A plethora of issues we must face in the race against time

34

By Alfred Sasako

This is the first of a feature-type article by Alfred Sasako on the Malaita Land Summit.

 

A plethora of issues – largely land related ones came out in the open during the Malaita Land Summit held in Auki last week.

Azusa Kubota, UNDP’s Solomon Islands’ Country Manager, was one of the speakers at the official opening of the three-day Summit on Tuesday 13th November. She revealed that despite table-thumbing speeches by politicians on development over the years, the national government is as much to blame as anyone else.

For example, Solomon Islands’ failed to achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set by political leaders at the United Nations, when the MDGs expired or ran out in 2015.

That year, we, along with 192 countries, made commitments to achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 – only twelve years away. These goals talk about people having access to good education and health care system, safe drinking water and sanitation and food.

We have only 12 short years to beat the race to achieving these goals.

“Is the Solomon Islands going to look different in 2030?,” Ms Kubota asked. This question leads to another – does the national leadership has the capacity to deliver on any or all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) leaders set at the United Nations three years ago?

Here’s what Ms Kubota said.

“Premier Peter Ramohia, Provincial Assembly Members, Representatives from the Ministry of Unity, National Reconciliation and Peace, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Survey, Chiefs, Women and Youth Representatives of Communities in Malaita

Distinguished resource persons and representatives of academic institutions

On behalf of the UN Peacebuilding Fund project, I would like to welcome you all and thank you for coming.

This summit is supported by the UN Peacebuilding Fund project, which is implemented by UNDP and UN Women. The first project started in 2016 to support the country with the transition from the withdrawal of RAMSI. The current project started early this year and focuses on addressing issues that are identified as triggers for conflicts.

Last year, the UN conducted a nation-wide survey, targeting 2,500 people in eight provinces. The survey asked people to identify the most common cause of dispute. Almost half of the respondents identified land disputes.

This means that there is a close linkage between land and peace. Therefore, we are working with partners to have a close look into the land issues.

Similarly, the survey asked people to identify two most important actions for ensuring lasting peace in the Solomon Islands. The top response was increased access to economic opportunities and employment.

People said that economic growth that leads to job creation is important for maintaining peace in the country. Inequalities in income and access to services create conflicts and tensions.

At the same time, we know that the economic growth and development efforts are often hampered by land disputes across the country.

For example, together with the government and communities, the UN has been implementing several development projects. They include providing a sustained supply of drinking water to communities by installing water tanks and rehabilitating water sources and training rural famers to adapt to the impact of climate change.

Many times, these projects were affected by land disputes. Communities of a hundred families could not benefit from a drinking water supply because a handful of individuals contested the land ownership. Many women farmers in the coastal villages could not grow vegetables for their families because their access to highlands to fetch fertile soil had been denied.

Several large-scale infrastructure development projects and investments have been blocked, denying opportunities to bring prosperity to the communities and to Solomon Islands as a nation.

Solomon Islands’ economy is growing at the rate of about 3 percent per year. At the same time, the population of the country is growing at the same rate. This means that the economy is growing just enough to support the fast-growing population, and arable land won’t be available. The economy needs to grow much faster in order to bring new jobs and economic opportunities to the people.

Solomon Islands did not meet any of the eight Millennium Development Goals, which expired in 2015 while many of the emerging countries met most of them through rapid economic growth and proactive policy interventions.

In 2015, along with 192 countries, the Solomon Islands made commitments to achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. These goals talk about people having access to good education and health care systems, safe drinking water and sanitation and food. 2030 is only 12 years away. Is the Solomon Islands going to look different in 2030?

To ensure that people in Solomon Islands have adequate social services and economic opportunities, something very different needs to take place to unblock the stagnation and accelerate economic growth.

History has taught us that peace cannot be achieved without development. Similarly, development cannot be attained without peace. So how do we ensure development takes place while fully respecting people’s rights to land and customs? How can we move forward as a united country, one people, one nation and one future, so that the interests of the collective population can be reflected in the decision-making processes?

These are the questions I hope we will be able to discuss and answer through a concrete set of action points with the commitment of the decision makers and community representatives. We fully appreciate that land issues are complex matters¬ that cannot be resolved during one summit. However, I hope it will help trigger a chain of action towards solutions.

In closing, we would like to commend the government of Solomon Islands for its continued efforts to address the land issues and also to Malaita Province for leading a way to tackle this complex issue of land reform.

The sustainable development agenda calls for leaving no one behind. While many countries grow rapidly, it is important no one is left behind from the benefits of such growth. Therefore, decision making process should be fully inclusive of women, youths and other marginalized groups, representing the population of Malaita. I would like to commend the provincial government for making sure a full participation of the community representatives in this summit and beyond.

The issue of land disputes is not only affecting Malaita, but the Solomon Islands as a whole. If solutions are not found in the immediate future, Malaita might be left behind, and Solomon Islands might be left behind while the rest of the world achieves greater prosperity and peace.

This is an agenda that requires collective efforts and a shared vision. I wish all of you a fruitful discussion and hope there will be a concrete set of actions to take the discussion forward.”