The Leadership Code Commission (LCC) should be congratulated for its hard work.
This week the LCC Chairman, Emmanuel Kouhota, announced that he has asked 36 Members of Parliament (MPs), 11 of whom are Government Ministers, and 15 Permanent Secretaries (PSs) to explain why they have not submitted a declaration of financial affairs to the LCC.
The LCC has also charged the Finance Minister, Hon. Rick Hou, over allegations that he improperly awarded a tourism grant under his discretion to Afio Lodge, a business owned by his wife.
This is a significant step for the LCC and a promising sign that we will see the Commission play a more active role in investigating issues of accountability and transparency in the future.
So what does it all mean?
Under the Leadership Code Commission (Further Provisions) Act 1999, every leader must provide details of their financial affairs within three months of being appointed or elected to their position.
A leader’s spouse and children must also submit a statement of their financial interests.
They must then update this statement every two years while holding a leadership position.
The statement should include information such as details of companies that they own or are directors of, occupations of family members, share holdings, their total income including all sources of income, any business transactions they are involved in of a value of more than $1000, details of all gifts received and all assets that they own.
The Commission has written to 36 MPs and 15 PSs to ask why they have not submitted their statements. They each have 60 days to respond.
The problem now is that the LCC has no teeth to bite. Since that Act was watered down in 1999 the penalty for leaders failing to submit their disclosure of financial affairs on time is just $100.
Even if the Commission decided that a leader’s continuous failure to submit their statement amounts to misconduct, the maximum fine is just $5000. Small change to a powerful person who is using their position for their own benefit. There is also the issue of publication.
TSI, along with many others, has been critical of the LCC for refusing to publish the full details of its decisions.
We understand that the LCC has recently changed its policy on this and in the future all decisions will be publicly available. A very positive step.
However, the Act specifically states that the LCC cannot reveal the details of MPs interests to the public.
TSI believes that this highlights that the Act desperately needs to be reformed.
Especially in the lead up to the 2014 elections, voters have a right to know which MPs are meeting their requirements in terms of openness and accountability.
They have a right to know about the business interests and associations of the people they are electing to represent their interests in the National Parliament.
We might only need to look as far as Vanuatu for an example of how the Leadership Code could be better enforced.
Under Vanuatu’s Leadership Code, leaders who fail to submit an annual return on time will have their details published in the official gazette.
If a leader continues to fail to lodge an annual return then the leader is in breach of the code and potentially liable for a fine equivalent to $175,000 SBD.
In the short term, TSI calls on these MPs and Permanent Secretaries to do the right thing and publicly state that they have failed to submit their declaration.
Secrecy around these matters only unfairly casts suspicion over all MPs.
There is also the matter of the vacant positions on the Commission.
TSI understands that the two positions of part time commissioner of the LCC have been vacant since September last year. That means that for 9 months the Commission has been unable to sit and unable to make a determination.
The Nominating Committee, which is made up of the Prime Minister, The Leader of the Opposition, the Chairman of the Public Service Commission and the Auditor-General, must now immediately heed the persistent calls to appoint commissioners to the two vacant spots on the LCC.
So to summarize, credit must go to the LCC for making a big statement with this move. It says to leaders of this country that someone is watching and if they fail to do the right thing then they will be called to account.
But the move by the LCC also highlights the very serious weaknesses of the Act that they work under. The penalties are insignificant, the process is difficult and time consuming and the public are unable to be made aware of all of the facts.
To his credit, the LCC Chairman, along with many other prominent people in our country support reform to the LLCC Act. On two occasions amendments have been drafted and then buried by the government.
If anything the investigations currently before the LCC show that it is time to give the Commission real powers.
We want to know what you think about this issue. Call TSI on 28319, email firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via our facebook page www.facebook.com/TransparencySI
To report corruption, bribery or abuse of public office, call ALAC on 20391 or drop by our office on first floor of the Stephen and Sons building in China Town, Honiara.
LCC Makes a Big Statement
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