Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Thursday, 2 January 2014 10:00 AM


The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, David Vunagi, told the congregation at Saint Barnabas Cathedral when delivering his Christmas sermon "Solomon Islands is no longer a safe place to live because people are suspicious of each other and no longer have respect for cultural traditions.”

He added that the church needed to teach its members the moral aspects of their daily existence.

If what the Archbishop said is true then it adds to what those of us, observers overseas, perceive to be the decline in the nations well being and economic progress.

One recent visitor to Honiara commented to me that there were now people begging on the streets, whole families, it was claimed, who had moved to the capital because they could no longer sustain themselves in the rural areas.

It also begs the question, as I put it the other day, will the nation and its people, follow the example of the late Nelson Mandela who practiced reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and human rights?

I would like to think that the recent, substantial, financial support from Australia, the World Bank, the European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to the Rural Development Fund (RDP) will be used to help raise the living standards of the 84 percent of the Islanders living in the rural areas.

Already, it is claimed, the RDP is aiming to complete 370 village infrastructure projects to help 300,000 people.

The release by Taiwan of S$11.2 million to the Solomon’s Government on Christmas Eve will also be used by the government for 25 development projects in aiding the rural communities with health care, transportation, road improvements, housing and lighting, water and sanitation, primary and secondary schools, and women and youth advancement.

Letters in the Island’s media have continued to highlight the crisis in hospital and medical care, including the serious issues affecting the National Referral Hospital and the hospital at Gizo in the Western Province. It is very much hoped with the recent passing of the 2014 Budget the government will very soon tackle these major concerns, as well as addressing the plight of the nursing staff, the teachers and students, many of whom were unable to travel home at Christmas because, reportedly, they hadn’t received their entitled allowances on time.

Earlier in 2013 the Minister for Development Planning and Aid Coordination confirmed that there was corruption in government ministries involving the channeling of Taiwan’s aid money, but he was optimistic the then newly introduced Constituency Development Funds Act would ensure the proper distribution of the aid money to where it was most needed, the citizens. Time will tell if Minister Sandakabutu’s predictions prove to be accurate.

The Solomon’s Finance Minister has recently called for new forms of development as the round log trade declines and will no longer be the main source of generating foreign revenue by 2015, if not sooner.

There have been successful developments in the cultivation and export of cocoa and in the production of palm oil, but land disputes and ownership rights still are proving to be major obstacles to larger scale development projects.

Until answers are found to find a better way to deal with and administer customary ownership of land, potential investors will remain cautious.

Of course land disputes are not only issues in the Solomons because one reads, daily, of similar problems over land issues in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji. Governments in all the neighbouring countries have tried to initiate land reform in an effort to resolve land disputes involving traditional land owners but without too much success.

Referring back to what Archbishop Vunagi said at Christmas, one must only hope that the long delayed release and implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Reports will help to heal the nation and that trust, understanding, tolerance and human rights will again prevail in the once “Happy Isles.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.