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$5 mil. disaster system given to Solomon Islands by Japan left disconnected for years

The Board of Audit of Japan offices. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- An emergency communications system installed in the Solomon Islands at a cost to Japan of nearly $5 million was left disconnected -- and some parts lost -- for up to three-plus years, Japan's Board of Audit has discovered.

    The anti-disaster communications system was given to the South Pacific nation free as part of Japan's official development assistance (ODA) program, with outlays totaling about 500 million yen (around $4.75 million) in the fiscal years 2011 to 2014. The project was decided by the Japanese Foreign Ministry and implemented by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the Board of Audit on Oct. 20 requested the agencies to quickly get the system reinstalled and to take measures to prevent a recurrence.

    The problem was uncovered when the Board of Audit carried out spot checks of 41 programs including loan assistance projects across five countries implemented from fiscal 2002 to FY2019.

    The Solomon Islands experience frequent natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunami, and tropical cyclones, and Japan's Foreign Ministry decided in 2011 to provide aid to deal with these threats. The anti-disaster communications system was designed to facilitate the intensive collection of disaster information by the relevant Solomon government agencies, and consisted of radios, repeaters, antennas and other equipment. JICA installed all these, as well as shortwave radio equipment to allow the islands' public broadcaster to get information to every corner of the country. The project was completed in July 2014.

    However, parts of the apparatus including radios, repeaters and antennas were disconnected during maintenance and office relocations at the Solomon Islands' Meteorological Services Division in 2016, and at the National Disaster Management Office and Ministry of Mines, Energy & Rural Electrification in 2017. The system remained off-line, and the antennas and other apparatus missing, when Japan's Board of Audit investigated the project in May 2019.

    After the problem was pointed out by the board, authorities spent from June last year through this year reinstalling the system. JICA has said that the Solomon authorities are replacing the missing antennas and some other equipment, and that the Japanese agency "will continue to encourage and advise" them.

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamazaki, City News Department)

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