By Ednal Palmer Communications Specialist, UNDP Solomon Islands
It was unusually an early start for Ali Alfred that Tuesday, 9 December 2019. This is always a busy month in Honiara as shoppers rush around to prepare for festive holiday travels to their home provinces. Alfred was no exception, but he had a specific reason to leave home early that morning – to buy pig feeds. His two piglets had not eaten for the past day as he could not afford to buy their feed. When he disembarked from a commuting bus at the City Council stop, he sensed a commotion and decided to investigate. He realised it was no ordinary assembly at the Honiara City Council area, because Members of Parliament were involved.
“What is going on?” he asked me. I told him a public march is about to begin to mark the anti-corruption day. “Whatever my urgent business is, I am supporting this march, do I register to join?” he enquired. I asked around and he was told to get in the line and freely express himself.
The public march and events that followed at the National Museum Compound was icing on the cake in terms of the long and daunting tasks undertaken by the National Government with the strong support of the United National Development Programme (UNDP) through its Transparency and Accountability for the People of Solomon Islands Project (TAP) and other stakeholders, to ensure the ongoing efforts in fighting corruption are effective.
Corruption is pervasive in the Solomon Islands, and over the years have attracted overwhelming public outcry, yet there’s always complacency in efforts to address it. TAP was then initiated and mobilising of ideas lifted off the ground in mid-2018, to help accelerate the ongoing fight.
With the already receptive environment on the ground, created by the then Democratic Coalition for Change Government (DCCG), in supporting the fight against corruption, it was time to push further.
The DCCG and its predecessor had already taken measures to bring Solomon Islands into compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). These measures included: (i) passage of the Public Financial Management Act (2013); (ii) creation of a framework to overhaul the management of the nation’s finances; (iii) amendments to the penal code to stiffen penalties for corruption crimes; and, (iv) drafting of the Anti-corruption Bill 2016 and the Whistleblowers Protection Bill 2016, both of which were enacted in 2018.
While each of these initiatives has or will make an important contribution to reducing corruption in Solomon Islands, the current Government recognizes that a successful campaign against Corruption requires a comprehensive and integrated approach that harnesses all levers of policy and all arms of Government.
During the course of 2019, the NACS was reviewed in accordance with the Anti-Corruption Act, and submitted to the NACS Steering Committee. Another milestone achievement was the establishment of the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption (SIICAC).
The Prime Minister during the Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December announced the establishment of SIICAC and the appointment of its commissioners.
People like Ali Alfred knew little about the importance of the establishment of SIICAC but it was a breakthrough and a positive gain in the battle against corruption.
“So, what is this SIICAC the Prime Minister is talking about?” he asked. I tried to simplify and avoid jargons – It is a commission established under the Anti-Corruption Act 2018, with duties and responsibilities of awareness about corruption, investigating and prosecuting corruption.
He nodded in support and told me he was a victim of corruption when he was denied a job at a security firm because the manager had recruited on the basis of nepotism. “I felt so lost. I felt anger. I felt denied. I felt wantok system is corrupting this country. That evening I went home and thought very hard about such practise in higher government offices. For example, granting of scholarships, contracts etc. That was when I was convinced and decided to do whatever it takes to fight corruption. That was the very reason why I had no reservation about joining today’s public march. I do not want my children to experience such unfair treatment again,” he explained.
That week, the strongly worded speech delivered by the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare against corruption dominated newspaper headlines.
He reassured people that the fight against corruption was the highest priority of the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA).
“As your Prime Minister, with the support of my Cabinet, we are committed to combat and rid our country of this malignant culture.”
Mr Sogavare then officially announced the inaugural Chairperson and members of the newly established Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption (SIICAC) who will lead the fight against corruption. SIICAC Commissioners are: Sir Frank Kabui (inaugural chairperson), Anika Kingmele (vice inaugural chairperson), and members: Ruth Liloqula, Waeta Ben Tabusasi, John Tuhaika Sr and Jimmy Seda.
The roles of SIICAC include prevention and awareness, more importantly it will also have an investigation and prosecution role for corruption offences.
The Prime Minister also thanked UNDP for persistently supporting his government in combating corruption. UNDP, through its Transparency and Accountability for People of Solomon Islands Project (TAP) has been working in partnership with the Office of the Prime Minister.
A few days after the announcement of SIICAC Commissioners, an induction workshop was conducted for the commissioners by the government with the support of UNDP.
The induction program aligns with the government’s wish to ensure the SIICAC commissioners are equipped with necessary information to deliver on their duties and responsibilities as defined by the Anti-Corruption Act 2019.
The Solomon Islands went into recess for the festive holidays but interestingly resurfaced to welcome the New Year 2020 yet again with a call by the Governor General of Solomon Islands Sir David Vunagi in his New Year’s national address, for the people of Solomon Islands to support the work of SIICAC and unite against corruption.
Corruption is a serious problem as it affects the effectiveness and efficiency of the public service, cost governments millions of dollars in losses, and negatively impacts on the ability of a Government to provide goods and services to its citizens.
A 2013 survey of Solomon Islanders’ experience with corruption by Transparency Solomon Islands found that 56 per cent of respondents had paid a bribe to help with a police issue; 42 per cent had made “informal payments” in relation to registry and permit services; and, 49 per cent had made an informal payment to facilitate land registration or related services over and beyond what was legally required.
Corruption undermines development and sustains poverty, inhibits economic growth, drives political instability, enables the unsustainable use of natural resources, impacts the delivery of services and undermines good governance and the rule of law. This is clearly recognized by the 2030 Agenda. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 urges substantial reductions in corruption and bribery and development of effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. In addition to these clear anti-corruption targets in SDG16, it is recognized that corruption undermines the achievement of any of the other SDG Goals. The pressure is on and the responsibility is for everyone in 2020 and beyond. The fight against corruption is a daunting task, but with the strong will of the national government and leaders, Solomon Islanders need to unite and actively pursue and maximise the opportunity in 2020 and beyond.
Consequences of corruption have motivated Ali Alfred to take a step and act. “If not for me, then it’s for my children,” he said.
The Malaitan man with four children, currently works as a private security officer at China Town and lives at the Mt Austen area in the outskirts of Honiara.