Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare today moved a motion in Parliament for a resolution by the House to for the Committee of the Whole House to consider the Solomon Islands National Anti-Corruption Strategy.
When moving the motion, the Prime Minister said the strategy is focused on the following six agendas during the next three years;
- Strengthening laws against corruption;
- Harmonising anti-corruption efforts across the public sector;
- Fighting corruption in the Forestry and Mining Sectors;
- Strengthening Procurement and Public Financial Management Procedures;
- Improving salaries and conditions of service for Public Servants; and
- Eliminating unnecessary political pressure on public servants and political leaders.
Elaborating on the first Agenda of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy, Prime Minister Sogavare said the strategy directs the Government that all corruption-related bills are legislated according to the timetables provided therein.
The corruption-related bills include the Anti-Corruption Bill, Whistleblower Protection Bill, National Parliament Election Bill, Leadership Code Bill, Amendment Bill for the Political Parties Integrity Act, Auditor General’s Bill and the Right to Information Policy – a precursor to the Right to Information Bill which will also be enacted within the time-frame of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy.
The Prime Minister said there are two priority initiatives of the Prime Minister’s Office which will be implemented this year in support of the focus areas of the National Anti-Corruption Strategies and they are the Janus Taskforce and Phone Against Corruption Project.
“The Janus Taskforce is doing extremely well and is already performing the role which the Solomon Islands Commission Against Corruption will play in the future.
“The Phone Against Corruption Project is a project that will conveniently allow people, even those at the village level, to report or complain of corruption via SMS text,” he said.
Elaborating on the second agenda, the Prime Minister said the Government has already commenced delivering on this objective with the establishment of a Government Integrity Group Forum (IGF).
He said Government institutions involved in this forum include the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ombudsman’s Office, Leadership Code Commission, Auditor General’s Office, Ministry of Finance and Treasury Internal Audit Unit, Director of Public Prosecutions Office, Financial Intelligence Unit, Customs and Excise Department, Correction Department and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
“Regular meetings are held between these institutions to exchange information and coordinate their work to combat corruption. We will build on this effort and the IGF will be augmented by the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption when it comes into force after the enactment of the Anti-corruption Bill,” the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister added, “We are also requiring Government agencies to take concrete steps to address corruption internally.
“We will help all Government agencies at the national and provincial level to carry out corruption risk assessment. This will help all of them to establish their baselines from which they can prioritise their own plans to combat corruption with their respective agencies.”
Elaborating on the third agenda, Prime Minister Sogavare said the Government will review its policies on the Forestry and Mining sectors.
He said these reviews will be underpinned by the intention to provide more transparency in the processes required by law, leading to the awarding of licenses and during mining and logging operations.
The Prime Minister said existing laws governing these sectors might be amended in the future as a result of these reviews, to provide statutory provisions requiring mining and logging operators to comply with measures aimed particularly at achieving transparency and accountability for due processes within these sectors.
He said provincial consultations have confirmed what news reports and scholarly research have found over the years and that is the process for acquiring logging and mining concessions creates multiple opportunities for corruption.
The Prime Minister said the major reason for this, is that potential investors, especially in the forestry sector, often deal directly with landowners-many of whom do not have the knowledge and skills to negotiate a fair deal and therefore vulnerable to being misled or cheated into sign timber rights agreements.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister said because the Government cannot afford to sponsor timber rights hearings and surface access agreement hearings, potential investors fund them and as a result, the potential investors wield an extraordinary degree of influence over a process aimed at ensuring fair and equitable concession agreements.
Elaborating on the fourth agenda, Prime Minister Sogavare said the Government has already put in place a Road Map to strengthen public financial management.
However, he said the National Anti-Corruption Strategy wants to augment the roadmap with a sense of urgency in view of both the increased losses of public funds and the ineffective expenditure of public funds.
“It has been reported by the Auditor General and the Internal Auditor of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury that about $72-Million of public funds had not been properly accounted for.
“It is also the case that many public agencies are dragging themselves in implementing recommendations by the Auditor General. These recommendations are meant to help public agencies address their vulnerabilities to corrupt practices,” the Prime Minister said.
He said this problem has to be contained and the National Anti-Corruption Strategy together with the Public Financial Management Roadmap contain numerous measures to curb losses in procurement and financial mismanagement.
Elaborating on the fifth agenda, the Prime Minister said the salaries and conditions of service for public servants in Solomon Islands is considered low compared to the cost of living, especially in Honiara and other urban centres.
“When public officials are increasingly finding it difficult to meet essential household expenditures, there is then an incentive to commit corruption,” he said.
Prime Minister Sogavare said the National Anti-Corruption Strategy provides for top-to-bottom review of the terms and conditions of Public Servants and the development of measures to address this problem.
And elaborating on the sixth agenda, the Prime Minister said many younger members of the Public Service have reported that they were sometimes pressured to do things they knew were wrong and potentially constituted corruption and gave in in fear of losing their jobs.
“Such pressure encourages corruption and eventually creates a public service culture where the disregard for rules and regulations becomes acceptable,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the enactment of the new Leadership Code Bill as scheduled by the National Anti-Corruption Strategy will particularly help Public Leaders when confronted with potential conflict of interest situations.
He added that the new Office of the Ethics Adviser to be established under the new Leadership Code law will proactively help public leaders understand what action might lead into a conflict of interest situation or otherwise.
The motion received the approval of both the Opposition and Independent Group benches.