It’s crunch time for everyone

I write this Column sitting atop perhaps the highest hill in Auki on Malaita. The views are breathtaking any direction one looks.

The site is the Hotel Malaita, one of the many hotels and motels that had sprang up in the Auki Township in the last five years. Their existence was the result of hardworking Malaitans who have decided to go it alone with or without government help.

This week Hotel Malaita is the venue for the first Land Summit on Malaita, with the theme: Sustainable Peace and Stability through equitable distribution of benefits from customary land and sea resources.”

Organisers are hopeful that the outcome of this $600, 000 event, funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the United Nation’s Peace Building Fund will go a long way towards opening up Malaita for investments.

Some 300 people representing women, youths, community chiefs and church leaders from the four corners of Malaita have come to share in unclogging what has kept development away from Malaita for so many years.

In opening the formal gathering this morning, Bishop Hou, the first Melanesian Bishop of the Catholic Church, said in his opening prayer, “we desperately need each other.”

Premier Peter Ramohia who officially opened the gathering said the Land Summit provided “an opportunity and space to identify” land issues, which must be addressed to allow investors to see Malaitans in a different light.

One of the contributing factors to Malaita’s problem in attracting investment is that Malaitans are “disunited and disconnected” at all levels. Right now when an investor looks at Malaita all he sees is land disputes and other negative things,” Premier Ramohia said.

On both points the Premier has a point.

All 14 Malaitan MPs were invited to the Summit. The least anyone expected was for someone to attend the official opening. But none turned up. Premier Ramohia challenged Malaitans to be prepared to take their rightful place, as they work together to find solutions that have bedevilled Malaita’s development efforts for many, many years.

He challenged Malaitans to be prepared to take their rightful place in developing Malaita.

UNDP Country Manager Asuza Kuboto who spoke next made some interesting observations, revealing that Solomon Islands had missed out altogether in fulfilling any of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations.

The MDGs expired in 2015.

“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,” Ms Kuboto said.

“In 2015, along with 192 countries, the Solomon Islands made commitments to achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] 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,” she asked.

To suggest that the SDGs are ambitious is an understatement, given that the Houenipwela government owed the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) more than $24 million in debts for various items including tuition fees.

This is crunch time for the government, Members of Parliament and even the private sector. Some MPs have begun locking up their Constituency Offices in Honiara. Others, particularly from Malaita who asked their supporters to come to Honiara for the final hand-outs returned home empty-handed last weekend.

Despite repeated warnings, the government appears to have run out of funds to pay for services. So the SDGs are going to be tough in terms of meeting the goals set.

The answer may lie in a new administration of like-minded individuals taking office after next year’s national general election. Then and only then will be a ray of hope for Solomon Islands and its people.

Alfred Sasako

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