Manasseh Sogavare, Prime Minister, Solomon Islands: Interview

Manasseh Sogavare, Prime Minister, Solomon Islands

Interview: Manasseh Sogavare

What would you say is the importance of South-South cooperation for sustainable economic growth in the Pacific region?

MANASSEH SOGAVARE: I think that we have a unique opportunity within the Pacific region to learn from each other’s experiences and to make the most of our strengths in the effort of diversifying our economic bases. Take for instance Kiribati, a tiny island nation that boasts one of the largest exclusive economic zone in the world when compared to its actual land area, which is incredibly valuable economically. Spearheading an onshore processing industry there would have a tremendous knock-on effect for the national economy, and this could be done following the successful examples in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, which have been pioneers in the canning industry in this part of the world. Sharing our valuable individual experiences will be the way forward. As for Solomon Islands, we will be hosting the 2023 Pacific Games, and I am sure that we can learn a lot from the experience of PNG, which hosted a very successful event in 2015, and is leading the way in building critical infrastructure. It will be a mammoth task for us to equal what PNG is doing, but we will be selective in the spots that we will offer as part of the games and be selective in terms of infrastructure.

Which key reforms are needed in Solomon Islands to attract sizeable foreign investments?

SOGAVARE: The crisis that we experienced at the beginning of the century has certainly damaged our international image, and we have been working ever since on an investment strategy, which starts with fiscal incentives and land reform. Like PNG, in Solomon Islands the land tenure is customary and only about 15% is alienated, belonging therefore to the state. As a government, we will have to make sure that whatever legislation we introduce to help landowners become acting participants as opposed to mere spectators, it will not expropriate from them their most valuable assets, which was at the crux of the recent crisis. This has to be stated clearly by the law, first and foremost. One advantage that we have when compared to PNG, though, is that the ownership of the land was mapped out a long time ago in Solomon Islands, and we know exactly who owns what. The absence of this information could be a stumbling block at a time of securing major investments.

How is the lack of infrastructure affecting economic development in Solomon Islands?

SOGAVARE: Geographically the country presents considerable challenges, as we are talking about an archipelago with over 1000 islands. Therefore, bringing equitable infrastructure to all of the provinces is a difficult task, but it is something that we cannot avoid, as the majority of the populace actually live outside the capital city, Honiara. This is similar to what is happening in PNG, where as much as 80% of the population live in rural areas. While aid donors continue to be an important aspect of our development, specifically in bringing infrastructure to remote provinces, we feel that public-private partnerships are the way forward to jump-start capital infrastructure. For this reason, in 2015 we pumped as much as $350m into all of the country’s provinces and we will continue to do so for the foreseeable feature.

In the meantime, institutions like the Asia Development Bank have been working with us to carry out major projects like the submarine fibre-optic cable connection from Sydney to Honiara, which is an essential piece of infrastructure that will assure inclusive growth in Solomon Islands, as an estimated 60% of the population have a mobile phone, but only 15% enjoy access to the internet. That would mean a cost-effective way of delivering of health and education services to isolated locations, as well as linking buyers and sellers on opposite sides of the world.

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The Report: Papua New Guinea 2016

Trade & Investment chapter from The Report: Papua New Guinea 2016

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