, and mining.
Moreover, Transparency Solomon Islands wants to point out the failure by the executive government to repatriate Philippine-based students earlier before the virus hits the country badly. TSI support the move to repatriate our students in Philippine. Even though our students are tested positive of the virus TSI feel that our students should not be abandoned and must be ensure they are treated with the virus and brought home as soon as possible. TSI supports the government in their plan to repatriate students in the Philippine, but strongly condemned the delay by the government to repatriate the students as early as April and May this year when the virus was still low in the Philippines. A parent of a student studying in Philippine told TSI that if government respond to the call from the students since April this year, those infections could have been avoided. The situation now most difficult to be deal with but we will continue monitor how the government is handling the issue of students in Philippine. TSI call on the executive government to prioritize the move to repatriate students in Philippine and keep a close eye on our infected students so that the number does not increase and isolating them in a clean environment where they can recover and return home. Build a separate Covid 19 facility and bring them home. Australia can show us how to do that.
The issue of risk posed by international flights coming from covid-19 countries is a matter that every citizens are concern about because it is serious and becoming a threat to the lives of our people. It is heart-wrenching to learn that 12 of our Philippine-based students now have the virus. It is something that we must pray and work together to restore the health of or infected students overseas. TSI wants to reiterated that our position is independent and neutral from politics. We maintain our position as a watchdog to ensure corruption does not thrive in our governing systems. TSI is not anti-China as some people think. TSI only advocates against all direct flights from countries that are affected by Covid-19. However, TSI urged the executive government and cabinet to put aside their personal agenda and prioritize the health of our citizens at this time of the pandemic. We are living in a difficult time where the whole world is affected by the impact of covid-19 on their economies and Solomon Islands as a dependent country definitely find it challenging to deal with its problems. It is time leaders and people including churches, communities and Non-Government Organizations to work together to keep our country covid-19 free while we strive to revive our economy.