They said nothing good would ever come out of East Fataleka … development or otherwise.
So much so that after a series of mishaps involving Asian and local loggers, even they have decided to keep away from the area.
But one group, rather two, have set out to prove the critics wrong. In the last two years or so, the Burara principal tribe and the nearby Ro’ole land trust board have decided it is time to break with the past.
They have set the scene for what could be the sparks needed to ignite the passion enterprising and industrious spirit of Malaitans for work.
And so on Friday August 1, a ground breaking ceremony took place at Ambe, where a little known firm, Evita Solomon Ltd, has chosen as its base for rural agricultural land development.
Evita sees the development as the pilot project for the much-talked about Auluta Basin Palm Oil Project, which it wants to develop.
Months of talks with the Government, which has been accused of leaving Malaita in the doldrums, almost proved non-productive in terms of the way forward.
According to government, some $60 million was expended in trying to get the Auluta Basin Palm project off the ground with little or nothing to show for it.
“Unless a willing foreign investor is found, the government will not spend any more money on Auluta Basin Palm Oil Project,” was the government’s position.
That has now changed.
A foreign investor, Evita Solomon Ltd, against all odds decided to invest in the area, using Burara customary land initially as the entry point into the area. The Ro’ole Tribe soon followed.
On August 1, the Ro’ole Land Trust Board signed off 600-hectares of prime agricultural land to Evita Solomon Ltd.
In his remarks at the handing over ceremony, the Ro’ole land trust board acting chairman, Allan Siau jnr said the event marked an important consideration which successive governments have ignored over the years.
“Many large scale projects, particularly in the rural areas have never got off the ground because an investor was never involved. It was always the landowners and the government, which more often than not, does not have the money to develop our resources,” Mr Siau jnr said.
“Today, things have changed because we’ve struck the correct balance that is the involvement of resource-owners, government and most importantly, the investor. I must thank Evita Solomon Ltd which chose to stay the course despite false accusations by some,” he said.
An estimated 600 people from all over Fataleka attended the ceremony, described as “deeply moving and emotional.” It was followed by a feast.
Former director of mines and Ro’ole trust board treasurer, Peter Auga, who attended last weekend’s ceremony, said he was amazed at what he saw.
“It proves to me that this investor is for real. When I saw the wharf that Evita had built there in the last few months, there is no doubt in my mind that Evita Solomon Ltd, is here to stay. The people of East Fataleka supports what the company is doing and I am sure other landowners would soon come forward to allow their land for development,” Mr Auga said.
Now that the land lease has been signed, Evita Solomon Ltd will start mobilizing additional resources almost immediately for the development of the Ro’ole customary land.
In the first instance specialists would be deployed to carry out soil tests. They will also carry out site planning exercise to map out pre-nursery and nursery sites as well as where staff houses and other company properties would be built.
Further down the line, the site for the processing plant(s) for palm oil processing would also be established.
Evita Solomon Ltd’s chief executive officer (CEO), Caleb Sos who also flew in from Australia for the ceremony, said Malaita had all the ingredients for large scale development.
“As an investor we’ve seen the huge contributions Malaitans have made towards the development of other provinces in Solomon Islands. I think the time has come to turn the focus on your own province. Evita would like to see large scale development take place in Malaita and indeed in Solomon Islands,” Mr Sos said.
The Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Development, David Tome, said he is pushing for palm oil pre-nursery and nurseries to be established in the Ro’ole customary land as soon as possible.
“Such a positive move will give me the backing I need to secure additional funding for agricultural land development in rural Malaita. In particular, I want to see that the Auluta Basin is developed into a hub for development on Malaita.”
By Alfred Sasako