“Halt cemetery construction”: Guadalcanal Province
The Guadalcanal Provincial Government (GPG) calls on the National Government to halt the construction of a new cemetery, proposed to be built somewhere at Gilbert Camp area. This is within Guadalcanal Province boundary, in the Tandai Ward. The GPG says the Guadalcanal Provincial Executive and relevant provincial authorities were not consulted.
The Deputy Premier for Guadalcanal Province, Hon. Lazarus Rina, refutes the statement by the Prime Minister as reported in the Solomon Business Magazine (SBM) online that Guadalcanal Province is part of the Committee tasked to oversee the construction.
In a statement released on behalf of the Guadalcanal Provincial Executive, Hon. Rina states, “the Guadalcanal Provincial Government opposes the national government’s proposal to build the new cemetery because it was never consulted although the proposed site for the new cemetery falls within the jurisdiction of the Guadalcanal Provincial Planning and Development Board”.
He says according to the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 2017, “in order for any development to take place within a provincial government’s jurisdiction, it must first be approved according to the Provincial Plan as provided for under Section 9(5A) and ought to have regard to the Local Planning Scheme (LPS) approved under Section 11 of the said Act.”
Hon. Rina says, “This proposed cemetery was never subjected to these processes and requirements.”
Hon. Rina states that Guadalcanal Provincial Government acknowledges and respects the Prime Minister’s responsibilities under Part 2 of the Emergency Powers (Covid-19) (No. 2) Regulations 2021, especially the “Public Interest” under Regulations (6) or the “Covid-19 related purpose”, but in the longer-term it should consider the future and unintended consequences.
A “COVID-19 related purpose” as defined under these Regulations “includes a purpose for or related to maintaining Public Health, Safety, Order and Security during the Emergency Period”.
However, Hon. Rina asks whether “The burial site and its location maintain Public Health, Safety, Order and Security during such a period?”
He adds that, “while the Guadalcanal Provincial Government understands that our country is going through a public health crisis and there is a need for a new cemetery to accommodate the increasing death toll, we must not use this as an excuse to disregard due processes as stipulated under our laws.”
Hon. Rina says that even if the proposed site is on alienated land with the perpetual estate (PE) title held by the Commissioner of Lands, “it is within Guadalcanal Province and any development must be carried out in accordance with the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 2017 and in consultation with and approved by the relevant Guadalcanal Provincial authorities.”
The Deputy Premier also points to environmental concerns, especially to the Ecosystem-Based Adaptation assessment published by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in 2017, through the Pacific Ecosystem-based Adaptation to Climate Change (PEBACC), which identified that these areas have aquifers that are important sources of freshwater.
“These water sources or catchments are indeed crucial for both the surrounding communities and as well as Honiara City, thus building a burial site above is not a wise decision and could result in further environmental and water crises sooner rather than later,” Says Hon. Rina.
Hon. Rina also highlights the National Government’s failure to help build a Guadalcanal Provincial Hospital, which the provincial government had requested in 2020 as part of its COVID-19 preparedness plan.
He says, “In 2020, we sent a COVID-19 Preparedness submission to the Government Oversight Committee (GOC) to help us with a new provincial hospital and an isolation center. The national government never responded to, let alone acknowledge receiving our request. We anticipated this public health crisis that was why we submitted our COVID-19 Preparedness plan, which would have provided for a decentralized response to the health crisis.”
He says given that Guadalcanal Province was expected to be at the frontline of the COVID-19 infections, it made sense for the National Government help the province with the preparedness.
“Guadalcanal Province has given and continues to give a lot to our country. The least we ask in return is that our laws are followed, the interests of Guadalcanal people are respected and protected, and that the National Government helps us address our needs. But instead, we were ignored,” says Hon. Rina.
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