Corruption through a local lens

Solomon Islanders are vulnerable to corruption practices due to poor living standard and lack of financial security.

This is according to interviews with Gizo residence in the Western Province of Solomon Islands.

Independent research carried out in February – March this year found that financial insecurity and poor living standard are two elements that encourage corruption to thrive in Solomon Islands.

A summary of the finding from the interviews describes reason why corruption is ingrained in all of the society in Solomon Islands.

Out of 20 people interviewed, 18 responded that people accept bribery for many reasons – the most common reason was poor financial security.

To get a clear understanding, let’s look at Solomon Islands as a country and the struggle people faced on a daily basis.   

Firstly, and for most, Solomon Islands is a country where access to employment is very difficult and people find themselves in very low paid jobs with no savings.

Money, they get from their salaries are not enough to meet basic needs such as water and electricity bills, school fees as well as family basic needs like clothes and healthy foods.

According to the latest data provided by Trading Economics, Solomon Islands standing on unemployment is at 1.8 percent.

Solomon Islands youth unemployment rate for 2021 was 1.93%, a 0.25% increase from 2020.

Secondly, poor standard of living is another factor that contributes to corruption practices. According to the interviewees, almost half of Solomon Islanders are living below or on the poverty line and this lures them to fall into corruption practices when there is opportunity.

When asked which corruption practices are common in Solomon Islands, all 20 interviewees agreed that bribery, diversion of public funds, nepotism and conflict of interest are common corruption practices popular in Solomon Islands.

Interviewees have different views on who or which institutions are most corrupt practitioners in Solomon Islands.

Sixteen out of 20 interviewees point at national leaders and those holding top offices as the most corrupt people while four respondents believe that corruption has permeated throughout the society.

An Anglican Priest who was among those interviewed, Rev Barclay Voze describes corruption as a virus that has invaded the lives of Solomon Islanders.

He says corruption thrives because people have disregarded their morals and values particularly their Christian upbringing which prohibits corruption.

“We call ourselves a Christian country but our action failed to reflect this notion. We have been pulled by demonic forces and I believe this is the reason why corruption is difficult to eradicate in our country.

“If we have the moral responsibility to serve our country and serve the God who we believe, there will be no corruption in country,” Voze commented.

Another interviewee, Leilani Makini shared similar sentiment saying that corruption manipulates the desires of people from money, wealth and power.

She blames leaders for turning a blind eye on corruption practices.

“There is high rate of unemployment, high number of school drop outs with limited work opportunities for those coming out from tertiary institutions.

“Our laws are also weak to fight corruption. Anti-corruption institutions in the country have limited provisions to carry out their duties, So, at the end of the day, corruption practitioner always get away without penalties.

“Corruption is a result of many factors, from poor financial security to poor living standard and it will continue to thrive unless leaders of this country address these issues,” Makini says.

Another interviewee, Ms Julie Misimake says power and money are the root cause of corruption in Solomon Islands.

She says most corruption practices always involve money in exchange for favor and power to the other party.

“Our country is shaped according to our culture and tradition where dominance is one of the elements of life in our society.

“To become dominance, those with higher class influenced the lower class through barter system in exchange of money or gift.

“This action comes tin the fore prior to national general election where intending candidates dish out huge amount of money to voter in echange for their votes,” Julie says.

The investigation also found there is confusion between corruption practices and culture and traditional moral obligations.

Not only that, lack of legislation to prosecute corruption practices also played a pivotal role to management breakdown.

According to a lawyer, government top officials especially Permanent Secretaries and Members of Parliament are immune to law as there is no legislation specify provisions to directly hold the officials accountable.

The lawyer also mentioned that very limited cases of corruption ended up in court but in most cases the accused always find leverage to walk free due to poor legislation.

Solomon Islands is ranked 77 and score 42 in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 2022.

According to CPI perception researchers, Solomon Islands fell one point compared to 2021 – in other words, the perception of corruption practices worsened in 2022.

However, there are questions as to why Solomon Islands lost one point and spiraling downward at the CPI index record.

Interview respondents agreed that corruption exists in both public and private sector.

What is corruption in a Solomon Islands Context

There is no clear definition of what is corruption in Solomon Islands. This is because Solomon Islands has deep respect for its culture and tradition where practice of giving is described as goodwill and not corruption.

In the eyes of Solomon Islands culture and tradition, the act of giving or conflict of interest are not criminal offense.

Anti-corruption Institutions

Anti-corruption institutions in Solomon Islands are mere agent of the state – they exist under the law but lack power to carry out their duties.

These anti-corruption institutions Ombudsman Office, Office of the Auditor General, Attorney General Office Transparency Solomon Islands are like “dogs without teeth”.

It is obvious that the media so as other NGOs do exposes corruption practices however, these anti-corruption institutions including the local police fail to investigate those who are involved in corruption practices.

Worst still, reports compiled by these anti-corruption institutions means nothing as there is no law to deal with corruption practices.

In conclusion, corruption is not negotiable in a country like Solomon Islands where standard of living is very expensive and life expectancy is rated highest in the world.

BY BEN BILUA, for anti-corruption story grant.

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