Australia’s ten-year SBD 1.5 billion Solomon Islands Infrastructure Program up and running
Eleanor Fenton, Team Leader, SIIP
Opinion, published in Pacific Tenders Magazine, Issue 7, 2022
Australia’s ten-year, SBD 1.5 billion Solomon Islands Infrastructure Program (SIIP) was officially launched by Prime Minister Hon. Manasseh Sogavare and the Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands Dr Lachlan Strahan on 25 June. SIIP will focus on economic infrastructure such as transport (land, sea and air), information communication technology, electricity, water and sanitation, tourism and infrastructure that supports rural development. The flagship program comes at a time of great opportunity to maximise the economic benefits of the government’s ambitious pipeline of approximately SBD 10 billion of nation building infrastructure. With the right skills and policy settings in place, there are significant opportunities for local industry participation, local employment, and the needs of all infrastructure users to be integrated through improved infrastructure lifecycle planning, procurement, construction, use and maintenance that SIIP promises to deliver.
Optimising local content is one of the key principles of the program. During its launch, Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands Dr Lachlan Strahan stressed the importance of upskilling industry and contributing to local job opportunities - whilst delivering quality, resilient infrastructure.
“Inclusive, quality infrastructure means engaging with the communities using it, and supporting government and the private sector to plan, finance, build and maintain well built assets, Dr Strahan said.
“High quality infrastructure will play a significant role in boosting growth in Solomon Islands – especially in response to economic recovery from COVID.”
However, optimising local content is complex. It is challenged by tensions between project-level efficiency, effectiveness, and value-for-money considerations on the one hand, and local and national economic outcomes and opportunities on the other. Purposefully planned, designed, and delivered local content policies and practices can help balance those tensions, and deliver win-win results.
SIIP demonstrates Australia’s genuine long-term commitment to sustainable, locally-driven economic development in Solomon Islands – to share skills, improve planning and leave a legacy of well-built projects.
The program is designed to deliver four outcomes for Solomon Islands over its ten-year life:
1. Support infrastructure policy development including safeguards and opportunities to integrate climate change, environmental management, gender equality, disability and social inclusion.
- Build national capacity, focusing on enhancing the capacity of government, local industry and communities to build quality, inclusive infrastructure.
- Provide direct financing for priority projects, as well as help leverage co-finance contributions from multilateral development banks.
4. Undertake construction of high priority, high quality infrastructure as demonstration projects.
The Program is overseen by a high-level joint Steering Committee that is co-chaired by Secretary to the Prime Minister and the Australian High Commissioner. The Permanent Secretaries for the Ministry of National Planning and Development Coordination, and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury are also members. The Steering Committee provides a strong mutual interest platform for prioritising activities and ensuring effective use of funds. While the SBD $1.5 billion over ten years is Australia’s largest single investment in Solomon Islands, it will need to be managed wisely if it is to deliver on its four outcome areas.
In its first meeting, the Steering Committee approved the scoping of up to new 10 markets, across the country, for construction over the life of the program. The markets will be informed by the Gizo market redevelopment in Western Province, delivered by Australia in 2019. This project demonstrated what can be done when planning, people and professionals come together – well governed climate resilient and highly accessible infrastructure, aligned to the strategic objectives of the National Development Strategy, with high levels of local content.
While SIIP is in its early days, an office has already been established in Honiara with key team members in place. Because SIIP is offering more than traditional ‘turn-key’ infrastructure projects, the program has commenced engagement with government, industry groups and the community sector to establish relationships and understand infrastructure and capacity needs.
Picture: SIIP will focus on economic infrastructure such as transport (land, sea and air), information communication technology, electricity water and sanitation, tourism and infrastructure that supports rural development. (Taupongi/SIIP)
It’s already clear from SIIP’s early consultations with groups representing women, people with disabilities and youth, that there is more room for the inclusion of the voices of the people who use infrastructure in their daily life. They say that improvements in access would increase their ability to contribute to economic activity and participate in the wider community.
SIIP comes with high expectations and commences in challenging times. As Solomon Islands and the Pacific grapple with the health and economic impact of COVID-19, such an investment stands to strengthen the enduring economic ties between the two countries. It also offers the chance to demonstrate elsewhere in the region what it takes to deliver competitive, locally-constructed, resilient and economically empowering infrastructure.
The Solomon Islands Infrastructure Program is an initiative of the Australian Government implemented by CARDNO.