Roads to success: Solomon Islands’ Deputy PM on building new infrastructure


Manasseh Maelanga, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, says the Pacific country’s new government has turned its attention to infrastructure. Measures are being put in place to encourage private sector involvement in roads, ports and industrial townships.

Honiara City

Site for the Honiara Multi-Purpose Building. Credit: Honiara City Council/Facebook

After having one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the Pacific, the Solomon Islands has been on the road to recovery – and private sector involvement has been a key part of the strategy.

According to the Asian Development Bank’s Pacific Economic Monitor, development partners have contributed significant budget support for health, education, and other vital services. As a result, the Solomons’ public debt fell from the equivalent of 70.7 per cent of GDP in 2003 to 7.9 per cent in 2016 – from one of the highest debt levels in the Pacific to among the lowest.

Speaking at Pacific Welkam, a recent business breakfast in Sydney, Manasseh Maelanga, Solomon Islands’ Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure Development, said it was his ‘government’s mission to improve the economic wellbeing of all Solomon Islanders through enhanced infrastructure’.

The new Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA), which came to power in April 2019, is aiming to keep its debt low. It has now turned its attention to fixing the country’s infrastructure for its population of close to 600,000, which is scattered across nine island provinces.

‘One key to success has been offering longer, more stable contracts to give the private sector more confidence to take the projects on.’

The Solomons currently has approximately 1500 km of roads, most of which are unsealed. There are two international deep-water ports in Honiara and Noro in the Western Province. In addition to Honiara International Airport, Munda Airport in the Western Province is – following a recent upgrade – hosting weekly international flights from Brisbane.

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Bringing in the private sector


Solomon Island’s Manasseh Maelanga. Credit: Solomon Islands Parliament

Maelanga said that much of the new nation building has been undertaken in partnership with the private sector, including construction of new civil and building works, and maintenance of existing infrastructure.

Funding for these larger infrastructure projects is estimated to push public debt to 26.1 per cent of GDP by 2023, but, if managed with commercial partners, this level is unlikely to cause the country any ‘debt distress’, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The Deputy PM said that one key to success has been offering longer, more stable contracts to give the private sector more confidence to take the projects on.

‘Road maintenance contracts awarded by my Ministry are now generally of three years’ duration, rather than the single-year contracts that were the norm,’ he said. ‘As we and the industry gain experience, I hope we will be able to extend maintenance contracts for even longer durations.’

Several township projects are underway or contemplated for development. Maelanga says these will require private sector participation from consultants, construction contractors and business investors. They include Bina Harbour Industrial Township in Malaita, Noro Industrial Park in Western Province and Mamara/Tasivaronga Township in Guadalcanal.

Planned fisheries developments include the Suava Canning project in Malaita, the Ndoma Tuna Canning Project and Tenaru Tuna Canning project in Guadalcanal.

The path to more jobs

Maelanga sees private-sector funding of infrastructure as more than just connecting people; it will help propel jobs growth. Many in the agriculture sector depend on improved roads, and other transport infrastructure, being developed to serve plantations, farms and processing plants.

‘One only has to look to our near neighbours such as Fiji and Vanuatu to see examples of the economic activity and jobs that tourism can generate.’

‘Agribusiness is another potentially significant area of economic growth in the Solomon Islands,’ Maelanga says. ‘It is hoped that palm oil production will become a major source of employment for local people in Malaita Province, and through eastwards expansion of the existing palm oil plantations in East Guadalcanal,’ Maelanga explains.

Easier travel, more tourists

Solomon Islands

Credit: Tourism Solomon Islands

‘One only has to look to our near neighbours such as Fiji and Vanuatu to see examples of the economic activity and jobs that tourism can generate,’ Maelanga adds. ‘Solomon Islands provides access to all the tropical island attractions so sought after by the international tourism industry.

‘Our many attractions include beaches, coral reefs, dive sites, World War 2 history, volcanoes and fishing.’

But he stressed that there was little point having all this natural beauty if tourists have too much trouble gaining access to it.

‘The provision and maintenance of public infrastructure is no small task in a country as diverse, fragmented and disconnected as ours,’ he says.

‘Nevertheless, the DCGA Government has articulated a well-thought-out and comprehensive – albeit challenging – set of policies, strategies and plans to provide the infrastructure our country needs to achieve sustainable economic development and enhance the lives of all Solomon Islanders. And we welcome private sector participation in developing, and utilising, this infrastructure.’

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