The rollout of the Solomon Islands’ $136 million submarine internet cable deal with Australia faces possible delays, after the islands’ prime minister revealed he was unaware of landowner issues.
Landowners will demand compensation over the controversial deal and are threatening to go to court if their government does not meet their terms – threatening the project’s ambitious timetable to have it completed by the end of 2019, SBS reports.
“The foreshore belongs to my tribe, that means there will be monetary transaction involved before consenting to the project,” Vincent Kurilau, chief of the Haubata tribe and the last living trustee of the land and waters, told SBS News.
Mr Kurilau is the trustee of 1,541 hectares below the high-water mark, stretching the length of the capital Honiara’s coast to Henderson International airport. The cable would travel through his tribes’ property if directly brought to shore in the capital.
“I will discuss it with members of the tribe. It is a national project and I always believe in dialogue, but if things go bad then we usually take to court,” he said.
“In Melanesia, land is your identity, land is your survival; when you don’t have land, or land [is] taken away, you are a stranger in your own land.”
The Solomon Islands is one of the last countries in the world not to be connected to a telecoms cable.
The deal with Australia was signed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Solomon Islands counterpart Rick Houenipwela on his first official visit to Canberra almost two weeks ago, and was hailed as the “best value” deal amid pomp and ceremony.
Mr Houenipwela told SBS News he expected the deal to go ahead and to be completed on time.
“I think the advantages we expect from the cable are going to be quite huge,” the former senior World Bank advisor said.
But, he said, he was unaware of landowner expectations for compensation, or of any economic impact assessments conducted on the project, or of a rival Vanuatu cable planned from Honiara to Port Vila, connecting to Sydney, that is already under license.
“I’m not very familiar with land issues on the ground,” Mr Houenipwela said.
“The [Solomon Islands] company is dealing with that and the last time I had an update, more than a month ago, the company said we are on track.”