What’s so special about corruption?

CORRUPTION is a crime, right? It’s punishable by law, right?

So are stealing, assault, robbery, murder, keeping a gun or driving a car without a licence, and other criminal actions you can think of.

But they don’t each have a global non-government movement dedicated to eliminating them, as the Transparency International Movement is doing at the International level and at the national level through its chapters like Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) is doing with corruption.

Why is it that the world leaders are insisting on good governance and at the national level Transparency Solomon Islands concentrate on fighting corruption to achieve good governance?

The reason lies in the way corruption infects and destroys human attitudes and relationships, and undermines the proper management and control of private and public resources.

Corruption denies the tax paying citizens and our communities’ access to proper essential services, just look at the dire state of national referral hospital, some of our clinics for instance.

Corruption allows our natural resources to be harvested in an unsustainable way, something that a lot of landowners/resource owners are being victims of.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see that our country has been allowed by responsible ministries and authorities to be infiltrated by logging companies turned mining companies, obtaining licences and other so-called legal permits under dubious circumstances, entering and harvesting without the resource owners knowledge.

Operations are running rampant in this country benefiting but only a handful at the expense of the resource owners who are left with the tremendously expensive task of seeking justice and rectification of a situation that could have been avoided.

Not only is corruption undermining our country’s development but it also strips away the peoples trust and confidence in our leaders and institutions.

Corruption – what is it? The origin of the word in English links it to ‘rotten-ness’; the Oxford English dictionary specifies bribery and fraud among its effects; Transparency International defines it as ‘the abuse of entrusted/official power for private gain’; and the SI Penal Code, Part X defines ‘Corruption and the Abuse of Office’ by looking at a number of offences that constitute acts of corruption and the abuse of office (by public servants). The following are some offences defined under Part X of the Penal Code;

Official corruption – where a public servant corruptly asks and/or gives, solicits, receive, obtain or omit to be done something whilst discharging his/her duties and in return he/she receives property or some form of benefit (either for him/herself or any other person).

Extortion by public officers – where a public servant takes or accepts rewards beyond his/her proper pay, or promises of such rewards for the performance of his/her duties. An example is the demand for commissions for services that they are already paid by public funds to provide for free to the public.

Public officers receiving property to show favour – where a public servant receives property or benefit (either for him/herself or any other person) and in return favours the person providing the property/benefit.

Officers charged with administration of property of special character or with special duties – where a public servant is in charge of the administration of any such property of a special character, or respecting the carrying on of any manufacture, duties trade or business of a special character whilst at the same time he/she acquires or holds interest in such manufacture, trade or business.

False claims by officials – where a public servant is required to furnish returns/statements with regards to sums payable or claimed to be payable but in doing so, provided such statements knowing that it is false.

Abuse of office – where public servant does or directs to be done, in the abuse of the authority of his/her office an act prejudicial to the rights of another person.

False certificates by public officers – where any person who is authorized or required by law to give any certificate and issues the same knowing that it is false.

Unauthorised administration of oaths – where any person administers an oath, or takes a solemn declaration or affirmation relating to any matter with respect to which he/she has not by law any authority to do so.

False assumption of authority – where a person falsely assumed to be a judicial officer, falsely administer oaths and solemn declarations and represents himself as a person so authorized by law.

Despite the fact that we have legislations in place, codes of conducts, relevant institutions and so forth, enforcement is very weak. Is it because the rotten-ness that is corruption, is now fully entrenched in all sectors within our country?

Thousands of people in Solomon Islands have been, and as you read this, they still are, participating in corrupt conduct and behaviour because they think it is the only way to deal with national and provincial Government. Corruption is alive and well in Solomon Islands, and TSI is monitoring, reporting and engaging in activities and projects aimed at combatting it.

The Auditor General’s Report of missing vouchers, unretired imprests in the Ministry of Finance and Treasury totaling $302million is a clear indication of how widespread corrupt conduct is, and the nature of corrupt conduct in the public sector alone.

Modern systems of managing payments, savings and investments make it easy to hide transactions and wealth, and the many ways in which people interact financially enable individuals to look poor while amassing riches.

At TSI we know from information brought to or uncovered by us, that there is, and has been for many years now, an active trade in government permits and contracts of all kinds, allocations of public land, places in government and church schools and hospitals, and inducing a government employee to find and hand over a document to which the member of the public is entitled.

In lands, the law was amended to provide for the work of the Lands Board in the allocation of public land.

Whilst it was widely hailed as an achievement by expatriate advisors, the Ministry of Lands Officials and welcomed by the public, one wonders if indeed the Board has truly brought about a change on the conduct of officials in the Ministry.

We still get complaints about Ministerial staff that have got a number of parcels of land to their names, land which is yet to be developed and has passed the time required for it to be developed.

We see the allocation of road reserves to private people or individuals and intrusion into the botanical land as reported to our office.

Since it is the Land Board that should be allocating the land we ask the question of how clean is the Lands Board.

Are these happening with their full agreement and endorsement? Did they check before they allocate land or are they now being corrupted?

The public needs to have some answers to why the Lands Board approve the allocation of the Road Reserve at Panatina/King George area.

The Law says that for main roads the road reserve should be 40 metres across.

Or did they not know or has law been amended to allow for the allocation and development of road reserve or is this a scheme for extorting money from the government and a conspiracy between Lands Officers, the Lands Board, and the titleholder.

Knowingly they have not stopped the allocation of the road reserve.

People tell us ‘You’ll never get rid of corruption, it’s in human nature’. We don’t accept that.

There are many forms of behaviour that are ‘in human nature’ but are unacceptable in organized society today, including Solomon Islands.

Complete elimination of corrupt behaviour in a world of instant and invisible movement of wealth and ownership of valuable assets may be unachievable.

But with real public support, and the election of politicians who want to run a country and an economy that is not bleeding to death through corruption, we can clean up our country for the benefit of this and future generations.

We need leaders that are not rent seeking but want what is best for the development of this country.

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