I just want to make a few comments in response to Mr. Frank Short’s brief article in the Island Sun Issue, Monday 19th November, about the UNDP-funded Land Summit that was held in Auki last week, 13th-15th November. I attended the entire Land Summit, a great many thanks to the Premier of Malaita Province, Mr. Peter Ramohia and his staff and the Organizing Committee. I must admit that I do not remember seeing Mr. Short there.
Of course, the Summit was very well-attended and if Mr. Short was mostly sitting in the back of the Hotel Malaita large conference room or diving in and out of sessions then it might be the reason why I did not see him. It might also be that Mr. Short was in virtual attendance as the Summit, I was told, was broadcast live nationally and internationally.
In any case, whether Mr. Short was physically present or virtually present at the Land Summit, I strongly disagree with his allegations that the youth were not being paid attention to and left to fend for themselves. First of all, the very fact that the youth were invited in the first place to the conference as an important group besides the women and kastom chiefs, with all the expenses met by UNDP, was a strong indication that the Summit leaders and organizers had valued their presence and contributions. And, indeed, they were given every opportunity to participate fully in the conference and for the most part they did.
Much more than other scheduled presenters, the youth, women and kastom chiefs were also called upon all the time by session chairs to speak. I was sitting next to a youth who freely grabbed the mic every time he had something to say. And I do not remember an instance when a session chair had asked a youth to stop speaking because her or his time was up. The session chairs were relentless when it came to us older speakers! Moreover, I most certainly do not remember a single moment when a youth was asked to sit down because she or he was saying something which was politically, culturally or religiously out of context. The point session chairs kept emphasizing was that speakers speak to the point so that there would be time for others to speak.
One of the most impressive things about the Land Summit, Mr. Short, was that everybody was encouraged to articulate their views openly and freely; a fact which most certainly spoke to the inclusive and accommodating spirit with which the organizing committee had planned the conference. Admittedly, the Land Summit was high-powered in terms of the theme, the level of discussion and venting of stored-up emotions. It could not be otherwise. Yet at the same time it was also organizationally laid-back or flexible enough that there was plenty of space and time for each and every participant to speak if and when they wished to.
All this is to say, Mr. Short, that, while I value your public evaluation of the Land Summit, I am afraid your information fell embarrassingly ‘short’ of substance which did not surprise me given that, by your own admission, you had relied only on one, perhaps disgruntled, youth. I suggest that the youth be encouraged to send his or her comments to the Land Summit’s Organizing Committee to include in the final report. The Organizing Committee would be most delighted, I am sure, as this was the request it kept making throughout the conference.
By way of a brief conclusion, I would like to say that, while there were no doubt shortcomings, the Land Summit was a great positive learning experience given the topic. In Malaita Province, and I am sure the same holds true for other Provinces as well, when it comes to dealing with land issues the normal course of action is the courts. However, the Land Summit had unequivocally shown that the courts do not always have to be the only avenue but that there are other avenues through which solutions to land issues can be amicably pursued.
David Welchman Gegeo