Australian High Commissioner Dr Lachlan Strahan travelled with Foreign Affairs Minister Jeremiah Manele and Health Minister Dr Culwick Togamana to their home province of Isabel last week to underscore the deep, multi-faceted relationship between Solomon Islands and Australia.
He highlighted Australia’s strong commitment to allocating funds to advance development in the provinces. During the two-day trip on 14-16 December, Dr Strahan handed over 11 water tanks to communities in the province’s south and equipment to Buala Hospital.
The visit covered Australia’s broad engagement across Isabel, from small-scale community projects delivered through the Direct Aid Program (DAP), to major investments in education, health, gender equality, infrastructure, and security.
Various elements of the visit highlighted Australia’s long and enduring partnership with the Solomon Islands’ National Government, as well as its deep and warm ties at the provincial and community levels.
In Buala, Dr Strahan called on the Premier of Isabel Honourable Leslie Kikolo and met local village chiefs, church leaders, and women community leaders, to learn more about Isabel and its Tripod system. In a meeting with the Provincial Police Commander, Leonard Tahimana, Dr Strahan heard firsthand of the challenges facing the RSIPF in policing the country’s longest island, and of the support received under Australia’s Solomon Islands Police Development Program (SIPDP). Dr Strahan toured Buala Hospital and handed over new ICT equipment funded under Australia’s COVID-19 Response Package.
The delegation travelled south along Isabel’s eastern coast visiting several communities. In Ole, a village in Gao Bugotu, Dr Strahan handed over 11 new water tanks scattered across the area, that will help improve the local community’s access to clean and safe water. The sanitation project was funded by the Australian High Commission’s DAP, in partnership with the Member for Sigana ward, Honourable Rhoda Sikilabu.
“I always say you can’t really understand a country by staying in its capital city,” said Dr Strahan.
“As High Commissioner, I feel it is vital that I get out to provinces across the country to truly get to know the incredible diversity of Solomon Islands.”
“Australia has the greatest respect for Solomon Islands’ culture. It was a humbling experience to witness and learn more about local Kastom, including different dances, as I visited villages along Isabel’s southern coast.
“Australia’s relationship with Isabel is long-term and enduring, and cuts across a number of areas. I was proud to see some of the positive impacts from Australia’s largest development programs in health, education, law and justice, and gender equality, being felt in Isabel.
“Australia’s third largest aid program is here in Solomon Islands. We have always made sure that this assistance reaches provinces directly. Development must embrace the whole population, which is why Australia works in partnership with local governments, leaders and communities so our assistance is getting to where it is needed most.”
Australia’s assistance makes a real difference in provincial health and education sectors. Forty per cent of Australia’s direct budget support of SBD62 million per year for Solomon Islands’ health system is earmarked for the provinces, which includes approximately SBD2.3 million a year to the Isabel Provincial Health Authority. In recognition of the importance for provinces to have access to resources that support the current COVID-19 response, Australia has provided an additional SBD709,700 cash grant to the Isabel Provincial Health Authority.
Australia’s long-term funding for the education sector (around SBD64 million per year) improves education outcomes for all children across Solomon Islands. Working hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development and New Zealand, Australia’s support allows more children to attend school, teachers to gain qualifications and is lifting literacy and numeracy, including for the very poor, those in remote areas and those with disabilities. Australian funding is building stronger management of schools and education authorities, including in Isabel.
Australia remains committed to supporting law and order, and the justice sector, in Isabel through the Solomon Islands Justice Program’s assistance to local circuit courts. Australia’s police development and defence cooperation programs have a strong relationship with the Isabel police stations, providing officers with training and equipment over many years.
“It was an honour to meet Honourable Kikolo. I would like to pass on my sincere gratitude to Honourable Rhoda Sikilabu for her warm hospitality in Ole. I also thank Honourable Minister Manele and Honourable Minister Togamana for joining me on this wonderful trip,” said Dr Strahan.
Source: AHC Media Release