Corporate entry: Local Government Councils


Local Councils developed in a very ad hoc manner and initially the emphasis was on the codification of custom. Early experiments in local government occurred with the Anglican Melanesian Mission's Vaukolu (q.v.) on Nggela from 1880, and in 1940 the government set up local government bodies in north Malaita. Each district was split into a series of territorial divisions known as 'administrative sub-districts', which could contain, on a large island like Malaita, up to a hundred square miles and twenty-five hundred people. The local officials consisted of a Headman and one or more Assistant Headmen, appointed by the District Officer under the 1922 Native Administration (Solomons) Regulations. In the 1920s and 1930s, District Officers in some areas of the Protectorate began to consult leading Solomon Islanders about problems affecting their districts. Onwards from the 1940s, Local Councils were seen as a way to include Solomon Islanders in the governing process. By the time of the lead up to independence in the 1970s, national leaders were cognizant of the fragmentation that Local Councils could cause, were worried by demands for regional autonomy, and puzzled over how to give traditional leaders a voice in the modern nation. (Ministry of Home Affairs 1975, 7)

Between 1940 and 1942, various District Officers established Local Court systems on a trial basis. A system of indirect rule through Local Councils was first conceived in 1941, and a Native Courts Ordinance was passed in 1942 to create a mechanism for managing local disputes. The advisor to the Protectorate on the establishment of Local Councils was anthropologist Dr Ian Hogbin of the University of Sydney, who prepared a booklet on Native Councils and Native Courts in 1942. (Hogbin 1944, 1945-1946) In 1944, High Commissioner Sir Philip Mitchell proposed a system of Local Councils based on his work while posted in Uganda in the 1930s. By 1946 Isabel had four separate councils, Choiseul had seven, Guadalcanal had thirteen, Malaita had fifteen and Nggela had three.

After the war, there was a clear need to give emphasis to delivering services and allowing political debate. The sub-district councils were amalgamated into single island councils. The 1947 Native Administration Ordinance enabled the Resident Commissioner to establish Native Councils in any sub-district, with a government Headman as ex-officio President of each council. Other members were appointed after people in their sub-district nominated them. These councils only had jurisdiction over Solomon Islanders and little access to revenue. It was found that this experiment did not encourage the development of responsible indigenous authority equipped with adequate resources, and councils' limited jurisdiction was also an issue. Maasina Rule (q.v.), the most successful indigenous experiment in local government, at the height of its powers in the late 1940s opposed these councils and provided a satisfactory alternative with a complex well-organized administrative structure. A booklet prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1975 admitted that Maasina Rule was in many ways more effective than the colonial administration. In Malaita, political expediency after Maasina Rule led the Protectorate Government to accept the Malaitan desire for a single island council in 1953, whereas the government would probably have preferred to establish smaller councils. (Allan 1960; Hogbin 1944, 1945-1946)

The new councils were all established under a new Native Administration Ordinance enacted in September 1953, which still encouraged district administration through Native Councils and Headmen but provided greater flexibility. The establishment of these councils reduced the role of Headmen as direct representative of the colonial government and a system of direct rule. As councils developed, the Headmens' roles and functions were gradually merged into those of the councils. They were integrated into the executive of local government so that many Headmen had seats on the district councils. The Local Government Councils established varied in size: the Vanikolo Council served 105 people, while the Malaita Council served forty-five thousand. After this new Regulation, all of the councils had a majority or, in some cases, their entire membership elected or chosen by their people. Local Councils were to take control of local administration, development, justice, health, education and agriculture. The High Commissioner appointed members from 'natives of good standing'. In 1955 the District Commissioners Conference recommended that Europeans also be allowed to sit on Local Councils, which was similar to what happened in Papua New Guinea. Eventually this proposal was accepted, and it came into effect in 1959. (Hogbin 1944; Allan 1960)

The Malaita Council, which first met on 26 January 1953, was the most progressive form of local government. Salana Ga'a (q.v.), a Kwara'ae Maasina Rule leader, was chosen as President and also served on the Advisory Council from 1953 to 1960. (AR 1951-1952, 48-49) The Malaita Council inherited many of the economic and social aims of Maasina Rule, but was frustrated by legal and bureaucratic complications. Other councils followed: in November 1953 a Guadalcanal Council was established to cover the entire island and its sixteen thousand inhabitants, although a small group of villages in southeast Guadalcanal that proved unable to work smoothly with the main council were allowed to have their own. Makira and Ulawa were also granted councils in 1953. Only the remote outer islands remained without them. However, in 1955 and 1956 new councils were established on Rennell and Bellona, and councils for Vanikolo, the Santa Cruz sub-districts and the Reef and Duffs Group were reestablished. In 1958, the only areas without Local Councils were Tikopia, Anuta and some of the smaller outlying islands of the Reef sub-district. (AR 1955-1956, 60-61, AR 1957-1958, 62) The revenue for these councils was derived from the Native Tax Ordinance, court fines and fees collected in the Native Courts, a dog tax, interest on savings bank deposits, market and store licence fees and some special levies. Members were usually appointed through the Local Government Ordinance, one representing each sub-district.

At the start of 1956, the Native Councils had £40,000 in reserve funds and were expected to earn £15,000 during the year. (AR 1955-1956, 61) Further taxation was considered, based on rates graduated according to occupation or the general wealth of sub-districts. The main items of expenditure were wages for administrative staff, building and maintaining headquarters and equipment, and district dispensaries, particularly funding for the anti-yaws campaign. The Native Councils were most active in the fields of rural health and village-level development. They improved local administrative services, set up new dispensaries, schools, villages for leprosy patients, market centres and village water supplies. Headmen and Native Council members began to be trained in courses at Honiara. (AR 1953-1954, 50-51)

Councils debated their annual estimates of revenue and expenditure and then submitted them to the High Commissioner for approval. By 1959-1960, the administration felt that a sufficient basis for local government had been laid in the form of councils and courts. By about 1960, it was generally felt that the Native Government Ordinance needed to be replaced if democratic local government was to be developed. In 1962, a White Paper was issued to rethink the representative functions of Local Councils and the Central Government. (Ministry of Home Affairs 1975, 7)

In 1963, the Legislative Council passed a law called the Local Government Ordinance, based on a Ghana Local Government Ordinance. This gave the High Commissioner the power to establish Local Councils for the purpose of local government, thus expanding the local government system and expanding council powers and functions. This meant that all areas of the Protectorate came under the authority of either a Local Council or Town Council, except for four councils that continued to operate under the old Native Administration Ordinance. All residents in the council areas under the new Ordinance were eligible to stand for and vote in elections, and were subject to all byelaws. Provisions included the power to levy specific forms of rates to replace the Native Tax. Wards were also established. These were smaller areas within Local Councils, each of which could elect a member to the council. The voting age for men and women was set at twenty-one. Voting was voluntary. A 'whisper vote' was used for anyone who was illiterate: they whispered their choice into the ear of the polling official, usually the District Officer or District Commissioner. (Tedder 2008, 150)

Rates were levied for wards, and varied between islands depending on income levels. (NS 15 July 1963) When the Legislative Council (q.v.) debated the 1963 Ordinance, the general consensus was that it had introduced a 'foreign form of government', which did not relate to the needs of rural Solomon Islanders. (Wotherspoon 1978, 1-2; Ministry of Home Affairs 1975)

Seventeen Local Councils were formed in 1964, operating under the 1963 Ordinance. Of these, sixteen held elections. Four small councils continued to operate under the Native Administration Ordinance. (AR 1963-1964, 4, AR 1965, 3) By 1967, the whole Protectorate (except for Tikopia and Anuta) was covered under Local Councils, each operating under adult suffrage. A Local Council might administer just one sub-district, or it might cover an entire major island. Choiseul, Isabel, Malaita, Makira and Guadalcanal each had one island-wide council.

Local Councils had their own staffs and staff posted to them from the central public service. They administered a wide range of local services, from administrative services, to communications, rural health clinics, and schools, villages for leprosy patients, market centres and village water supplies. Some also built roads and airfields and operated local shipping services. (AR 1967, 96) Local Councils prepared estimates of their revenue and expenditure and submitted them to the High Commissioner for approval. They used standard auditing practices, although that standard of accounting often left much to be desired. The efficiency of Local Councils varied widely and often the centrally appointed senior public servants actually transacted most of their business. Developments were always limited by the low rateable capacity of the population and by the short supply of qualified officers. The funding of these councils varied depending on the wealth of the local rate-payers: the tax could be as low as $1 on remote islands and as high as $10 in the few richer areas. The average revenue was about $5 per rate-payer. Other revenue came from Local Court fees and fines, licences, interest, fees for services, grants from the Central Government and various minor accounts. There was a Local Councils Loan Fund, which by 1969 had made seventeen loans totalling $43,110. These could be for items such as permanent buildings or establishing small cattle breeding farms. (AR 1969, 102-103)

In 1967, the first course was held at the Local Government Training Centre to try to alleviate this problem. The Centre provided a range of courses of instruction for Local Council officials and Native Court members. Local Councils also received help and assistance from appropriate volunteers from overseas. The effects of this training were soon reflected in improved abilities of the Local Councils staffs. (AR 1967, 97, AR 1969, 101)

After several years of negotiation, in 1971 the five Local Government Councils in the Western District were amalgamated into the new Western Council, which had thirty-one wards. In the early 1970s, the workload for all Local Councils increased with the formation of District Development Committees, which had the duty to give advice on priorities for development schemes within their areas. (AR 1971, 4) In 1973 there were eighteen councils, including the Honiara Town Council. These varied considerably in their effectiveness. Ian Wotherspoon assessed their progress in a summary paper on local government:

By 1970 Malaita Council was a forthright body of considerable influence on Central government policy; the Councils of the Western District were small, weak and ineffective. Although much publicity was accorded to the aims and efforts of Local Councils during these years, they did not effectively carry the support of the majority of the population. Thus, for example, in Guadalcanal, less candidates stood for the election in 1971 than had done so in 1964. The Annual Reports of the Solomons continued to record over the period that most Local Authorities were 'not yet very effective agents of local administration' and that they all continued to 'rely heavily on public servants to undertake duties which they should perform themselves'. (1978, 2)

In 1972, the Special Select Committee on Constitutional Development drew attention to the need to reform local government. M. J. Campbell was brought to the Protectorate to advise on reforms to local government structures. This led to the Local Government Committee drafting 'The Development of Local Government-Plan for Operations 1974-77'. Campbell's report suggested that the key to success would be developing a decentralised system which permitted local aspirations to surface while preserving national unity on major issues. In November 1973, the Governing Council (q.v.) through Solomon Mamaloni (q.v.) presented a major policy statement on the development of local government. (NS 7 Dec. 1973) This created a comprehensive Plan of Operations for the years 1974 to 1977, which was implemented. A ministry would be created responsible for local government. In 1975 there were nine councils.

Land Area Sq. Klm. Population Wards Headquarters

Central Islands 1,722 11,000 11 Honiara

Eastern Islands 837 8,000 16 Graciosa Bay

Guadalcanal 5,625 24,000 19 Honiara

Honiara Town 21 17,000 12 Honiara

Makira 3,496 11,000 19 Kirakira

Malaita 4,543 52,000 41 Auki

Santa Ysabel 4,014 9,000 14 Buala

Ulawa 65 1,500 8 Hadja

Western 9,573 33,000 32 Gizo

(Ministry of Home Affairs 1975, 11)

The stated aim was to amalgamate the Makira and Ulawa councils, which was eventually accomplished but with a lot of anguish. Members of councils were elected by universal adult suffrage. Most of the councils held elections during 1974: there were 174 elected seats, as opposed to 228 in 1973, reflecting the many amalgamations. Under the Constitution that came into operation in September 1974, Local Government Councils came under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Local Government Councils were served by their own staffs and by others seconded from the Protectorate Public Service. Large local government conferences in 1975 and 1976 helped set the agenda for independence and beyond. (Home Affairs 1975, 1976; Report of the 1975 Local Government Conference, November 1975; Report of the 1976 Local Government Conference, 5-8 October 1976, transcript of proceedings, in Joan Herlihy Papers, PMB 1190, Reel 10)

By 1977, there were only eight councils: seven in rural areas and one in Honiara. The main motivation for amalgamations was administrative convenience, but there had also been a growth of ethnic and island-wide identities and regional consciousness. Mamaloni and his colleagues realised that to create a modern nation it was bad policy to encourage the growth of small regional political units at the expense of centralised government. There was a greater emphasis placed on the development of Local Government Councils. There were also great differences in the sizes and resources of each council. Communications were improved by the provision of radio transmitters, launches and secondary wharves, tracks suitable for motor vehicles, bridges and road transport. Councils also established copra driers and provided seed subsidies. (AR 1963-1964, 86)

Significant reforms were made in the final years before independence in 1978. Local Councils were encouraged to take responsibility for basic services in education and health, and to take charge of some revenue collecting, although all of their powers devolved from the Central Government. (NS 28 Feb. 1969; Talasasa 1970; Healey 1966; Frazer 1995) The debates that raged in the 1970s largely dealt with issues that were historical in their creation, because of too much centralisation during the colonial period. Once Solomon Islanders were making the decisions, there was more emphasis on satisfying local aspirations, often at the expense of uniting an island and creating a nation.

Published resources


  • Tedder, James L.O., Solomon Islands Years: A District Administrator in the Islands, 1952-1974, Tuatu Studies, Stuarts Point, NSW, 2008. Details

Book Sections

  • Frazer, Ian L., 'Decentralisation and the Postcolonial State in Solomon Islands', in Brij V. Lal;Hank Nelson (ed.), Lines Across the Sea: Colonial Inheritance in the Post Colonial Pacific, Pacific History Association, Brisbane, 1995, pp. 95-109. Details


  • British Solomon Islands Protectorate (ed.), British Solomon Islands Protectorate News Sheet (NS), 1955-1975. Details

Journal Articles

  • Allan, Colin H., 'Local Government and Political Consciousness in the British Solomon Islands', Journal of African Administration, vol. 12, 1960, pp. 158-163. Details
  • Healey, A.M., 'Administration in the British Solomon Islands', Journal of Administration Overseas, vol. 5, 1966, pp. 194-204. Details
  • Hogbin, H. Ian, 'Native Councils and Native Courts in the Solomon Islands', Oceania, vol. 14, no. 4, June, pp. 257-283. Details
  • Hogbin, H. Ian, 'Notes and Instructions to Native Administrations in the British Solomon Islands', Oceania, vol. 16, no. 1, 1945/1946, pp. 61-69. Details
  • Talasasa, F.M., 'Settlement Disputes in Customary Land in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate', Melenesian Law Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 1970. Details


  • British Solomon Islands Protectorate, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Annual Reports (AR), 1896-1973. Details
  • Ministry of Home Affairs, Report of the 1975 Local Government Conference, November 1975, Honiara, 1975. Details
  • Wotherspoon, Ian, An Outline History of Local Government in the Solomon Islands, SPEC Background Paper 8, 1978, 3 pp. Details


Bubuileli Council House, east Fataleka, Malaita Island, 1976
Clive Moore