18 Jul 2023

NZ govt says it 'honoured commitments' to Solomon Islands, rejects Sogavare's claims

5:30 pm on 18 July 2023
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare Photo: Tavuli News

The New Zealand government has rejected claims by Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that it has withheld financial support promised to the country.

On Monday, soon after landing back in Honiara from his official visit to Beijing, Sogavare told local media the Australian and New Zealand governments had promised budget support but "changed their position and delayed their assistance".

Sogavare, as first reported by ABC, said the decision of its "traditional donors" to pull funding support had pushed Solomon Islands to lean on China, who agreed to "fill the gap".

"Some of our donor partners who have committed to providing budget support to us this year have since changed their position and delayed their assistance for us and we are struggling to finance the 2023 budget," he said.

"This has left this country and people in a predicament. But I am delighted to announce, the People's Republic of China has really stepped up to provide this budget support needed for 2023."

Australia had promised $12 million while and New Zealand promised $15m in budget support, according to Sogavare.

When asked later in the media conference to expand on this statement, he responded in Solomon Islands Pidgin saying that prior to his departure to Beijing cabinet had heard that budgetary funding expected this year from several donor partners including New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the World Bank had been delayed for various reasons.

"So, we have analysed that in different ways. But that is how it is," he said.

"It is their money; we respect them and their taxpayers if they want to help us or not help us that is how it is. But because of that it has put a little bit of pressure on the budget especially our priority to fund the Pacific Games."

The prime minister eventually conceded that some of this funding was expected to arrive in government coffers this month.

But he insisted his country would need all the help it could get to deliver on its main priority for this year which is to deliver the Pacific Games in Honiara in November.

"We need to have enough resources there in terms of our revenue. I am sure it will pick up already," he said.

"Maybe the money that our friends have mentioned probably it has already come because they said it would be by mid-July or towards the end of July it should come. Once it comes that is great. We really need to have some resources there to successfully host the Pacific Games."

'New Zealand has honoured its commitments'

However, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson told RNZ Pacific: "We have not withheld or delayed any budget support to Solomon Islands."

"Aotearoa New Zealand remains committed to our development partnership, and over the past year has provided around $NZ10.1 million budget support to Solomon Islands including for education, economic reform and Pacific Games support," the spokesperson said.

"Our development partnership with Solomon Islands is one of our most significant by breadth, depth and value - now at approximately $NZ150m for 2021-2024. This includes budget support as well as funding for specific activities.

"The New Zealand High Commissioner in Honiara has been tasked to set the record straight with the Solomon Islands government, confirming New Zealand has honoured its budget support commitments."

New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta and Solomon Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeremiah Manele.

New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta and Solomon Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeremiah Manele. Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP / Solomon Islands Government

The Australian government had earlier told ABC it had not backtracked on any formal commitments.

"Australia has delivered on our budget support commitments to Solomon Islands this year," a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson told ABC.

"This support has been provided across numerous sectors in Solomon Islands including health, education and elections," they said.

"We continue to discuss development and budget support needs with the Solomon Islands government."

Sogavare has also questioned the "unneighbourly" and "coercive diplomatic approach" of targeting China-Solomon Islands relations and labelled it as "foreign interference" into the internal affairs of Solomon Islands.

He has also hinted at Solomon Islands intentions of establishing its own military due to the limited capacity of the Solomon Islands Police Force.

Sogavare said he had had this conversation with the Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles earlier this year.

The New Zealand government did not respond to RNZ's question on whether it had had any conversations about such intentions at any time this year, and if it would support such plans of the Solomon Islands government.

RNZ Pacific's attempts to get comments from Sogavare have been unsuccessful so far.