THE debate rages on in the Solomon Islands following the withdrawal by the Prime Minister of a raft of anti-corruption bills he brought before Parliament last week.
Prime Minister Sogavare has announced that the bills will be re-introduced following some strengthening measures that had been recommended by the Office of the Attorney-General.
Today, Thursday, it is being claimed that provisions that had been much early raised by the Law Reform Commission, during its hearings, to deal with unjust enrichment (or illicit wealth) have been dropped from the revised draft legislation the PM is promising to bring to Parliament.
The arguments cover these reported concerns:-
“According to the LRC, unjust enrichment can occur when someone cannot justify, based on their means of income, how they own things that are beyond their income.
“It places the burden of proof on an accused to prove that their level of income is sufficient to procure assets they own.
“The LRC recommended its inclusion to the sponsoring ministry, but the recommendation was rejected.
“According to the LHC there has been a study carried out by the United Nations and World Bank in 2012, which 44 countries have adopted that particular provision to enhance the legal framework they have to fight corruption and they found it to be a very effective tool.
“The LRC advocated that it is good for Solomon Islands to consider adopting and having such provision in our legislation.
“This, the Committee added, would show our people how serious we are about fighting corruption.
“In response, officials from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) and supported by some witnesses say that such provisions takes away the principle of presumption of innocence.
As a legal principle, any person accused of a crime is always presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty by a court of law.
Including such provisions in the Bill may erode this principle as there are already related offences in the Penal Code and other legislations that can take care of the issue.
“On balance, however, and in light of the levels of corruption in our public sector, unjust enrichment provisions are justifiable and do not pose a threat to the principle of presumption of innocence.
“The Committee finds the exclusion of provisions against illicit/unjust enrichment as a regrettable and serious omission. Such provisions offer the most effective tool in the fight against corruption.
“The Committee recommends that the bill be amended to include provisions against illicit/unjust enrichment,” the report on the Anti corruption stated.
“During discussions Committee members
concurred with the submission by the LRC that the Bill should take a zero tolerance approach against all forms of corrupt practice that is intruding into various levels of our society.”
Leaving aside such considerations for others to debate again, I would like to refer to what I see as the success, so far, of the joint anti-corruption operations conducted by staff of the Ministry of Finance and investigating officers of the RSIPF.
As I see the situation, given the level of alleged corruption and the undoubted concerns of the public at large regarding such allegations, including the perception rightly, or wrongly, that persons are unlawfully enriching themselves, including some public servants, the RSIPF needs to increase its team of skilled investigators to be able to cope with the scale of the task they will increasingly face as more revelations come to light of alleged corruption and corrupt practices.
In a previous letter to the media this week on the subject of investigating cases involving corruption allegations and prosecuting offenders, I said the task of the police is often complicated for a whole host of factors, especially as there is no crime scene, so to say, and investigations are painstaking, slow and involving following, often, complex paper trails.
Police investigators need to have special skills to carry out their investigations into corruption reports and in corporate crime aspects.
According to a letter written by Mr. Alfred Sasako in the Sun newspaper this week, the RSIPF’s investigators are under pressure and under-resourced to deal with the mountains of paper work needed to complete a corruption based file report.
While JANUS is the tangible evidence of something being achieved in local anti-corruption efforts, I suggest that it might be time to recruit specialist’s academics to join the police force skilled in financial handling, auditing, banking and with a sound, practical knowledge of all banking procedures, rules and regulations.
We have come to know that the policemen and policewomen joining the RSIPF have been recruited to undertake ‘core policing’ roles that are predominately concerned with work within the ‘core policing’ objectives of the Force and likely to include regular contact with victims, witnesses, offenders and the public.
Nowadays, in many countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, personnel are being appointed to purely specialist posts – posts requiring additional training and skills that are unique to the position and, a post where there is limited opportunity to deal regularly with victims, witnesses, offenders and the public.
In the UK, the Home Office has outlined that specialist appointees should have roles diverse from ‘core policing’ and fulfill duties concerned with asset confiscation and fraud investigations amongst other duties, including vice control.
The Solomon Islands is not the same as I knew the country 20 years ago but many of the old challenges remain and get more challenging with the scourge of corruption being uppermost on people’s minds and clearly impeding progress, economic development and national unity.
Last year, when in Brisbane, Prime Minister Sogavare spoke to a Solomon Islands Community when he mentioned what he described as a paradigm shift in education at home in order to encourage more Solomon Islanders to pursue higher degrees and secure employment abroad.
The Prime Minister said the then new educational focus was necessary because the country relies on natural resources as the mainstay of its economy but the emphasis needed to shift to human resources.
After reading what the PM had said in Brisbane, I wrote the following piece for the media in Honiara:-
“The Solomon Islands has many talented academics and I support the DCCG’s policy on encouraging bright, qualified Solomon Islanders to find employment abroad and to remit some of their overseas earning back home.
“I also believe that it might now be time for the Solomon Islands Government to adopt current trends in the United Kingdom, in particular, to consider direct entry of qualified graduates into the senior ranks of the RSIPF at both Inspector and Superintendent levels, after undergoing professional training at the UK‘s excellent College of Policing, or similar training in Australia or New Zealand.
“My views on this approach to direct entry into the senior ranks of the RSIPF are very much my views I held during my time as the Commissioner of Police now 18 years ago, but I now see such a scheme very much more important as direct entry Superintendents and Inspectors will open the local police service to graduates who will bring new perspectives to support the continuous development of policing with the aim of giving leadership, top management skills and be more adapt at leading the RSIPF into a future less dependent on outside policing support at the top management level.
“The UK provides an 18 month development program to allow civilian graduates to make the transition from a civilian to a police leader with strategic skills to be undertaken at senior management level.
“Apart from having academic ability, the UK program looks for those having exceptional leadership talents that will inspire confidence and bring with them innovative thinking that will help shape the future of policing in a changing world, the Solomon Islands being no exception.
My views might still be at odds with policy and thinking in the Solomon Islands, especially as 48 AFP and NZ police advisors have, or will, be aiding the members of the RSIPF with their day-to-day duties.
Seconding police advisors, however, it must be appreciated is a short term solution as I see it. The better solution I believe is to build up the capacity of the RSIPF with leaders having academic qualifications, skills and talents to take the police service forward, including having specialist personnel specifically targeting corruption as a main driver.