Promises new version of anti-corrupt bill next Parliament sitting, accuses Opp of inciting anti-gov’t atmosphere
PRIME Minister Manasseh Sogavare has rebutted the Opposition, labelling their outcry on the withdrawal of the Anti-Corruption Bill 2016 as ‘shocking’ and ‘completely unnecessary’.
Instead, he counters that the Opposition had cunningly tried to prevent the withdrawal of a bill which they had known fully well to be weak and easy to be manipulated.
He adds that the Opposition had intended to lure public into thinking that both he and his government had gone back on their promise to fight corruption.
However, in a media statement, Sogavare reiterates that the withdrawn bill was weak and had to be completely withdrawn to make way for a newer version which carries improvements from recommendations by the Bills and Legislations Committee (BLC).
The new version he says is fool-proof compared to the withdrawn bill, and contains huge changes that promotes its integrity.
He reassures the nation that the new version of the Anti-Corruption Bill will be tabled in the next sitting of Parliament.
According to PMO statement, “The furore about the withdrawal of the Anti-Corruption Bill 2016 was completely unnecessary and strongly gave the impression that the Prime Minister and the DCC Government is reneging on its promise to fight corruption.
This perception is absolutely misleading and manifestly incorrect.
The Prime Minister would like to reassure the Public that the Democratic Coalition for Change Government is committed to ‘the fight against corruption’ and that the Anti-Corruption Legislation remains the top priority of the DCCG.
It must be noted that the Anti-Corruption Bill (ACB) is part of an Anti-Corruption legislation package which includes the Ombudsman Act 2017 and the Whistleblowers Protection Bill.
Ombudsman Act 2017 has been passed by Parliament and the Whistleblowers Protection Bill is still in Parliament.
Why was it withdrawn?
The Anti-Corruption Bill 2016 that is now before Parliament was initially approved by Cabinet before submitting to Parliament.
“As a matter of process, all bills must be presented for scrutiny by the Bills and Legislation Committee, a Standing Parliamentary Select Committee, before it is presented in Parliament for debate.” The Prime Minister stated.
The Bills and Legislation Committee (BLC) consists of the following persons:
(1) Hon Connelly Sandakabatu- Chairman
(2) Hon Dr Culwick Togamana
(3) Hon Rick Houenipwela
(4) Hon Jeremiah Manele
(5) Hon Namson Tran
(6) Hon Matthew Wale
(7) Hon Steve Abana
(8) Hon Dr Derek Sikua
(9) Hon Commins Mewa
(10) Hon Peter Tom
Having gone through Bills and Legislation Committee (BLC), a Report was produced which contained recommendations on the ACB. The executive summary of the Report stated, inter alia, the following:
“The Bill proposes to establish the Solomon Islands Independent Commission against Corruption (SIICAC). An authority that is tasked to receive, process, investigate and refer for prosecution any corruption complaints referred to it by the public and or whistleblowers.
From the outset, the Committee believes that the Bill was hastily drafted and has not gone through a thorough robust consultation. The Committee is of the firm view that a better and more effective model was not considered in the consultations. As a result, the oversight model proposed in the bill may not be the best to combat corruption in Solomon Islands.
Some of the clauses proposed in the Bill could weaken the integrity of the Commission such as; the membership of the nominating Committee who are politicians or politically appointed and the process for their appointment, the non-inclusion of provisions against unjust enrichment, the vulnerability of the Commission as a result of the necessary budgetary process and resourcing, and the use of custom as a defence.
The Committee makes sixteen (16) recommendations under this Bill and urges the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) as the sponsors of the Bill, to seriously consider the recommendations and make the necessary amendments.”
A full copy of the Report can sourced from the National Parliament or online at www.parliament.gov.sb. It must be clearly stated that the Report did not recommend the Bill for Parliament as stated by the Opposition in Parliament on Monday 28th August 2017.
Not only were recommendations provided by BLC but independent reviews were also conducted which provided recommendations.
As such, a decision was made to withdraw the ACB which has gone through its first reading, simply because of the amount of proposed changes to be made to the 2016 version.
It must also be noted that the proposed changes to several clauses in the ACB contained substantive changes and they are necessary.
These include changes, inter alia, to:
(a) the qualification of would-be Commissioners and duration of their appointments;
(b) members of the Select Committee to scrutinise applicants and recommend appointment of Commissioners;
(c) recognition of the role to be played by the Steering Committee overseeing the National Anti-Corruption Strategy implementation;
(d) improvements to the way complaints are handled as well as when investigating them;
(e) procedure to return proceeds of corruption;
(f) reinstating section 374 of the Penal Code – Corrupt Practices and 375 of the Penal Code – Secret Commissions on Government Contracts which were meant to be repealed in the 2016 version of the Anti-Corruption Bill;
(g) as well as a number of drafting improvements to the Bill.
These changes have already been made to the ACB and because there are numerous and substantive changes to the 2016 version, the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet agreed with the opinion of the Attorney General’s Chambers that it will be better to present an entirely new Anti-Corruption Bill.
“Technically, the Government cannot commence the legislative process of this newer version of the Bill while the 2016 version of the Bill is still alive on the agenda of Parliament.” Said the Prime Minister.
Like all other Bills, Cabinet needs to approve the newer version of the Anti-Corruption Bill before it is transmitted to Parliament for enactment. But Cabinet cannot consider a newer version of the Bill unless the 2016 version (already ‘on the floor of the House’) is totally withdrawn.
This session of Parliament presented the opportunity for the Prime Minister to do exactly that.
“With Parliament approval obtained this week, the Cabinet is now ready to consider the newer version of the Bill so it can be ready for the next sitting of Parliament.” The Prime Minister added.
Position of the Opposition
The position taken by the members of the Opposition and Independent group is quite disturbing.
Out of the ten members of the BLC who saw the Bill as weak, recommended that a lot work needed to be done to strengthen the Bill and that the Bill needed necessary amendments, eight (8) voted NO to withdrawing it.
Therefore, having advocated for a more robust legislative regime including making amendments, the Member of the BLC themselves voted to have the Bill kept in Parliament for Parliament to pass.
Therefore as a consequence, by voting no to the withdrawal, the Opposition and Independent Members wanted to keep in parliament a bill that could contain loopholes and a weak bill.
By voting no, the Opposition and Independent Members clearly are advocating for a bill that they can easily exploit. None of the Opposition Members nor Independent Members advocated for an improved bill. That is quite disturbing.
“Is the intention of the Opposition to ensure that a weak bill is passed so they (Opposition Members and Independent Members) can exploit it? Is it the intention of the Opposition and Independent group to ensure that they exploit the loopholes in the Bill?”
“So whose interest are they advocating?” The Prime Minister questioned.
What is next?
The DCC Government wishes therefore to assure the country that the new version of the Anti-Corruption Bill will be brought to Parliament for enactment during the next sitting of Parliament.
“This is a commitment – a crusade – the DCC Government had pledged to pursue and we will deliver on it as we have promised in our manifesto”, Prime Minister Sogavare said.