Constitution reform, debates and contestation in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands Independence Order, 1978 was adopted with limited community input. As such, it may have avoided local intricacies that are now at the forefront of debates around the draft national constitution. Such concerns include the incorporation of local philosophies and governance arrangements to modern state apparatus, the control and fair redistribution of natural and national resource wealth, and the desire by wantok communities to have some control over their own development aspirations. The author argues that the difficulty currently facing the constitutional making process is the seemingly deliberate effort by some provincial leaders to hear but not listen to what the other provincial leaders are saying. At the same time, national politicians had been cautious in their approach, rather than taking on leading and determined roles in this critical national process. Successive governments since 2001 have nevertheless used the subject, ‘constitution reform’, to make political statements without seriously examining it as a major platform to address and sustain peace, stability and inclusive development. If one is to closely scrutinize comments coming from leaders and groups who are seen to support or oppose the current draft federal constitution, a general conclusion can be summarized in Solomon Islands pidgin as follows: sem sing sing nomoa bata difren tiun (they all sing the same song but with a different tune!). The sooner Solomon Islanders and the Solomon Islands Government recognize this reality, the easier it will be to endorse a forward looking constitution. The author also suggests that the Solomon Islands Government should allow for rigorous and critical inputs by communities and citizens on the current version of the draft federal constitution. It belongs to them. So, the debate ought to be meticulously undertaken and concluded with common grounds to ensure that the version of reformed constitution that is ultimately adopted would have been nurtured, owned and accepted by most citizens.

Gordon Nanau is based with SSGM as a Pacific Visitor until end September 2017.

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