JANUS continues to widen its net and now one reads that a warrant of arrest was issued last Friday for the Minister of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening.
The latest arrest follows closely on the heels of several Permanent Secretaries having been arrested for alleged corruption offences.
As a consequence of these anti-corruption pursuits it came as something of a surprise that the Prime Minister withdrew the anti-corruption bill when it was re-introduced in Parliament again last week.
The withdrawal provoked an outcry against the withdrawal by the Opposition Parliamentary Group, citing the Prime Minister had lied and was even misleading the nation on his avowed intention to introduce the anti-corruption legislation.
There appears to have been a public reaction to the withdrawal of the anti-corruption bill with members of civil society organisations and concerned citizens meeting in public forums to discuss ways to revive the bill.
The PM in response to the criticism has promised a new version of the anti-corrupt bill next Parliament sitting, accusing the Opposition of inciting an anti-government atmosphere.
Prime Minister Sogavare has reiterated that the withdrawn bill was weak and had to be completely withdrawn to make way for a newer version which will carry improvements from recommendations by the Bills and Legislations Committee (BLC).
The new version he says will be fool-proof compared to the withdrawn bill, and will contain huge changes that promote its integrity.
The PM has reassured the nation that the new version of the Anti-Corruption Bill will be tabled in the next sitting of Parliament.
It is understood some the changes the PM has envisaged will include:-
(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Code – Corrupt Practices and 375 of the Penal Code – Secret Commissions on Government Contracts which were meant to be repealed in the 2016 version of the Anti-Corruption Bill;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.
The PM has further explained that such 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.
After 14 long years of RAMSI with coaching on the codes of governance, I like many in the Solomon Islands want to see the introduction of the anti-corruption legislation on the statute books but I suspect, as last week illustrated, there are political dimensions along the way in implementing a corruption clean-up.
I am far from the local scene and I would need to wait and see what the revised anti-corruption bill will encompass, apart from what the PM has mentioned about the draft changes, but my concerns centre on some core issues and reasons why ‘corrupt’ behaviour takes place and is rarely sanctioned. These are:-
(1) A lack of “ethics of those with responsibility.”
(2) An unwillingness to denounce or prosecute those who are corrupt, although JANUS has so-far been effective in exposing those alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices.
(3) A lack of truly “independent checking mechanisms” See also No. (8)
(4) The “grey area” between custom and corruption
(5) Abuse of affirmative action policies
(6) The prevalence of slush funds and of nepotism
(7) Secrecy surrounding campaign financing.
(8) Allegations regarding the use and distribution of funds paid to MPs for rural projects and development
(8) Bribing of voters, and
(9) Allegations regarding tendering and the awarding of contracts.