Sunday, June 15, 2008

Australia launches big programme on Pacific land

A large new Australian government program on land in the Pacific was announced late last week.

The Australian Parliamentary secretary for development aid, Bob Mcmullan announced last Friday a Pacific Land Program worth AUD54million over 4 years, with $6.5million committed for 2008-9.

The MP will launch a new AusAID report Making Land Work, at a conference in Vanuatu this weekend by the same name.

According to MP McMullan, the new program will be guided by two principles:
Mr McMullan said Australian assistance will be guided by two fundamental principles: first, Australia will only support reforms that recognise the continuing importance of customary tenure; and, second, land policy reform must be driven by Pacific island governments and communities, not by donors.
Solomon Islands will be among the first countries to receive attention from the program:
The program will initially provide support to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. Assistance will also be provided on a regional level for education and training and to help countries respond to problems associated with growing urbanisation such as squatter settlements.
The new report includes three case studies from Solomon Islands:
All three examples relate to pivotal situations for the country.

Auluta is currently the only large resource development project underway on Malaita, and is widely hoped to provide employment opportunities for Malaitan on Malaita - a key issue across many sectors for all recent governments.

Land administration strengthening is crucial to reducing corruption and illegal business activities in towns, particularly Honiara. With prominent business people and politicians implicated in many shady land deals, the stakes for land reform are especially high.

Finally, urban land use, settlement and propriety remain critical to the long term viability of Honiara and peace on Guadalcanal - an issue of documented grievance for Guadalcanal people since independence in 1978.

A donor role in assisting with these will require a new level of understanding and sensitivity. The stated intention of avoiding "donor drive" will be fundamental to this.