Unexplained wealth in HCC needs investigation

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TSI
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GIVEN the many issues and allegations raised in media following the change of government with regard to the governance, management, administration, finances etc. of Honiara City Council, TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) urges the minister responsible to direct responsible authorities to investigate these serious allegations.

These allegations are the findings of the Special Audit Report of the Council and those raised by former City Clerk (CC) Rence Sore in the so-called confidential documents, regarding the unexplained wealth of some officers within the HCC.

Whilst Transparency Solomon Islands calls on further investigations by responsible authorities of the Honiara City Council corrupt allegations, it recognizes that there are bigger problems of corrupt conduct that need addressing. 

In this regard Transparency Solomon Islands calls for the review, reform, and amendment of the current Anti-Corruption Act 2018 so that it is fit for purpose.

As it is now, it fails to define corrupt conduct.

No does it spell out when such conduct occurs; [a]such as when a public official improperly uses, or tries to improperly use, the knowledge, power or resources of their position for personal gain or the advantage of others;[b] when a public official dishonestly exercises his or her official functions, or improperly exercises his or her official functions in a partial manner, breaches public trust or misuses information or material acquired during the course of his or her official functions; [c] when a member of the public influences, or tries to influence, a public official to use his or her position in a way that affects the probity of the public official’s exercise of functions;[d] a member of the public engages in conduct  impairs, or could impair, public confidence in public administration or government.

As it is whilst there is an Independent Commission Against Corruption in Solomon Islands, this Act fails to give the Commission the teeth it needs to bite corruption with. 

Transparency Solomon Islands urges the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption to review the act and recommend changes to make it effective, including the inclusion of unexplained wealth.

In support of the recommendations to review the Anti-Corruption Act 2018, last week TSI noted the serious allegations of corruptions leveled at and within the HCC as exposed in the media by the sacked City Clerk. Despite the fact that the former City Clerk has denied leaking this information it calls for an investigation by the Leadership Commission and the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Those allegations speak volumes about how soiled the past and ongoing corrupt administration, management and corrupt practices are by those holding positions of power within the HCC.

These are no longer rumours or allegations as can be seen in the special audit report of the HCC. 

The report unambiguously points out the poor procurement processes or the lack of it and other corrupt practices that are in place at the council.

The very poor management and administration and monitoring of the council’s finances stemmed from a lack of council policy, procedure, or guidance on procurement.

Transparency Solomon Islands calls on Minister responsible for Honiara City Council to direct that the police and other relevant bodies to investigate those allegations and hold those responsible to account.

In the audit report, anyone reading it will be in no doubt at all that the following corrupt conduct were practiced;

  • Improper uses, or attempt to improperly use, the knowledge, power or resources of their position for personal gain or the advantage of others;
  • Public official in position of power dishonestly exercises official functions, improperly exercises official functions in a partial manner, breaches public trust or misuses information or material acquired during the course of official functions;
  • Member of the public influences, or tries to influence, a public official to use position in a way that affects the integrity of the public official’s exercise of functions;
  • Member of the public engages in conduct impairs, or could impair, public confidence in public administration or government.

It is publicly talked about that the operation of HCC has been politically interfered with, and administration being meddle with political interests. Investigating these allegations can put these allegations to rest and provide facts to counter any wrongful allegations.

TSI regards the allegations revealed by the former City Clerk as very serious matter that must be investigated.

The Leadership Code Commission needs to do its job and look into these allegations of unexplained wealth.

More importantly to validate that the conducts reported in the Audit Report of HCC and allegations by the former city clerk do not constitute or involve; [1] criminal offence; [2] or a disciplinary offence; [3] or constitute reasonable grounds for dismissing or otherwise terminating the services of a public official; [4] or in the case of local government councillor, a substantial breach of an applicable code of conduct.

If proved that these officials conduct involved these they must be held to account and charged accordingly.

Some of the unexplained wealth revealed in the newspaper of both Island Sun and Solomon Star were;

[1] the Hilux cost $274,000 now used as a private vehicle of the newly elected City Mayor Mr. Eddie Siapu. The vehicle could not be located when the special audit report was carried out to ascertain $1.6 million spent for six vehicles where one was missing. It was revealed by the sacked City Clerk that Siapu took it as his private vehicle.

[2] An alleged million-dollar worth residence built at Titinge, is owned by the HCC treasurer, Tony Lenson.

[3]. Another million-dollar worth residence built at Tasahe B and is allegedly owned by former treasurer of HCC Robert Lauomea. It is described as a million-dollar mansion at Tasahe B.

[4]. The other expensive residence is reportedly located at West Kola Ridge and is allegedly owned by former deputy treasurer, Grace Malefoasi. It is a million-dollar worth residence as well. Grace Malefoasi is the finance officer that looks after projects under the city council.

[5] Residential property at Vura Heights, East Honiara is owned by a junior HCC Treasury Staff-June Qae.

The names and locations have been made public providing a lead for responsible authorities to carry out investigation of these allegations.

Transparency Solomon Islands calls on the police, the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Leadership Code Commission to investigate these to either clear them of it or convict them bringing trust back to HCC. 

Any allegations of unexplained wealth must be investigated for they have a direct impact on the provision of services to the rate payers of Honiara City.

There is lack of documentation supporting the processes in procurement as revealed by the audit report.

The financial system did not reconcile with the council’s bank statements in millions of dollars and in the meantime we have these unexplained wealth allegations.

Those who have these unexplained wealth are those handling the Council’s finances justifying an investigation proper. 

Criminal proceedings to determine their source of income to purchase million-dollar properties is a must.

The unexplained wealth should not only be applied to public servants but the HCC staff as well.

Two Permanent Secretaries (PS) were charged and jailed for approving payments of contracts and car rental to their family members.

How the HCC staff [former and current] own expensive properties that is far beyond their level of income needs to be verified.  

So far no one in position of public power has been investigated and charged with the offense of Unexplained wealth. It is a much talk about issue but very little efforts to address it.

Transparency Solomon Islands called on the national government and the Ministry of Home Affairs to take up the allegations seriously and do the clean up to get rid of all the dirt within HCC.

The Auditor’s Report warrants the dissolution of the Council for it has exposed very serious mismanagement and maladministration of the council and its finances.

A change of the Executive is not the solution.

The option to dissolve the City Council under section 52(2) of the Honiara City Act 1999 must be seriously looked into given what has been made known through the Audit Report and by the former City Council Clerk.

The allegation that the newly elected City Mayor was responsible for hiding the Hilux sought by the auditors when implementing the special audit on HCC already reflects badly of him as someone not to be trusted by the people who is capable of leading with integrity and transparency.

He needs to step down as well as explain his action to the people with regard to the vehicle.

The issue of the lock up shops is a clear example of how councilors and staff of HCC are doing things to benefit themselves without any caring attitude to stop the corruption and make things fair for every Honiara residents.

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 was corrupted or manipulated for the benefit of HCC management and their cronies.

The corrupt manner in which these lock-up shops were allocated has reached a level where it can no longer be tolerated nor accepted.

The Audit Report verifies the corrupt practices in the allocation of the lock up shops.

TSI commends Rence Sore for exposing some of the corrupt issues within the HCC. 

TSI encourages others who might have any information of dirty dealings in HCC to continue report it in the media, police and other relevant bodies to help eradicate corruption in our country and for the sake of better services for Honiara City residents.

[NOTE]. For the information of Public and Executive Government, Transparency Solomon Islands is the independent national chapter of Transparency International, the Global Movements against corruption.  It is also funded by it.


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