The people have spoken

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DEAR EDITOR, last week the Acting Prime Minister received a petition from a representative of the local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) which called for the re-introduction of a raft of anti-corruption legislation earlier withdrawn from Parliament by the Prime Minister.

Responding to the petition at the entrance to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Acting Prime Minister said the anti-corruption bill is with Cabinet and as soon as it is finalised, it will go to Parliament to be re-introduced at the upcoming sitting in October.

Quoting an article in the Solomon Star which referred to the handing over of the petition, the Secretary of the Development Services Exchange (DSE)-the Umbrella body of the CSOs in Solomon Islands, Jennifer Wate, said:

“Solomon Islands is crippled by corruption.”

“Corruption affects the hardworking God-fearing men, women, young people and children of Solomon Islands every single day and we will no longer remain idle while schools and hospitals are overflowing with students and patients and essential supplies remain inadequate and infrastructures deteriorate.

“Corruption is an enemy to development and we would like to remind the Members of Parliament are accountable to the citizens of this nation which is growing in numbers.

“We demand that Members of Parliament who were elected to represent the people in the highest decision-making body in the land to represent our best interest to pass the bill without any further delay.

“Your wise decision on this matter will be remembered at the polling booth in the next general elections and in other general elections.”

One must really hope that the long delayed anti-corruption laws will be approved by Parliament when they are re-introduced and the various provisions will have the ‘teeth’ to do what is clearly needed, but the fight against corruption will not be cheap and, as I see it, some reforms of the state will be needed regardless of the anti-corruption measures aimed at stopping corruption.

I have in mind, for one, the need for much better oversight and auditing of the money MPs receive annually to be spent on constituency projects and development.

The success of recent JANUS operations has, no doubt, also created the view that there are some in the top echelons of government that are not providing the right examples of honesty and leadership by having alleged corruption charges brought against them.

When the top political leaders or senior public servants of an organisation do not set the right example, either by allegedly having engaged in acts of corruption, or have condoned other such acts on the part of relatives, friends and wantoks, it cannot be reasonably expected that their juniors in public office will behave any differently.

What I have previously written about the need for effective administrative controls to counter corrupt practices needs re-emphasising and, to quote an analysis by Gary Becker, a Nobel Laureate in economics, he wrote in one of his recent Business Week columns:-

“The existence of these controls reflects to a large extent the attitude of the political body towards the problem.

“Generally, the most effective controls are those that exist inside institutions.

“This is the first line of defence. Honest and effective supervisors, good auditing and clear rules on ethical behaviour should be to discourage or discover corrupt activities.

“Good and transparent procedures should make it easier for those offices to exercise their controls.”

The causes or factors that have been commonly cited as promoting corruption in the Solomon Islands have included, certain government spending decisions, regulations and suspect authorisations, a lack of audits, the provision of goods and services, a lack of transparency in several laws, rules and processes, inadequate penalty systems, examples set by the leadership, logging infringements, customary practices and the level of public sector wages, to name but a few examples.

Procurement spending by the government has often been referred to by TSI as needing better oversight and regulation to enhance accountability.

If, ultimately, the passing of the anti-corruption Bills to be brought before Parliament next month leads to the establishment of an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in the Solomon Islands then that body must be fully independent from the political establishment, have adequate resources and staffed by fully skilled, competent personnel of the highest integrity.

It goes without saying that the investigators of a local ICAC must be provided with full powers of investigation, arrest and prosecution.

A draft ICAC Bill in neighbouring Papua New Guinea is under fire from an Opposition Group this week because it is claimed that Bill does not provide for the independence of the office and those that would have the responsibility of examining corrupt acts.

When it comes to considerations about culture and alleged corrupt practices, I turn for a response to Peter Larmour who wrote in his published paper ‘Corruption and the Concept of Culture: Evidence from the Pacific Islands.’

“Despite attacks on cultural relativism, and the universalistic doctrines of TI and the international community, ideas about culture still seem useful in understanding how people recognise and respond to what is judged to be corrupt behaviour.

“These reflections on culture do not deny the ethical basis of judgments about corruption. Rather, they show how ethical meanings develop and change, how people give different weight to different factors in weighing up what is the right thing to do, and to how they may displace onto others the ethical load of doing business.

“Anti-corruption practices need to adapt to this more nuanced picture of how different people decide to behave.”

Yours sincerely

FRANK SHORT

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