TSI’s Call for dissolution of HCC

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Corrupt conduct & practice – HCC Lock Up shops

BASED on the evidence per HCC special audit report Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) calls on the Minister responsible to dissolve the current Honiara City Council (HCC) and put in place a Competent Authority to manage and administer the council in the meantime.

The revelation of the corrupt conduct and practice in the allocation of the HCC Lock Up Shops is but one of the examples of why the council should be dissolved and fresh elections called. 

THE recent revelation of the corrupt practices and corrupt conduct by councilors and officials of the Honiara City Council in the allocation of the lock up shop is a clear case of the misuse and abuse of power for personal gain – an unlawful criminal activity.

The selection process used to determine who operates or receive money in exchange for a lock up shop at the Honiara Central Market including other findings of the Audit report warrants the dissolution of the council and holding those responsible to account.

The maladministration, mismanagement, and the misuse and abuse of power for personal gain, conflicts of interest, inside trading etc. has been and is being reportedly widely media [print, broadcast, and social media] verifying that corruption is widespread in HCC.

Whilst media is doing its part exposing corruption, the public is yet to see any action or response from the responsible authorities empowered by the law to holding those responsible to account. 

People are demanding accountability from their government based on the findings of the Auditor General’s audit findings and the former City Clerk’s report.

Transparency Solomon Islands hopes that investigations are now being conducted to assure the rate payers that charges of maladministration, mismanagement, abuse and misuse of power, conflict of interest are brought against those involved named in the former City Clerk’s Report and the Auditor General’s audit report.

The lockup shops are not the only matters that the residents and rate payers of Honiara City Council need an explanation on from the council and its management.

Again, Transparency Solomon Islands raises the issue of the Lock-up shops at the central market.

There is absolutely no excuse why those councilors and HCC officials who are now exposed not to be investigated and charged. 

In this regard TSI is calling on the responsible authorities to charge those involved in the allocation of the Lock-up shops at the central market. 

Yes, there is a new City Mayor but looking at the composition of the Executive, it is the old government and there is no guarantee that they will behave in any different way to the former Maemae led council. 

The best interest of the City must be the priority for the responsible minister. 

The best interest of the HCC is to dissolve the current council and call for fresh election to avoid millions of HCC funds going into what best benefits those sitting in position of power.

Information about the lock up shops revealed that nearly all the lock up shops are owned by councilors, using a different person as the tenant.

In the previous months, complaints as well as information made available to Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) indicates that the process for the allocation of Lock-up shops to applicants is corrupt or manipulated for the benefit of HCC management and their cronies.

The corrupt manner in which these lock-up shops were allocated has reached unacceptable level and seriously need to be investigated and dealt with.

TSI to date has been provided with the list of councilors who owned the lock up shops, with one councilor currently owning three lock up shops.

Those involved are those that are sitting in positions of power and therefore a clear case of conflict of interest, abuse and misuse of power, and inside trading, all of which are corrupt conducts.

According to information provided to and accessed by TSI, the Councilors that currently award themselves and own the Lockup Shops in the name of someone else are:

[1]. Cr. Francis Idu of Kola ward,

[2]. Cr. Robert Oge of Kukum ward,

[3]. Cr. Clement Terewauri of Mataniko ward.

[4]. Cr. Leonard Solomon Sai (Rented to third party),

[5]. Cr. Billy Abae of Vavaya ward, and

[6]. Cr. Mostyn Saferio of Mbumburu ward.

The officials of HCC owning the Lock Up Shops are:

[1]. Head of Law enforcement of HCC (sold to third party),

[2]. Head of Waste Management of HCC,

[3]. Legal Officer of HCC.

These are the councilors and staffs of HCC that currently owned or sold out the lock up shop outlets to certain people, in exchange for cash benefits.

With information like this why are responsible authorities doing nothing about it?

Other people who currently operate lock up shops with strings attached are:

[1]. Catharine Bertha Taunani,

[2]. Mevilyn Ledi,

[3]. Kesty Sudani.

The committee responsible for the allocation of the lock up shops [2020] is Trade, Industry and Commerce Standing Committee.

A look into who are the members of this committee raises more questions.

It is alleged that the winning bidders win in exchange for cash or other forms of benefits to some city councilors and few senior staff of HCC.

This practice according to complaints raised dates back to 2008 but the responsible authorities have turned a blind eye to it.

The story of one complainant and TSI quotes “I have been applying several times over the years but was never given the chance and later come to learn of the corrupt culture that continues to hinder a fair and transparent manner of allocating lock-up shops.

“There are 15 lock-up shops and four kitchens at the central market and the interesting thing is that those people operating the shops and kitchens can be traced back to their connections to the HCC councilors or senior staff, either as close relative or a friend.

“He added that a friend of his was successful and the way he did it is to give money in return for a favorable outcome and he was selected to operate a lock-up shop at the central market. This is now the practice of the day.”

The allegations raised to Transparency Solomon Islands office is that if one applies one  must know which people [official, Councilor, MP] to give money to in order to be allocated a lock-up shop.

The going price expected by these corrupt officials and councilors in positions of power range between $30,000.00 to $100,000.

It is alleged that these group of Honiara City Councilors and Officials will normally sell shops to their friends and families or to any interested buyer who have the money locking out those that needed income generating to pay for school fees, water and have no other means of income generating.

Not that all applicants would be successful but a fair and transparent process would give everyone who apply an equal opportunity.

It is also alleged that one senior officer of HCC who is also a member of the selection committee awarded himself two lock-up shops where he eventually sold one for a vehicle and another for cash.

These allegations are serious just like those concerning vehicles and fire distinguisher. Transparency Solomon Islands urges the Leadership Code Commission, Independent Commission Against Corruption and other relevant authorities to look into these. Honiara residents need better feeder roads, rubbish collection, and processes and systems that are transparent, and a closure to these allegations.

Lastly the fact that the Legal Officer of the Council is in the thick of the corrupt conduct and practice in the Lock Up Shop allocation indicates how widespread corruption is in HCC. 

Many institutions are legal profession top heavy probably assuming that those in this profession are not prone to being corrupted or corrupting the system for own benefit because they know the law.

The involvement of a legal officer in these corrupt dealings raises the question of can they be trusted.   

Transparency Solomon Islands respects and values the many excellent legal minds that we have but the practice of one or two does no credit to the image that people have of lawyers working in the public sector.

There is no alternative to the way forward but to dissolve the council and call for fresh election.