Solomon Islands: A wider reflection on development challenges.
Last week Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Limited (GPPOL) commended landowners of Guadalcanal for hosting the nation’s biggest economic contributor.
The commendation was given by the General Manager of GPPOL Craig Gibsone, on the occasion of Guadalcanal’s 35th Second Appointed Day celebration last Thursday.
“For the past 14 years Guadalcanal province has hosted the operations of GPPOL in good and in bad times,” Mr.Gibsone commented.
He said the relationship and bond that had been built up between the Guadalcanal GPPOL and the Guadalcanal people was very strong and he was sure it will be everlasting.
“I thank the people of Guadalcanal for allowing us to come and operate on your land and sharing the benefits that you created.”
GPPOL is one of the country’s biggest economic contributors that also provides employment opportunities for the people of Solomon Islands.
Having learned of the praise for the landowners, I pondered over how far land reform had progressed since I was last in the country and was mindful of the need and manner of land reform as expressed by Joseph Foukona in his excellent paper, ‘A Pathway for Successful Land Reform, ‘written a few years ago.
I recall Mr Foukona having said this about land reform, quote:
This topic (land reform) has been on the government’s development policy agenda for many decades. When policy makers and other stakeholders discuss land reform often what they envisage is a process of simply amending existing or introducing new land laws. They continue to refer to law as an unproblematic framework for ‘unlocking’ or ‘opening up’ land for development. This way of thinking continues to shape Solomon Islands development policy rhetoric at the national and provincial level. But what exactly are we trying to ‘unlock’ or ‘open up’ in terms of land reform? Customary land in Solomon Islands is already working as it always has. Many current economic activities such as logging, copra, cocoa and other agricultural crops are happening on customary land. This means the bulk of our national economic gross domestic product (GDP) comes from customary land, so I don’t think customary land needs opening up. What is more important when we discuss land reform is making sure that all landowners receive equitable returns from development on their land.”
It would not, therefore, be unreasonable to conclude that the landowners Mr. Gibsone referred in Guadalcanal have benefitted from the lease of their land to GPPOL and received equitable returns.
In another quote from Mr. Foukona’s paper, he posed the following questions.
What kinds of land tenure arrangements are needed to secure development?
How custom landowners can access long-term benefits from development?
Mr. Foukona then added, quote:
“The government must lead the way, but it must also listen to the community. Large scale land reform can only be led by government. Successful land reform will require champions for land reform within government and from civil society.
“Successful government-led land reform requires a long-term approach, which builds a broad-based consensus around reform directions. This consensus can be built through genuine consultation involving meaningful dialogue around clear land reform goals. The government must genuinely listen to what people across the islands want in terms of land reform. Informed by this process the government will then have a mandate to act.”
It wasn’t so long ago that the Prime Minister, the Hon. Manasseh Sogavare expressed his concern that the country had seen little change by way of development in the 41 years of independence, and I guess the absence of land reform has had much to do with the lack of progress.
There were several international pundits who cited the recent general election in the Solomon Islands has returning the “old guard” and claiming the use of CDF payments had given a decided advantage in ensuring their return to parliament.
The same sentiments still linger abroad and I gather to some degree in the country.
“Nothing has changed.” One well knows political commentator and academic wrote most recently.
In May, the DCGA launched its First 100 Days Policy Framework at the Heritage Park Hotel.
Soon after the launch TSI said, quoting Radio New Zealand.
“Transparency International Solomon Islands says the government's new 100 Day Plan is overly ambitious.
“Manasseh Sogavare's government launched the policy framework of over 100 pages last weekend.
“It outlined what the government wants to achieve in the immediate future and covers many areas including infrastructure, health and social services.
“But Transparency International's Ruth Liloqula said the government may have bitten off more than it can chew.
"The plan is very ambitious and knowing how badly under-resourced our public service is, the government machinery is, and all of that, it's very ambitious. Whether it's achievable or not, that is a question we have."
“She also said the government should to let the public know how it will fund the plan.
"They have promised all of this but there is nothing there to tell us where the money is coming from.”
Most recently, thePrime Minister said his DCGA government was committed to work with development partners to upgrade and improve health services provided by the National Referral Hospital (NRH) and rural clinics throughout the country.
Prime Minister Sogavare also announced several key policies, quoting the Solomon Star newspaper.
“The launching of DBSI to provide financial services and credit facilities to our rural population and SME’s, construction of the Tina Hydro Facility, improvement of telecommunications infrastructure, launching of the Bina Harbour project and restarting economic development in the Russell Islands with the establishment of an engagement framework between local stakeholders, Central Province and the National Government.”
“Sogavare also announced the aim of the government to revive the Commodity Export and Marketing Authority (CEMA) which was deregulated years ago.
“This, according to the prime minister, is an important strategy to support the DCGA’s intention to aggressively address the participation of our rural populace in export oriented economic activities in the agriculture sector and to better coordinate the marketing of our commodities.
“In that regard we will provide direct support to rural farmers and to support the development of the Noni and Kava industries, and other exotic crops for targeted markets; re-establishment of rural fisheries centres and supporting development of aquaculture farms, and progressing the Mamara Development.
“We will take advantage of the close proximity of Temotu Province to Vanuatu to encourage the export of reef fish.”
“Sogavare further highlights his Government’s commitment to host the PG2023 as one that will see a face lift of Honiara city and the construction of modern sporting facilities for our talented youth population.
“Sogavare further said that DCGA’s commitment to take up the daunting challenge of upgrading the existing road systems and construction of new roads on Malaita, Guadalcanal and around Honiara.
“Under a very ambitious 10-year infrastructure development program, it is our intention to connect 70% of the country through a network of roads and sea transport services in the first and second phase of the program, “he said.
“According to the Prime Minister this should enable opening up agriculture potential of the country, which is currently out of reach because of lack of roads and appropriate infrastructures.”
One also learned that the Solomon Islands government is planning to launch the country's first Independent Commission Against Corruption before the end of the year.
The announcement was by His Excellency the Governor General the Reverend David Vunagi, during his maiden speech at the 11th session of parliament.
To counter the pundits claims about “nothing has changed.” I hope the policy plans and aims of the government will see some positive and tangible outcomes very soon because a 10 year development programme seems such a lengthy time for pessimists to have to wait when there are so many fundamental needs of the country to be to be addressed in the relative short-term, especially job creation for the unemployed youth.
If land reform is still to be addressed to bring about the GDP developments and returns Mr. Foukona wrote are possible, then there should be no undue delay I would urge.
Let me end with this quotation:
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”– Winston Churchill