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Call for action against corruption

Friday 23 January 2015 | Published in Regional


HONIARA – Solomon Islands’ chief justice has called on the newly-elected government of prime minister Manasseh Sogavare to tackle corruption and halt the appointment of “cronies” to top jobs.

In a speech to mark the opening of the legal year, Sir Albert Palmer said the High Court would make corruption one of its priorities for 2015 and he called on the government to get its house in order.

The comments follow an auditor-general’s report last week which revealed A$8.6 million (SI$54.1 million) of government funds from financial years 2012 and 2013 are unaccounted for.

Sir Albert described the situation as “disgraceful”.

“It is unacceptable that while some government ministries are acting responsibly, some are squandering people’s money which could be utilised for much needed public and essential services,” he said.

“The government must get its house in order as a matter of priority.”

Sir Albert told judges, senior civil servants, police and other key office holders attending the opening ceremony that “having the right leaders for this developing nation at this point in time is critical for the future of our people”.

“The government must allow appointments to key positions on merit and suitability grounds to ensure that the best public servants man the top posts – not cronies and relatives,” he said.

The unusually frank remarks come as community concern about corruption grows.

“It is good that the chief justice has finally realised that corruption has gone viral in this country and it has spread its tentacles in every sector of the society,” said Benjamin Afuga, president of Forum Solomon Islands International, an online group of concerned citizens.

Missing payment vouchers are providing opportunities for criminals to identify weaknesses in government systems and take advantage of them, according to the acting auditor-general Robert Cohen.

The full scale of the problem was likely to be much larger than the latest discoveries.

The missing millions identified in the 2012 and 2013 audit reports was the result of checks on a small random sample of government records.

The total unaccounted sum “would be expected to be significantly larger,” Cohen told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

The Office of the Auditor-General is one of a number of anti-corruption agencies that has had found it hard to get its recommendations implemented.

Cohen said the chief justice’s remarks were “confirmation of the exasperation that we all feel in terms of the very slow reforms that are taking place in government administration”.

“Our audit reports stretch back many years and the sorts of weaknesses that we have been discovering in our audits are the same ones that we have discovered year in, year out,” he said.

“So reform had been very slow and it has been very exasperating.”

Prime Minister Sogavare, who took office after elections in November, has promised to establish an Independent Commission Against Corruption but has been embroiled in a

controversy over planned appointments to top government posts.

A leaked list of potential appointees has been criticised by non-government organisations and the opposition for proposing candidates who do not have the necessary skills and qualifications for their roles.

In a statement, Sogavare said the list was “unconfirmed” and labelled the opposition “unethical” for asking him to justify the list.

Sogavare said his government would be transparent about appointments.

“My government has nothing to hide about its political appointments,” Sogavare said.

“As a matter of fact we are keen on having the names and roles of our political appointees published when all due government appointment requirements are completed.”

He said political appointees would be placed on one-year contracts with zero tolerance for non-performance of their duties.