Tension over foreign bus operators in Solomons
A bus strike amid tensions in Solomon Islands over who should be running the capital's bus services.
More than 100 buses in the Solomon Islands capital were ground to a halt by a strike on Monday, causing many commuters a lengthy walk to work.
Tensions have flared after local bus owners went on strike, in protest against Chinese ownership of bus companies.
The business is dominated by Chinese owners who they say are not providing a good service.
Bridget Grace has more.
Police were called to disperse the local bus owners who had congregated in front of the Honiara City Council. There were also reports that angry bus commuters forced drivers of Chinese operated buses to hand keys to them, forcing more commuters out on the streets. These operators have also been accused of a brazen pursuit of profit by driving shorter bus routes for the same fare since 2013. One bus company owner Eddie Ufi says local people are worried about a lack of opportunities.
EDDIE UFI: Local business people, they think the Chinese people are not working together with the Solomon Islands people because they own almost every business and then they take over businesses like buses and taxis and others like that. Nothing will be left for the black people.
Solomon Islands has reserved 14 business areas for indigenous people, and it's understood the government is looking to increase that number as soon as next year. Bus and taxi operations are already on the reserved list. But as the Foreign Investment Division's Chief Investment Officer Christopher Nagu explains, some Chinese are citizens and therefore can't be excluded.
CHRISTOPHER NAGU: Some of these Asians they are citizens of this country so they are also involved in buses, taxis. As long as you are citizen you can enjoy the same privilege as the indigenous people of Solomon Islands so they also invest in buses some of them.
Mr Nagu says the policy is hard to enforce because people are not always honest when they apply for a bus license.
CHRISTOPHER NAGU: Some Asians they use the locals to operate the register on the locals. They register the business name under the locals and they operate, especially some the wives of some foreigners.
Honiara's city council is responsible for issuing bus licenses, and the City Clerk Fred Jones says they can't distinguish a person's background when they issue a license.
FRED JONES: There's rumours people register business under different names and all sorts so you can't really rule out if it's owned by Chinese or it's owned by local Solomon Islander. So it's just on the business name so we couldn't figure out if it's owned by Chinese or by locals.
Further exacerbating tensions are reports that bus operators are increasing basic fares from three to five dollars. Meanwhile, buses are back running normally in the capital. However a scheduled meeting this week between the Government and local and Chinese bus owners was postponed, and the issue of who can operate the buses remains unresolved. A special taskforce probed the Honiara bus services in 2013 and despite its report being presented in Parliament a year later, no action has been taken.
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