OVER the last two years, I have had the pleasure of meeting many Solomon Islanders during my travels outside Honiara.
Approximately 80 per cent of Solomon Islanders live in rural areas, making Solomon Islands a “country of villages”.
I am always impressed by the resilience of these villages.
Many people in Solomon Islands, particularly those living in remote areas, do not have access to government services.
Sometimes these communities struggle to deal with problems like kwaso, drug abuse and crime.
Australia is supporting the Community Governance and Grievance Management Project to create stronger links between rural villages and their government, and to better manage problems in the community.
Australia is working with the World Bank, the Ministry of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening and provincial governments on this project.
This project came out of the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor research. The research found that rural people wanted their local leaders including the chiefs, religious leaders and the police to be more accessible and more effective at solving problems.
They also wanted better links with the provincial and national governments, and to be better linked with the rest of Solomon Islands.
The project is supporting four provincial governments to select and manage Community Officers.
These Community Officers are men and women with local knowledge who enjoy the confidence of their communities.
They support local authorities to mediate and resolve disputes.
For example, if there is a problem in the community, the Community Officer can work with the local chiefs, churches and the police to try to resolve the issue.
Community Officers also share information between communities and national and provincial governments, particularly on issues like health, education and disaster response.
The project is currently operating in Rennell and Bellona, Makira-Ulawa, and Malaita provinces and recently expanded to Central Islands Province.
In Makira-Ulawa Province the 27 Community Officers are referred to as Village Peace Wardens and they are spread across three wards.
In Rennell and Bellona the 10 Community Officers cover all the wards. In Malaita the 15 Community Officers cover 15 wards.
The project is flexible and responds to local demands and needs.
There is strong buy-in from local communities and some impressive early results.
In the first two years of the project:
- An estimated 6,801 citizens in Rennell and Bellona and Makira-Ulawa provinces have benefitted from the project
- 76% of people in project communities reported direct benefits from the project
- 59% of people have experienced improvements in accessibility of dispute resolution services.
- 77% of people have experienced improvements in effectiveness of community grievance management services
- 68% of people have felt improvements in links with government, in particular through improved police accessibility.
The Community Governance and Grievance Management Project is a flagship project for the Australian Government’s Solomon Islands Justice Program.
The program is providing AUD $32 million over four years to strengthen justice agencies and improve access to justice in Solomon Islands.
I encourage you to see for yourself the stories at: www.worldbank.org/JusticeSI
Australian High Commissioner