Dear Editor

As I began writing this letter on Sunday last week, I read a press release from the Office of the Prime Minister in which Prime Minister Sogavare had followed up on his speech, made at the locally held anti-corruption workshop last week, by calling on the Steering Committee that had been mandated to oversee the country’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS), comprising representatives from the Government, the Private Sector and the Civil Society (including TSI), to come up with “realistic deliverables” that could be acted upon quickly.

The PM stressed, in the press release, that the Committee had less than 3 months to finalize a strategy which the government hopes to launch on the International Anti-Corruption Day in December this year.

Something of a tall order in 12 weeks given the very wide range of enduring problems prevailing in the Solomon Islands, including poverty, poor governance and dependency on outside aid (and the accountability of aid, such as the CDF funds). More on this issue later.

Where should the Committee start? Well, I guess, the two representatives from TSI will have many examples to quote of alleged corruption and recommendations to make but should be mindful, I feel, that corruption is quite often perceived as something of a Western concept and not necessarily viewed as such in traditional societies where corruption does not have such a negative meaning.

It is true in the Solomon Islands, that the culture associated with wantok, indicates many of the social and traditional responsibilities are based on the obligatory exchange of rewards for services rendered, and such practices still survive.

Ok, the idea of corruption is unethical, regardless of tradition, but easy enough for me to say. Education must, therefore, play a significant part in underscoring the points in the Committee’s recommendations on a draft NACS policy document.

The Solomon Islands as an underdeveloped country will have difficulty in fully combating corruption without attaining a significant level of economic development and often corrupt dealings with officials can be seen as a natural response to shortages.

Appropriate policies must be introduced to minimize or remove the risks.

The Committee must, in my view, tackle the widespread actions of officials who exploit their powers in circumstances were ordinary people are highly dependent on their administrative actions. Here, I believe, the TSI will be able to give evidence to substantiate my views.

As witnessed by the ‘ethnic tension,’ corruption is bad for democracy and ‘fence jumping’ in the political sense of governing is equally bad for a democratic state.

Let me quote from a past internet post (Author unknown).

“Corruption is very bad for democracy as it can lead to the capture of the state by special interests. In corrupt societies even free and fair election results count for little. Once in power politicians of all parties are likely to concentrate on enriching themselves, taking money from individuals and companies in order to promote their own interests rather than those of their voters or the country as a whole. Sometimes politicians can be bought outright, as when they are persuaded to change political party for financial reward. To avoid accountability to the electorate, such corrupt politicians then have an incentive to corrupt elections, by bribing the electorate with their own money and/or plotting to make the electoral process unfair. Not only is this unjust, it also creates contempt for democracy and makes military coups and other forms of dictatorship more attractive to many people. Finally, it is economically disastrous as it gives those in power the incentive and ability to continually create new laws and regulations which they can then exploit in order to extract bribes.”

Not so very long ago I wrote to the local media with a strategy proposal I thought worthy of government’s consideration – and I repeat it.

Solomon Islands must shift from a well perceived culture of corruption to one of accountability and one that is absolutely necessary to win public confidence and is good for its future prosperity.

It is, in my view, very essential to have a strong political will and commitment, good government and good governance, administrative accountability and simplification of procedures on corruption related regulations to ensure their effectiveness, regular reviews of high-risk areas and whistle blowing procedures.

Integrating ethical values into management can also prove effective tools to curb the menace of corruption.

It would be my further suggestion for the Solomon Islands Government to implement a Minimum Anti-Corruption Capacity (MACC) in the Public Service and that all departments develop an anti-corruption strategy that is designed to address, at least:

– Prevention of corruption

– Detection of corruption

– Investigation of corruption

– Reporting corruption, and

– Resolution of corruption.

Turning now to the CDF funds and proper accounting and auditing, I wrote of a proposal by TSI some months ago and an idea I thought very practical at that time, but I never did discover whether the scheme was adopted. Here, again, I quote.

It is my current understanding that Transparency Solomon Islands has launched a new project “Constituency Development Funds Community Audit in the Solomon Islands”, funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund.

“CDF Community Audit project aims to assist Solomon Islanders in building an inclusive and empowered society where citizens are able to get access to information and to participate in community development.

“Further to that it will also helps to empower communities to demand more accountability from their leaders when administering CDF.

“The project will be achieved through a community level advocacy project that will visit each of the 50 constituencies over a two year period.

“All constituents from 50 constituencies are encouraged to cooperate to ensure that the project is successfully implemented as it will benefit the 80 percent living in the rural communities.

“Members of Parliament alike should also ensure that CDFs funds are spend appropriately

“This should send a strong message to all current members of Parliament that if they used CDF money corruptly they will be easily get caught as the project aims to ensure that there is transparent use of CDFs and people take actions against.

“There will be networks of committees set up in the rural communities and for these two years their role is to ensure what is intended for them is well received and that if there is evidence of misuse of public funds, communities take actions at the same time.

“During the visits participants will learn about the intended purposes of CDFs, the development status of CDFs, the rules that govern the system and what they can do to help their representatives make sure this money is spent effectively and appropriately.

“Also this project will question the effectiveness of CDF in the rural area and documented it to verify if there is tangible existence of the projects in the rural areas or not”

If this project was abandoned for, whatever reason, I believe the NACS Committee should re-consider the project’s proposals.

For the Solomon Islands NACS Strategy to be successful, I recommend the following guidelines to be fully embraced.

The Government must take into account the country’s political, social (traditional) and economic circumstances when defining its anti-corruption strategy.

There must be committed political leadership from the highest levels and broad, bipartisan, support to steer the overall process and to mobilize the necessary resources, and

There must be the broadest involvement of stakeholders to build ownership, including the youth, industry associations, the media, civil society and especially the church.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short.