Since 2018, the Australian Embassy in the Philippines and The Asia Foundation, through the Coalitions for Change (CfC) program, have provided learning opportunities for leaders to pursue policy reform using adaptive and entrepreneurial principles.
Zaneta Kafa is one of CfC’s first aspiring development entrepreneurs from outside the Philippines. A Senior Legal Officer in the Solomon Islands Law Reform Commission, Zaneta seeks to enact policy reform on the Relocation and Purchase of Land for the Sikaiana people of Solomon Islands.
Located between east of Papua New Guinea and Northwest of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands is a little piece of paradise comprised of nine provinces, six main islands and about 900 smaller islands. Like other island nations, Solomon Islands is very vulnerable to the impact of climate change, putting the Sikaiana people especially at risk.
Sikaiana Island or Stewart Island is about 212 km northeast of the mainland and almost 14 km in length. The people are of Polynesian descent, and a large part of the population belongs to the Anglican Church of Melanesia. Sikaiana Island is administered by Malaita Province, with its own Member for the Provincial Assembly. In the National Parliament, it comes under the constituency of the Malaita Outer Islands (MOI).
According to the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) Report, Sikaiana is an area of highest risk in Solomon Islands. Its vulnerability to the effects of climate change is predicted to eventually make the islands uninhabitable. Hence, the National and Provincial Governments are currently making plans to relocate people residing in the islands over the next few decades.
Lawyer Zaneta Kafa, a Senior Legal Officer in the Solomon Islands Law Reform Commission, decided to look into this problem. “I neither work with the working groups established by the Malaita Provincial Government or the Member of Parliament (MP) for MOI. My policy reform started out as a research project into suitable approaches for the food security issues faced by the people on Sikaiana Island due to rising sea levels, irregular shipping services, and COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions,” she said.
Need for a legal solution to an identified problem
Zaneta found out about The Asia Foundation’s Development Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program as an Australian Awards Pacific Scholarship alumni. Policy reform was always an area of interest to her due to her work at the Law Reform Commission. She aimed to create a policy for acquisition (of customary land) or land purchase (of government land) for the relocation of people from the outer islands in accordance to Solomon Islands Land Titles Act [Cap 133].
“I started researching for official environmental reports on Sikaiana and the predictions for relocation. It did not take long for me to find supporting evidence for the need for relocation in the next few decades,” said Zaneta. “From there I had an ‘identified problem’ and now I needed a ‘legal solution.’ This was the complex part of the research because we had two forms of land ownership—government land ownership and customary land ownership. Even though I’m a lawyer, this is an area I’m not too familiar with… so I spent a lot of time researching and understanding land ownership and how land can be acquired or purchased in the event of relocation.”
Through her research, Zaneta discovered that there were two groups working on different relocation plans. The first was a committee set by the MP for MOI, who were looking into purchasing land on Guadalcanal. The other was by the Malaita Provincial Government, who had plans on a relocation site closer to the mainland in the southern region.
Challenge is too big for one person
From the offset, one of the main challenges to Zaneta’s policy reform was that it was “too big for one person.” With her mentor, Atty. Erwin Tiamson, she concluded that the policy could be more focused on the unique circumstances that need to be taken into consideration prior to relocation.
In 2022, a solution was found when the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Solomon Islands Government jointly developed a “Planned Relocation Guidelines.” The guidelines will be used for crafting future policies and legislation for the relocation of people within the islands.
New reform idea
Zaneta hopes that any future policy must have the following IOM Guidelines: (1) phases for the relocation; (2) social and environmental monitoring; (3) access to basic human rights; and (4) communication, transparency, and accountability from any overseeing authority.
“What I hope for is a policy that will address the legal framework and promote social, cultural and community integration. This is because the Sikaiana people are Polynesian with their own distinct culture, and the two identified areas for relocation belongs to people of Melanesian descent,” she added. Her mentor also reminded Zaneta that her policy must have safeguards for any potential conflict and security of the land ownership.
While Zaneta feels that she hasn’t made significant progress on her policy reform, she remains committed to the project. She has had conversations with a member of the Malaita Provincial Government, who had expressed a lot of enthusiasm for her policy.
“The Development Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program has given me a new insight on policy development and the tenacity to fight for any cause I believe in, as long as it is for the people, and by the people,” Zaneta concluded.