Airstrip to reopen after 3 years closure

Gwaunaru’u airport set to reopen following successful negotiations

THE Gwaunaru’u Airport near the Malaita Provincial capital Auki will reopen in the next two weeks following successful negotiations between the national government and representatives of the tribal groups claiming ownership over the airport site.

The Commissioner of Lands, Mr Nelson Naoapu, Permanent Secretary for Lands, Housing and Survey, Mr Stanley Wale, and Permanent Secretary for Aviation and Communication, Mr Moses Virivolomo signed a Memorandum of Agreement for the airport reopening with trustees of the Fulisisili/Birankwao Tribe and the Toloabu/Rofa Tribe.

The Toloabu/Rofa tribe was represented by two groups of trustees- Toloabu/Rofa Representative 1 and Toloabu/Rofa Representative 2- due to an unresolved internal dispute about who should represent the tribal group in any agreement to reopen the airport.

Fulisisilia/Birankwao Tribe is the current registered land title holders of the Gwaunaru’u Airport site. However, the Toloabu/Rofa Tribe is claiming rightful ownership over the airport site based on a Customary Land Hearing Settlement in October 2007. The land dispute between the two tribal groupings is before the High Court.

Gwaunaru’u Airport was closed in early 2013 during the tenure of the National Coalition for Rural Advancement Government after the airport maintenance contractor accused Civil Aviation authorities of breaching the airport maintenance contract.

The Democratic Coalition for Change Government (DCCG) since assuming office in December 2014 took up the Gwaunaru’u airport closure as a priority issue to deal with and initiated dialogues between the landowning tribes and relevant government authorities.

Initial plans by the DCCG to reopen the airport in June last year failed due to internal landowner issues.

In signing the MOA, the landowning groups agreed to leave their land disputes and other internal issues for the courts to deal.

The Toloabu/Rofa Representatives 1 in particular are obliged by MoA to refrain from the following actions:

  1. Closing down the airport from air traffic;
  2. Engaging in any conduct which threatens or might threaten the closure of the airport from air traffic;
  3. Issuing any threats to close down the airport from air traffic; and
  4. Allowing its servants, agents and tribal members from carrying out any acts referred to in sub-paragraphs a, b and
  5. Toloabu/Rofa Representatives 1 also agreed in the MoA that the airport maintenance contract be re-awarded to Hon Martin Fini of the Malaita Provincial Government.

The national government on the other hand is obliged in the MoA to pay

$100,000 for outstanding land rentals for 2010 and 2011 to the Birankwao Landholding Group (BLHG). BLHG represents the Fulisisilia/Birankwao Tribes as the current land title-holders. In the event that the court rules in favour of the Toloabu/Rofa tribe or any of its internal disputants, then the government will pay the successful party a sum of money equivalent to the rental arrears for 2010 and 2011. The successful party shall also be entitled to request BLHG to refund the

$100,000 paid to it.

Also as part of its obligation in the MoA, the national government shall also pay $20,000 each to the two groups representing the Toloabu/Rofa towards the cost of their High Court case against Fulisisili/Birankwao.

Government officials present at the MoA signing ceremony were the Attorney General, Mr James Apaniai, Director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Solomon Islands, Mr George Satu, Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr Joseph Waleanisia, Assistant Commissioner of Lands Rural, Mr Bobby Waitara and the National Consultant for Communication and Aviation in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Aloysio Poiohia.

The government delegation flew over to the Gwaunaru’u by helicopter to sign a new Gwaunaru’u Airport maintenance contract with Hon Fini, inspect the airport and conduct community awareness about the new MoA.

The government delegation concluded its mission on Malaita with a courtesy call on the Malaita Provincial assembly.

Meanwhile, airport maintenance work has started in preparation for the reopening.

Source: PM Press