31 May 2013

Solomons acting police commissioner defends police against corruption claims

3:21 pm on 31 May 2013

The acting police commissioner of the Solomon Islands says she is making police neutrality a priority, but complaints about corruption need more proof.

Juanita Matanga says the police need to be more professional as they prepare for the departure of the RAMSI military presence at the end of June.

Some members of parliament have levelled corruption complaints against police in rural areas, but others have more faith in the force.

Alex Perrottet reports.

Juanita Matanga has been the acting commissioner since John Lansley returned to England at the beginning of May after just a year in the job. Amid criticism over his speedy departure, Ms Matanga says it was a simple case of a one-year contract coming to an end.

"JUANITA MATANGA: His contract finished, and business as usual. We must continue because our duty as police officers is that we must help this country. Whoever comes in, they serve their term and they leave. Whoever comes and takes on the job, they continue with the job."

As the RAMSI military prepare for departure on 30 June, some MPs are concerned the police are not trained properly and take sides in local disputes. The leader of the Independents and member for West Are'are, John Maneniaru, says there is a court order for a local logging company to stop operations while land issues are settled, but police with vested interests have supported the company by submitting a sworn statement to the court.

JOHN MANENIARU: To me, if a police officer who is not neutral and not carrying out their work, how will I assure my people of their confidence that they can look up to police duties and responsibilities to this country?

But Ms Matanga says the politicians have their own interests in mind, and people should make formal complaints if they see or hear about corruption in the police.

JUANITA MATANGA: We are dealing with them and that's one of my priorities, to deal with these issues. Because we would like to see that police are maintaining neutrality and there is no corruption in the force, so we can ensure that we carry out our job professionally.

Mr Maneniaru says the public don't have enough faith in the police, and he has waited three weeks after sending his own letter to Ms Matanga.

JOHN MANENIARU: I personally don't have confidence in the police, and so I call upon them to make a thorough review and overhaul of the total police structure, so that those who are not performing and corrupting the system should be removed.

But the leader of the Alliance Party, Milner Tozaka, says the police are doing a good job, but all positions must be filled by the right people, and good leadership is crucial.

MILNER TOZAKA: Before police can be independent they need to have all the key positions in the police filled by people who have all the right qualifications, the right skills, the right knowledge of the job - that's very fundamental - including the top post of the police, that's the commissioner of the police.

He says if there is a local person properly qualified for the role of Commissioner, he or she should be appointed above possible foreign candidates.