By Gary Hatigeva
WORK of the civil society organisations (CSO) continued to be praised and appreciated in all aspects of the country, but certain members of Parliament (MP) are now questioning their integrity and some of their outreach programmes held recently.
Member of Parliament for Shortlands, Chris Laore is concerned over the manner in which some of the CSO groups, particularly, the National Council of Women, has been conducting its awareness programmes, most of which he described to be very ‘anti-MP’.
The group along with representatives of other civil society organisations were out in some of the provinces last month, with a mission to give civic awareness to the rural people on women issues, including women in leadership.
But the concerned Shortland MP told Island Sun that the groups are ought to be questioned as they were moving around with female intending candidates, using the CSO banner as a platform to advocate election agenda on behalf of those women.
More so, he added, the group’s recent trip to the Shortlands was for an intending candidate in his constituency, under the CSO banner, using information to bring disrepute to his image.
Laore shared that while he is happy to see women participate in the formal electoral system, he is concerned that the women advocacy group’s agenda has gone a bit too far off the mark, which he felt was going too deep into how the constituency is running its affairs and development programmes.
The MP said he has no problems with organisations going around making civic awareness programmes on behalf of women in politics and their leadership potentials in the country, but thought that the nature of these outreach activities have gone beyond their mandates.
The Shortlands MP who had just returned from his constituency shared that he was shocked to have learnt of the manner in which the NCW General Secretary Acting, Casper Fa’asala, was carrying out his programmes, which he said was clearly targeting current MPs – for the interest of women candidates within their circle.
Laore who was also questioned by a group of women from Shortlands on how he had used the funds given to his constituency under various ministries under the RCDF programme, suggested that these were the outcomes of what the CSO groups, particularly, the woman advocator, has intended, which he expressed to have no problems with as all the records are with the responsible ministries.
He then claimed that the NCW head has intended to bad-name him so to create the potential to display a picture for their woman intending candidate, which he thought the authorities should carefully look into.
“Is this a civic awareness programme or a campaign strategy they are using to target the MPs under the umbrella of such a very reputable organisation like the National Council of Women?” Laroe questioned.
He also questioned if these activities were done under exempt of the Minister of Home Affairs because he claimed, were obvious campaigning.
He further questioned if the head of the NCW delegation to his constituency was mandated under the Ministry of Women, Youths, Children and Family Affairs, which he thought would not have gone beyond approved agenda if it was so.
The Shortland MP however stressed that if these women in his constituency that questioned him were genuine enough in their calls as concerned electorates, he suggested that the constituency office is there to consult with, so as the Ministry of Rural Development and other relevant ministries, where all the records of fund usage are available.
“These are constituency matters and so these women if they are genuine about their concerns, should have approached the constituency office for answers, or even the ministry responsible. Otherwise, these are all part of the intentions orchestrated by these CSO groups and their women intending candidates,” Laore said.
The matter raised is also something some constituents of the Malaita Outer Islands (MOI) constituency have shared, suggesting that while some elements of the groups are being genuine with their agenda, others are actually hiding under the umbrella of the CSO to push the agenda on behalf of their women candidate.
Like it was in the Shortlands, the NCW representative was also alleged to have accompanied another woman intending candidate for MOI and electorates have also expressed the same concerns, regarding the nature of the groups’ Civic awareness programmes, which they thought was very much campaigning.
But a follow up with the Ministry of Women, Youths, Children and Family Affairs revealed that the NCW is one of their key partners in the implementation of government policies relating to youths, families and women, but have not mandated for them to use such strategy if they were true.
Ministry Officials explained that these groups can be exempted under the umbrella of the CSO and the Ministry, to carryout election civics, raise awareness on issues such as women in leadership and politics, and other issues to highlight the potentials of women in the country.
“But not to discredit or have programmes done in the manner that is directly linked to influencing electorates and bad repute any members of parliament,” a senior official who wished anonymity explained.
Also commenting on this, Solomon Islands Electoral Commission officials explained that they support the works of the CSOs in their outreach activities throughout the country, in the form of availing trainings on the election processes, but not on the grounds of training them how to lure votes or similar activities.
Commission officials however warned that any form of awareness activities related to election, must be done within the boundaries of the Electoral Act, and therefore any activities deemed campaigning in nature are illegal and should be discouraged, or people might get penalised.
Meanwhile, when contacted, the Acting General Secretary of NCW denied accompanying the woman candidate to Shortlands, despite claims his trip was funded by the intending candidate.
Fa’asala briefly explained that the awareness was based on the bulk amount of funds to constituencies through Constituency Development Fund (CDF) that was highlighted in the Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) Report on the development fund.
He said his return to the constituency, which prompted the complaints, was done after the women of the constituency requested for awareness on CDF and related constituency funds
The General Secretary (Ag) then suggested that those unhappy MPs should however see this as an opportunity to go down to the constituency and explain to electors on the details of what was highlighted in bulk sums of the funds.
He however clarified that in the Malaita Outer Islands, the awareness on CDF was done by TSI based on their report analysis on the much talked about funds, but denied holding similar programme like he did in Shortlands.
“My trip to MOI was basically to do a short list analysis on the constituency to draw up profile for the woman intending candidate, in preparation for her campaign platform during the campaign period,” Fa’asala explained.
Fa’asala was unable to respond to most of the claims and allegations made but confirmed that he will be making a full reply statement on this in our next issue.