Local environment activist and a member to the Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network (IPBN), Lawrence Makili, has warned the public to be wary of the government’s on-going land reform programme.
He said resources owners must ensure they are not excluded in the process.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare this week said Solomon Islands is facing a real challenge in this 21st Century on land reform.
He was speaking at the two-day land reform summit in Honiara.
“We must be careful not to go to the extreme in idolising our customary practices that are clearly repugnant to the ideals of development,” Sogavare said.
But Makili said whilst it is a genuine call, indigenous people’s issues and benefits should be prioritised in any land reform.
“Land reform across the globe never provides the right answer especially on customary issue,” he said.
Makili said we have that understanding and the differences on customary and registered land, but it does not reflect on what the indigenous people should be benefiting out of it.
“In the case of Solomon Islands particularly Honiara, most registered lands for businesses are taken over by foreigners – this is a presetting from the colonial days into the 21st century done either compulsorily or voluntarily for some.
“But how can we be sure of converting more of other customary land into registered land in this new era?” he questioned.
Makili said indigenous people’s rights to land in societies such as Solomon Islands are not individual rights.
People depend on their land for existence, survival, connection, inheritance and livelihood, he added.
“They belong to the land.”
Makili said the so-called experts that were brought in for the land reform conference were dancing to the tune and beat of Wall Street and Downing Street.
“Those experts don’t know anything about customary land.
“Unless there is a way to address fundamental issues of indigenous concept in relation to land, in the local context, this is another form of neo-colonialism.
“When there is no mechanism within the laws of the country to protect the indigenous people’s inheritance that is what will happen.
“This issue has raised many concerns with indigenous people around the globe and Solomon Islands is no exception.”
Makili said the problem with profiteers or developers is they look at land with a big dollar sign on it.
“But for indigenous people they look at land as it’s them, their very existence, their integrity lies within the land.
“It spells out clearly with their cultural practices and traditional lives that they belong to the land.
“They do not own the land. They belong to the land.”
He added such land reform has been driven by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the early 90’s through their structural adjustment policies of privatisation, corporatisation and land modernisation.
Makili said if we are not careful, land reform is indirectly another way of taking land from the indigenous people by the colonial masters.
He said Solomon Islands underwent the same trend of structural programme, privatising some government organisations for example Solomon Islands Water Authority (SIWA) and SI Maritime.
Privatising SIWA had resulted in many Honiara residents unable to afford high water bills.
“People who cannot afford suffers, especially those living on the margins of society.”
Solomon Islands Maritime turned into a corporation, creating fleets into economic zones and uneconomic zones.
“For the outlaying islands of the country, they are regarded as uneconomic zones.
“No frequent shipping services for even months, shipping service becoming very hard resulting in non-effective delivery of health and education service by the government.
“Now we are going into land reform, and it is no new approach unless the rights of the indigenous people are fully recognised.”
By BRADFORD THEONOMI