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By Ofani Eremae

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Sept. 5) – The Solomon Islands Government yesterday unveiled how it will implement its rural development policy.

Financial service, agriculture and transport, it says, are key to achieving the policy.

A discussion paper outlining the strategies and implementation process was released for comments at a rural development forum in Honiara yesterday.

Provincial premiers, secretaries and planning officers are attending, at the invitation of the national government.

Rural people, the discussion paper says, need to have access to financial service.

"This will help them to save, invest and access credit.

"The agriculture sector is an engine for economic growth.

"Improvement in this sector is critical to improve rural livelihoods.

"Transport infrastructure is vital for the development of this country and especially the rural areas.

"Without it, rural people cannot get their valued products to market, banks cannot provide efficient financial services to rural communities, and children and parents cannot access schools and essential health services," the paper stated.

It said the first step towards implementing the policy is community consultation and grass root policy development.

The aim is to mobilize community input, identify, and prioritize development activities at the local level.

Improving access to finance, developing the agriculture sector and putting in place a reliable transportation system would be the second leg.

The third leg, the paper says, is developing service delivery capacity at the provincial government level.

The ability of the provincial governments to deliver their responsibility has been a major concern.

This is due to lack of qualified staff, inadequate financial resources, weak financial management and administrative systems, and low work moral.

"This strategic framework represents a high level policy vision for rural development in Solomon Islands.

"The key feature of the framework is community consultation -- a bottom-up approach that helps communities to plan and decide for themselves how they want to develop," the paper stated.

The discussion paper will guide ministers in developing specific proposals as part of the 2007 budget process.

The total cost of all rural initiatives, the paper says, will become clear as the process develops.

But it says the cost of the initiative will be largely met by donors.

The discussion paper "Strategic Framework for Rural Development" was produced by the Department of National Planning and the Economic Reform Unit in the Department of Finance.

Provincial premiers and their officials spent yesterday discussing the strategies outlined in the paper.

Their input will be taken on board as part of the government’s consultative process towards implementing its rural development policy.

September 6, 2006

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