Joy, peace, progress and prosperity

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THE title to this piece is taken from the words of the Solomon Islands national anthem and since the country gained its independence in 1978, one might question whether the Solomon Islands has truly witnessed joy, peace, progress and prosperity.

Progress and prosperity are still in the making I believe and while peace might be said to have returned to the Happy ‘Isles there was no joy during the terrible and tragic years commonly referred to as the period of the ‘Tensions’ from late 1998 until the period following the arrival of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in 2003.

Progress and prosperity has been impeded since 1978 arguably by the constant change of governments and the game of ‘musical chairs’ played out time after time by elected MPs.

Only one Prime Minister succeeded in remaining in office for his full year term since 1978 and now, for the sixteenth time in the nation’s history, the Prime Ministership has become vacant and a new Prime Minister is to be elected.

The only female Member of Parliament believes the problem with the country’s male parliamentarians is that they are never satisfied.

The outgoing Minister for Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs and MP for Temotu Vatud Freda Tuki said in Parliament this week this was the cause of internal division.

Ms Tuki is the only woman in the highest decision-making body in the nation and has served in the government for three years.

She said she had seen that leaders in the Solomon Islands were discontent.

“I see that our main problem as leaders of this country is that we are never satisfied as leaders,” she said. “Even if we are put in portfolios that we should implement to prove.”

The SIBC had this to say on the situation (and I quote)

“With a sluggish economy, endemic corruption in government, high unemployment, poor communication facilities, high cost of doing business and a general distrust of politicians, Parliament chose by a majority of 27 to 23 votes to blame the Prime Minister (Manasseh Sogavare) and voted him out of office.

“Several of the Ministers who were part of the problem in Manasseh Sogavare’s cabinet in the past three years think they are now part of the solution and its likely one or more will want to be the new Prime Minister next week.

“One of them was removed for conflict of interest since being named in a Commission of Enquiry into the Ports Authority issue in the past year.

“Many MPs are known to be agitating for more ‘slush funds’ to be made available to them to campaign with in the general elections to be held at the end of 2018.

“The big story however is that Government is virtually insolvent. It has 200 million dollars’ worth of accumulated debts and the recently appointed Minister of Finance has laid the blame for this on the previous Minister of Finance Mr. Snyder Rini who joined the opposition over a week ago.

“A couple of other issues caused by the previous Finance minister were revealed in the debate. The delay in landing a submarine cable in Solomon Islands and the delay in concluding the agreement for a much needed Tina River hydro-electric system were, according to the current Finance Minister and the Prime Minister, also caused by Mr Rini.

“A much discussed item was the anti-corruption bill that most MPs did not like because it might expose some of them to being charged. The latest addition forced upon the Prime Minister is that crimes committed before the enactment of the new Bill in this session of Parliament, would not be prosecuted.”

In an interview with Radio New Zealand International following the PM’s ousting in Parliament, Ms Ruth Liloqula, of Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI), said she was adamant “the government of Manasseh Sogavare was removed because MPs were opposed to the anti-corruption legislation the government was advocating.”

The MPs, including much of Mr Sogavare’s cabinet, who voted for the ouster, have denied it was over the anti-corruption bill, but Ms Liloqula, said TSI had no doubts

Now as the caretaker Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has said the shipping grant paid out to some Members of Parliament (MP) have been abused.

He was speaking in Parliament on Monday before he was removed from office during the vote of motion of no confidence.

He told Parliament that around SBD700 millions was given to MPs to buy ships.

“Instead some MPs pay logging machines. Is this not a crime?

“Or how, bulldozer and ship same thing?”

He alleged a Member of Parliament had also asked a business man seeking $2million for boat repairs to increase that amount by $3million so that he could get the $1million as commission.

Last night, Tuesday, following the surprising defection of seven Opposition members a deal was said to have been cemented to form a coalition with the caretaker government, a source close to the new coalition revealed.

A statement from the Caretaker Government confirmed that the Democratic Alliance Party (DAP) and the Solomon Islands People’s First Party MPs had a joined alliance with the remaining 23 Members of Parliament in the Sogavare-led caretaker Government to form the next coalition.

The statement, however, said discussions for their nominations for the Prime Minister’s post were still underway and their nominations submitted to the Office of the Governor-General when the nomination period is officially announced.

Following their defection, the caretaker government now has 30 on its side while the Opposition is now left with 20 MPs.

The 7 MPs were part of the Opposition side which ousted Sogavare during the vote on Monday evening.

In yet another late move, in the form of a press release today, and news that could put an end to some of the concerns expressed by the TSI and others, the news came of what the Solomon Islands Government had in mind in dealing with anti-corruption. Quoting from the press release it said.

“The Deputy Secretary to the Prime Minister who is the Solomon Islands Government focal point for United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), Mr Derek Futaiasi, has told the UNCAC biennial Conference of State Parties in Vienna this week that once the Anti-Corruption Bill (ACB) becomes law, a new Anti-Corruption Commission will have authority and jurisdiction to investigate and refer for prosecution all corruption cases that arise from the moment the Bill is adopted as law.

“This year, our government has signed an agreement with the UNDP to give effect to some of the anti-corruption activities in our National Anti-Corruption Strategy. Our government wants leverage from development partners to deliver on its National Anti-Corruption Strategy. For this reason UNDP is being requested to cost-share with Government on this anti-corruption project as well as to further mobilise resources from other development partners.”

“Mr Futaiasi said that in late September this year, South Korea and Vietnam reviewed Solomon Islands’ compliance with the prevention and asset recovery chapters of UNCAC and that the Solomon Islands greatly appreciated South Korea and Vietnam for the support of their experts in overseeing the review process along with UNODC officials.

“In terms of Chapter II (preventive measures), Solomon Islands has progressed: Adoption of a National anti-corruption strategy at the highest level, following extensive stakeholder consultations; a stand-alone budget for the Ombudsman’s Office to ensure its financial independence; and the mandatory nature of the Leadership Code for accountability and oversight provided by the Leadership Code Commission,” said Mr Futaiasi.

“In terms of challenges, we note the need to review and take appropriate measures to promote transparency and accountability in the management of public resources (and in particular Constituency Development Funds).”

“The Solomon Islands has also supported other Pacific delegates to the UN’s peak conference on anti-corruption in urging States parties and other development partners to support small island developing States in their efforts to implement and monitor Sustainable Development Goal 16.

“Solomon Islands’ participation in the biennial Conference of the State Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Vienna, Austria was facilitated by The United Nations Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption (UN-PRAC) project. The Australian Government is supporting the UN-PRAC Project, a four-year project in the 15 Pacific nations being implemented by UNODC and UNDP.”

Will the Solomon Islands, despite the political turmoil of the past week see the return of a new government committed to truly serving the nation and ensuring from thereon joy, peace, prosperity and progress?   One must hope so.

Yours sincerely

 

FRANK SHORT

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