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Land reform is a key priority for the Solomon Islands Government given its potential to provide more sustainable development outcomes. The State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program (SSGM) has supported the Solomon Islands Government with research on land reform in other countries in Melanesia. This research culminated in the launch of a report titled ‘Building a Pathway for Successful Land Reform in Solomon Islands’ at a Solomon Islands Government National Land Reform Conference held in Honiara on 26 August, supported by SSGM.
The National Land Reform Conference was designed to contribute to policy debate around land reform in Solomon Islands by considering different pathways to land reform, drawing on the experience of land reform in Melanesia, as well as positive examples from Solomon Islands. Land reform experts from Vanuatu, Fiji and Australia joined those from Solomon Islands to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their countries’ experiences, and to provide practical lessons that might inform an inclusive land reform approach in Solomon Islands.
The National Land Reform Conference was attended by a range of stakeholders, including the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, other Ministers and Members of Solomon Islands Parliament, provincial Premiers, heads of foreign missions, representatives from the donor community, traditional landowners and students.
The conference began with a keynote speech from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, in which he articulated his Government’s commitment to tackling the issue of land reform as a significant challenge to the country’s development. The Prime Minister said:
‘The convening of this workshop is timely given the fact that we are decades behind addressing this single most important hurdle to development’.
The Minister of Lands, Housing and Survey, Hon Andrew Manepora’a MP, officially launched the Report.
The research undertaken to inform the Report, authored by Siobhan McDonnell, with contributions by Joseph Foukona and Dr Alice Pollard, involved extensive consultations with Solomon Islands stakeholders. The report identified the following ten steps that Solomon Islands may wish to consider in designing its own unique pathway to land reform:Genuine, broad-based consultation across the nation on the directions for land reform. Public debate of key land issues. This could include holding national consultations that lead to a National Land Summit. A clear policy vision from government setting out a holistic approach to how customary land can be developed. Development of models for identifying custom landowners and for resolving land disputes. Genuine broad-based consultation on new models for identifying custom landowners or resolving land disputes. This could also include piloting new models to determine what does and does not work. New legal arrangements for land dealings debated and consulted on, before being finalised in legislation. Support for the land ministry, and funds for implementing the new legal arrangements. The new legal arrangements need to be passed by parliament. Piloting of the new legal arrangements on customary land. These pilots should be monitored and evaluated. Further amendments to the new legal arrangements based on the reviews of the pilots. (Repeat steps 9 and 10 as many times as needed.)
Building on the momentum of the conference, the Solomon Islands Government held a technical workshop on Thursday 27 August to consider the next policy and administrative steps that are required to build a pathway to successful land reform in Solomon Islands.