Monday, May 03, 2010

Solomons: Checkbook diplomacy still?

A stirring article from the Solomons from a Crusading Journalist on the Heinous Misuse of Taiwan Aid. Looks like checkbook diplomacy in action:
In the eyes of donors, the Republic of China [Taiwan] is the international pariah [social outcast] for handing out free money to Solomon Islands politicians.

In their view, Taiwan stands accused, falsely or correctly, of fueling corruption with its “no strings attached” aid grants to Solomon Islands, totaling some $50 million annually.

Much of this money is paid directly into the hands of politicians, who according to opponents use the money on “projects” that benefit themselves.

Public outcry got all the louder this past week after Taiwan’s Honiara-based, Ambassador George Chan, handed a cheque for $10 million to Prime Minister, Derek Sikua, on Friday 23rd April 2010. The payment was the second tranche of the RCDF grants. An equal amount was paid in February.

Coincidentally, 23rd April was the last official day in the life of the 8th Parliament, which was dissolved some 24 hours later. Paying the money on that day only added fuel to the growing criticisms.

But Ambassador Chan explained that while the timing was unfortunate, it was nothing new.

In an interview with him on that day, he said: “Taiwan had preprogrammed the payments to be spread over a 12-month period with the first payment being in February each year. Thereafter, payment is made every other month.”

His revelation in the Solomon Star newspaper that the government had asked the Embassy to release the full RCDF grants to MPs before Parliament was dissolved has put a different spin on matters
The writer, one Alfred Sasako, longtime journalist in the Solomons, goes on to give what he says is an aid acquittal for East Kwaio district. A million dollars disbursed, with $682K going into "general assistance." A clear case of Taiwan buying politicians if ever there was one, he more or less hints.

Yet -- perhaps you should check out my post on Taiwan, Australia, and the Solomons before you decide on what's going on. I'll repost a paragraph. Read it carefully...
Taiwan’s image problems were compounded when another candidate accused Taiwan of interference. Alfred Sasako complained that a rival candidate had told his electorate that they would receive no Taiwan funding as long as Sasako remained MP. He also alleged that Taiwan had provided the rival candidate with funding for two projects. Antonio Chen told the media that Taiwan had stopped funding projects for which Sasako applied because he had failed to account for a SI$315,000 (US$44,000) police post project which, unbeknown to Taiwan, had also been funded by Australia.
Oh, wait. Sasako is the former MP for East Kwaio. Aid to his district was stopped by the previous Taiwan ambassador, Antonio Chen because Sasako was getting two sets of aid for the same project, but didn't tell Taiwan. In other words, the choice of East Kwaio is actually a criticism of the guy who replaced him as MP from that district -- as well as a hack on Taiwan. Locals would know that, of course, but casual readers outside the Solomons would not.

Sasako was fined for misconduct by the island's Leadership Code Commission in 2006 but refused to pay (here). He was censured for taking work in Brussels while an MP in the Solomons.

So, are we looking at a genuine criticism of Taiwan funding corruption, or an accusation that exploits Taiwan for local political gain, and gets a bit of revenge for a halt in aid programs that made him look bad? You make the call.

Note that Sasako at the beginning of the article says that Taiwan's aid to the Solomons is under a cloud. What he doesn't say is that it was Sasako's own complaints, in the last election, that dovetailed with Australia's need for a scapegoat for its own sleazy dealings in the Solomons, which helped fuel the perception that Taiwan was behaving wrongly in the Solomons. The post I linked to above has more discussion of that.

Sure am glad I'm not the ROC Ambassador to the Solomons.

REF: Solomons Islands 2006 election
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