VIEWPOINT- Candidates urged to campaign with plan & policies

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Not copper/solar promises

TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) in its continuous advocacy focused at fighting corruption and promoting transparency, accountability and good governance, call on and remind candidates intending to contest the up-coming by-election for South Choiseul Constituency to show to the people of South Choiseul that, as a potential South Choiseul representative in Parliament you have the people’s needs at the forefront.

If you are a party candidate, you must convince the people of South Choiseul with your party polices or the platforms that you stood for, what potential development plans that can benefit the people, not business as usual of luring voters with material things like copper and solar panels.

Offering such goods in return of their votes.

TSI thanked the office of the Electoral Commission, the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) and the Governor General (GG) for officially declaring 19th May as the date for holding the by-election for South Choiseul Constituency.

It is worth appreciated that the government listened to the cries of South Choiseul people after a year without a voice in parliament. Given the current financial hardship posed by covid-19 pandemic, DCGA is committed to hold the by-election for South Choiseul, that is commended and acknowledged.

During TSI’s recent visit to five communities in South Choiseul early this month, two questions were repeatedly asked by South Choiseul constituents, (i) When will they have their by-election and (ii) How can they access information about funds channeled through their representative (members of Parliament) to develop their constituency.  

Constituency Development Funds (CDF) is a catch phrase to the ears of citizens whilst at the same time very elusive.

It’s an issue that villagers are concerned about and rightly so because CDF is a funding that is purposely for the development of the constituency.

Through the information sharing sessions carried out by TSI in various communities throughout the country and most recently in South Choiseul, it is evident that there is an absolute lack of transparency and accountability with regards the use and disbursement of CDF at the constituency levels.

MPs and Constituency officers treat CDF as if it is confidential information and must not be shared. Such disinformation does not and will not achieve the purposes of what CDF was established for. CDF was established to help constituents generate income, to encourage and bring about development in constituencies and generally to improve the livelihoods of all citizens of Solomon Islands.

Despite the millions of dollars that have been disbursed under CDF, we are still hearing the same sad stories from our rural communities. (9th Parliament each MP received more than $19Million, 10th Parliament each MP received more than $26Million and this current 11th Parliament each MP already received more than $5 Million, however this will soon drastically increase).

A general view shared by constituents is that there is lack of development plan, and millions of dollars channeled through their MPs over the years till today does not reach the constituency.

Having no representative for over a year further disadvantaged the people of South Choiseul as some of their projects from the previous year have been halted after their MP was ousted through an election petition.

Transparency Solomon Islands through its advocacy programs for good governance shared with the people information about their civic and political rights and encourage citizens to vote wisely for candidates who campaign on good policies.

While the date for the by-election has been set for May 19th 2021, TSI reminds intending candidates to be mindful of the requirements and provisions of the Electoral Act during this campaign period.

People in South Choiseul are already raising concerns and asking clarifications about potential intending candidates who were going around communities distributing goods.

These concerns were raised by constituents from Wagina, Sasamunga and Loloko, stating that some people received solar panels, fuel and bags of rice.

Although there may be some other reasons behind the distribution of these goods, TSI cautions and reminds all candidates that a campaign is any activity that is intended, calculated or likely to affect the result of an election or to influence an elector with regards the manner in which he/she cast his/her vote.

As such any actions done outside the campaign period aimed at influencing voters is campaigning outside campaign period and an offence under the Electoral Act.

Now that campaign period is open, candidates must adhere to the provisions of the Electoral Act and must ensure not to commit offences listed by the Act like election bribery which involves directly or indirectly promising or offering  or giving benefits to someone with the intention of influencing the other person to either (i) vote or refrain from voting, (ii) vote in a particular way at an election; or (iii) influence a third person to vote, refrain from voting or vote in a particular way.

The people of South Choiseul have been without a representative for a long time and candidates must ensure not to carry out practices that will result in another by-election, the people deserve better.

Candidates who are registered with a political party must campaign under the party platform, policies and strategies, give voters the choice of voting based on party policies.

Do not bribe voters, remember your role will essentially be representing and serving the whole constituency, that means all constituents regardless of whether they support you or not.

Voters do not deserve to be bribed with promises of individual help of solar and iron roofing to be given prior to or after casting votes.

Once elected an MP is responsible for the whole constituency – not voters only.

The culture of vote in Solomon Islands over the years is “you scratch my back and I scratch your back.”

This practice of electing candidates based on what he/she gives the voter prior, during or after the election is a disease that give way for dishonest leaders to go into parliament and breeds corrupt government.

It is important for voters to understand that accepting gifts in return for your ballot is an offence, it breeds corruption and a candidate who wins through corrupt means will have little or no concern at all for the development of his/her constituency.

Obligations are focused at keeping and maintaining deals made out of corrupt conducts and bribes, uninformed voters who were promised riches expect MPs to provide everything for them.

Thus, this vicious cycle continues, “you scratch my back and I scratch your back” benefiting only a handful of people and ignoring the rest of the constituency and undermining development of Solomon Islands. Who suffers? The people.     

TSI in its continuous advocacy against corruption, engage in activities promoting transparency, accountability and good governance in communities.

TSI took note of the concerns raised by constituents of South Choiseul and the pressing need for wider reach, awareness and information sharing during this by-election period.

Thus, TSI calls on the Electoral Commission, together with development partners like the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) to visit South Choiseul with the important message to educate people to vote wisely.

Being isolated, the constituents are susceptible to being influenced through promised gifts and voter buying, hence not freely making up their mind to go to the poll on May 19, because reports of some intending candidates and their supporters are going around to influence and lure people with gifts is disturbing and breaches the freedom of individuals to participate in a free and fair election.

TSI believed that the importance of voting party policies is the way forward to put in place the right leader at the right place in the right time.

Voting candidates who is only good in luring voters with copper, solar and other material things not only will put corrupt leaders in power, but as long as such practice of electing representatives continue, corruption will continue to thrive and citizens continued to be deprived of their rights to be represented in a sovereign nation, and development of this nation continues to be undermined.