HONIARA, SOLOMON STAR: Researcher and lawyer from Australian National University (ANU) Siobhan McDonnell has suggested ten possible steps Solomon Islands could consider in developing a successful approach to land reform.

The steps are consultations, public debate, clear policy vision, development of new models, develop new laws, funding, new legal arrangements passed by Parliament, piloting of the new arrangements on customary land and review based on the outcomes of the pilots.

Ms McDonnell made these suggestions during her presentation on the land reform conference at the FFA conference room on Wednesday.

She said, based on the experiences of land reform in Melanesia like Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, Solomon Island can use the regional  experiences to provide a guidelines in building its own pathway for land reform.

She said, interms of consultations the government must develop a broad-based consultation by engaging in provincial and national consultations on land issues.

“Experiences suggest that successful government-led land reform requires a long- term approach which builds a broad base consensus around reform direction.”

She said a good example is, Vanuatu land reform took almost 10 years, while PNG took many years and Fiji decades under the colonial government.

Solomon Islands is extremely culturally diverse so consultation may need to make sure it capture people’s perspectives across the provinces, she added.

With regards to public debate a national land summit should be organized to collect wider views from audience as happened in PNG and Vanuatu.

On the clear policy vision the government must consider what development is needed and how application for development will be managed, how land disputes will be resolved, how negotiations with custom landowner groups will be conducted, how many new legal arrangements can ensure the free, prior informed consent of custom owner groups, what kinds of land tenure arrangement are needed and how custom landowner can access long term benefits from development.

She said by answering these questions the government can have the opportunity to rethink of assumptions about how development takes place on customary land.

In development of new models, custom landowners and business need to be clear about how to develop customary land.

“Good land reform involves the government developing a balance between the needs of custom landowners and those of business.

“Across Melanesia it seems that successful land reform involves creating a pathway for development that results in an agreed social license between landowner, government and business.

“In Solomon Islands evidence has shown that in the absence of long term support of landowner groups, development can fail,” she said.

Therefore she said a new innovative approach to agriculture production and hydro-power projects may provide positive directions worthy for further considerations.

On the new laws developed she said this is necessary because it is clear that the trust model creates unfair outcomes that need urgent review.

She said, trustees who acted on behalf landowners seem to take the ownership other than the landowners and this suggested that new laws are needed.

“Any new laws that are drafted will need to be written specifically for Solomon Islands and not simply borrowed from other jurisdictions as has occurred in the past.”

On the funding side she said, reform package and support are need for the Ministry of Lands to implement the reform package.

She said regional experiences suggest that land reform can fail at the first step of implementation if funding is not made available.

She said the final steps Solomon Islands can consider for successful approach in land reform are Parliament to pass a new legal arrangement, piloting of the new arrangements on customary land and reviews the laws based on the outcomes of the pilots.