THE recent amendments to the Land and Titles Act are reforming the land administration system in Solomon Islands.
The most significant aspect of the amendments has been the introduction of a Land Board to take over decision-making from the Commissioner of Lands.
Board chairman Donald Kudu and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Lands Stanley Waleanisia were approached for their comments on the reforms.
Mr Kudu said, he is very happy with the way the Board is working and the Ministry is supporting the Board, saying that “the Board is making orderly, rational decisions based on the public interest, and not repeating the mistakes of the past, although we are right now spending about 80 per cent of our time trying to fix those problems of the past and 20 per cent of our time making decisions on new matters”.
Mr Kudu said the Board is basing its decisions on three principles: to uphold the government’s programmes of action, to support state-owned enterprises, and for economic interests to sustain the economy.
The shift of powers from the Commissioner to the Land Board was also seen by Mr Waleanisia as a wise decision, and he explained that “all the pressure was previously on one person and they could be very selective on which matters to make decisions on, whereas now everything automatically comes to the Board”.
“The Board has already made more decisions this year than previously would have been made in a whole year,” Mr Waleanisia said, adding that “this change (i.e. the Land Board) has taken care of at least half the problems of land allocations and these problems have basically just disappeared and the amount of traffic visiting the Ministry has gone down because people with money can no longer use shortcuts to get what they want from one officer, and it is too hard for them to deal with so many Board members”.
Mr Kudu said that the Board is operating in a transparent manner, and he emphasised the importance of following a standard and fair approach to decision-making.
“There are various middle-men who act as consultants,” Mr Kudu said, adding “we don’t want to shut them off but they have to follow the proper process and come through the Board”.
Further to this point, Mr Kudu added that “the Ministry is no longer accepting any new land applications, and echoing the Minister for Lands’ speech to Parliament, people should no longer be coming to the Ministry asking for land, and instead the Ministry will be taking a more proactive approach by making land available through transparent and public processes”.
Mr Wale also commented that the Ministry officers are providing good support and quality information to the Board, resulting in well-informed decisions based on facts, and the decisions are more transparent because all Land Board members and Ministry officers are familiar with the decisions.
“In particular I really appreciate the assistance provided by the Chief Technical Adviser through SPC and DFAT (Australia) and the new heights of professional attitude this input has brought to the Ministry and the Board,” he said.