The 10th Australia Solomon Islands Business Forum with the theme “Forty Years of Australia Solomon Islands Business Partnership” attended by 100 delegates was held in Brisbane on 12 and 13 September 2018.
The Forum, held every year since 2009, is arranged by the Australia Pacific Islands Business Council in collaboration with the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Delivering the Solomon Islands Keynote Address the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, the Hon Rick Houenipwela MP, confirmed to delegates the commitment of his government to working with business to create a stronger Solomon Islands economy for all Solomon Islanders into the future, as well as delivering a range of social programs to provider a stronger and more just society. He encouraged Australian business to deepen the economic engagement between Australia and Solomon Islands through increased investment including in infrastructure.
The Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, His Excellency Mr Rod Brazier, presented the Australian Government keynote address on behalf of the Minister for Trade who was unable to leave Canberra due to parliamentary commitments. Solomon Islands is the third largest destination for Australian development assistance which works across a range of social and economic development sectors including supporting private sector development.
The Central Bank of Solomon Islands representative reported that that economic growth is on track to grow at 3.5% in 2018 and projected to grow at 3.8% in 2019 with a significant contribution to that growth through the commencement of a number of infrastructure projects in the pipeline.
A presentation was well received by delegates on an innovative new paradigm for private sector participation in the financing of sustainable quality national infrastructure collaboration with traditional financing partners and also utilising national funding including superannuation funds and State Owned Enterprises. This proposal is consistent with decisions made by Forum Economic Ministers and Heads of Government for the development of climate change resilient infrastructure.
Delegates heard of progress made towards the commencement of production of three sustainable ethical resource projects in gold, nickel and bauxite: Axiom Mining Limited, Gold Ridge Mining Limited and Metallica Limited. With proper and expeditious permitting and regulatory approvals these projects can all enter production within the next two years and be transformative for the Solomon Islands economy. Commencement of production in these projects will grow employment in Solomon Islands and will produce significant revenue directly and indirectly for the Solomon Islands Government to better provide services to all the people of Solomon Islands. It will also change the perception globally of Solomon Islands as an investment destination. Demands by Solomon Islands government representatives for Illegal and unregulated payments have slowed down the bringing of these projects to production and have denied the Solomon Islands government and people of at least SBD200 million in revenue over the last several years.
Delegates welcomed an intervention by The Solomon Islands Minister for Development Planning and Aid Coordination, the Hon Jeremiah Manele MP, acknowledging the concerns raised by business representatives and his undertaking to raise these matters within the Solomon Islands cabinet.
The Minister for Development Planning and Aid Coordination briefed delegates on the National Development Strategy (NDS) of Solomon Islands including its vision of Improvement in Social and Economic Livelihoods for All Solomon Islanders. It was noted that the five objectives of the NDS are all consistent with the business growth and development objectives of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry many of which are on the agenda at this Forum.
The meeting was provided with an overview of the work being done by Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry in advancing business interests including through working groups established with the Solomon Islands Government under their Memorandum of Understanding. Discussions have been held and working papers prepared on taxation policy, State Owned Enterprises, insurance, budget process and private sector development. Other SICCI initiatives include the Prime Minister’s Business Breakfast, the Young Entrepreneurs Council, an MOU with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and support for the Waka Meri Challenge gender program.
Presentations on the development of the Coral Sea Undersea Cable System due to commence operation on 29 December 2019 and the related Solomon Islands domestic network highlighted for delegates the opportunities for business and economic growth which can be achieved through improved telecommunications capacity within Solomon Islands and internationally provided that domestic service delivery provides necessary bandwidth and globally competitive pricing.
Noting the high number of Solomon Islanders under 35 years of age and their importance to the future social and economic development of Solomon Islands, the Forum supported the development of a Solomon Islands emerging leaders network, and also an annual Australia Solomon Islands Leadership Dialogue, and requested the Australian aid program to work with business to achieve these objectives.
Delegates were informed about a range of major infrastructure projects by Solomon Islands Ports Authority and the World Bank Roads and Aviation Project, on work being done within the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Survey to provide better lands administration to provide greater certainty for land purchasers and foreign investors, and on challenges and opportunities for Solomon Islands in waste management.
The potential for growth in tourism in Solomon Islands is considerable with many opportunities but also some challenges. Solomon Airlines was commended for leading activity in conjunction with local businesses and international donors to develop tourism in Western Province. Important elements in this activity are the planning for commencement in the near future of direct Brisbane to Munda air services and the establishment and seeding of a trust fund to enable existing resorts in Munda area to refurbish rooms to an acceptable international standard. Solomon Islands Government agencies are urged to take without delay the necessary measures to enable an early start to the direct Brisbane Munda air services.
An important element in the economic and social development of Solomon Islands is access to the Australian labour market initially through the Seasonal Work Program and now through the Pacific Labour Scheme. The Solomon Islands Government has set ambitious targets for employment of Solomon Islanders in Australia under the Scheme. Business committed to support growth towards these targets.
The 11th Australia Solomon Islands Business Forum will be held in Honiara in 2019.