Call for greater accountability for Solomon MPs' discretionary funds | Pacific Beat

Call for greater accountability for Solomon MPs' discretionary funds

Call for greater accountability for Solomon MPs' discretionary funds

Updated 5 April 2013, 17:22 AEDT

Solomon Islands has signed into law a 12-fold increase to consituency development funds available to members of parliament.

These discretionary funds are earmarked for certain areas but there's very little oversight on how the money is spent.

Under the increase, MPs will now have access to around SBD$6 million dollars. That's almost A$800,000.

Corruption watchdog, Transparency International, is opposed to the whole funding model and is calling on citizens to demand greater accountability from their representatives.

Transparency Solomon Island's chief operating officer, Daniel Fenua, says most of the money comes from Taiwan.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker: Transparency Solomon Islands COO, Daniel Fenua

FENUA: Most of the money came from the Republic of China, Taiwan, yeah and then other funds just come from the Solomon Island government budget, which is not really locally funded but comes from other sources of funds, from like AusAID, and yeah.

COONEY: Has there been evidence in the past of this fund being misused or used perhaps corruptly by members?

FENUA: Yes, especially this what they call the funds that came from Taiwan, the Rural Constituency Development Fund, the RCDF and what they are doing at the moment. They are putting all these funds together, like the current practice, whereby only the Member of Parliament and the CD will be the signatory to the account, unlike in the past 400,000 is the discretionary fund that are available to its MPs. But they are doing, what they are doing at the moment, they are putting all other funds together just to become like the RCDF, the Discretionary Fund.

COONEY: So the money, you don't have to account for how you use it, you don't have to account for how it's being spent, you just basically get and do with it as you wish?

FENUA: Oh no, the facts that all MPs supposed to, after they spend this money, they have to provide acquittals to the Ministry responsible and then and the Government has to find out how to audit how this money being spent, that's yeah.

COONEY: That's the situation there. I'm curious now, with this new law and this increase in money. Is that requirement still there?

FENUA: No, all the requirements are still there but our fear, our fear of transparency is that by looking at the current Act at the moment, it's actually give room for corruption where it creates a climate where corruption can really triumph and there will be no accountability in the systems. Because only the CDO, what the call the Constituency Development Official plus the members of parliament will be signatory to the account. And it was silence on every other things else, where who is going to do the, who is going to the screening of the applications for projects and this kind of stuff, yeah.

COONEY: Alright. Now, in your latest note out here put out by Transparency Solomon Islands. You're calling on citizens in that areas where the monies being spent to act as the watchdog and let people know. What is it you're asking them to do?

FENUA: Well at the moment, I mean the Bill is already becoming an Act now and what people will do now is to, to do the monitoring by themselves. They should ask for more information about how this going, how these funds are going spent and what they should ask their MPs is to create a sort of Council whereby they're going to look after this money, rather than just leave them alone to be MP and the CDO and that's what we are calling. And from our role, from our side, we're Transparency, we'll continue to monitor that and we'll provide an avenue whereby our people can actually come and report those, if they find their MPs misusing the money and then they come to us and report in a free manner.

COONEY: Now, certainly in election years in Solomon Islands, that Constituency Fund, given to sitting MPs who are in their seats has been used, I'm not going to use the word "vote buying" but I suppose there might not be another better one for it. But is being used to actually fund projects in constituencies and areas where it's helped to give them a voter support. Now, if you're in a village, in a remote area of say Western Province or Malaita or somewhere like that and your local MP is able to fund something for your community and you are prepared to support them for it - it's going to be at times, I would imagine, a hard ask for people to question where that money is coming from if they can see that it's actually doing something in their community?

FENUA: Yeah, well what will happen, we are worried about why they rush this bill and they suppose to at least take their time and say, oh, they should come out to the public and make a wider more consultation, because from our point of view, because 2014 is probably near, so these people are actually, will want to use this money for their political campaigns in the rural areas.

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