Thursday, June 9, 2011

TI calls for Solomons' anti-corruption commission

 [ABC Radio Australia- 9 June 2011] - The Chairman of Transparency International Solomon Islands has called for the establishment of an anti-corruption commission and says he is worried about the Solomon's judicial system.

Bob Pollard told a media corruption reporting forum that he was concerned about long delays in the judicial system.

He also suggested the government review the functions of the Leadership Code Commission and the Ombudsman Office to make them more efficient.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts
Speaker:Bob Pollard, chairman, Transparency International Solomon Islands

POLLARD: The concern is the length of delay in court cases, backlog in court cases, police processes, the context or the comment was in the past we've held the judiciary here in very high regard, I'm just concerned that we should make sure that they don't do any slippage and justice delayed and justice denied.

COUTTS: Well is part of it the huge backlog that came from the court cases from the ethnic crisis?

POLLARD: I think that's part of it, and I understand that there's an effort been made to get those court cases cleared this year. But I think not only at that level, I think down at the magistrates level there are court cases that seem to be taking months and months, the whole petitions around elections, those are taking months. In the last term of parliament one petition took up until the fourth year to finally get resolved, I mean it's absurd that it's taken so long.

COUTTS: But is that due process taking that long?

POLLARD: Well I mean I guess one part is due process, but what's the point of having a petition that takes four years if that person is there improperly they remain there for four years and I think we need to look at ways of speeding up that length I think is just too long.

COUTTS: Why did that one go on for four years and from that can you analyse why it went on so long and can be avoided next time?

POLLARD: No well I don't know the particular details of that one, that's just one example, but I think out of all the petitions that were raised at the election last year it's almost one year since the election, we've only had two or three that have come to conclusion, and they're taking months. That's only one side, I think the other side is the issue of police prosecution, discussion recently within the police even at the magistrate's court the number of people who are arrested by police only on simple cases that could be resolved very quickly, but those cases are just taking a very long time, and some cases never getting to court.

COUTTS: But why are they taking so long?

POLLARD: Well I guess it's a question of whether it's police prosecution or whether it's the court cases, I am concerned, I'm not pointing my finger at any one element of them, but I think between the different parties the processes are just taking too long and it's not good enough.

COUTTS: And you're also calling for the setting up of an anti-corruption commission, is that to go hand in hand with the courts or is this a separate issue?

POLLARD: That was a separate issue, the discussion was what's the current government's policy on anti-corruption and I was pointing out the current government doesn't have any policy on anti-corruption. The previous government had a bit of a taskforce and one of the things they were looking at was an anti-corruption commission that may be in a form and cost appropriate to the country, and I think there was some value in that process. The process never got properly concluded and I was saying that it was really important for the stakeholders to have a look at that. I think the integrity institutions that we have while some of them performing reasonably well in their constraints, it's not good enough, corruption is still a serious major issue for us that has not been properly addressed.

COUTTS: What would you have in it, what would be the makeup of an anti-corruption commission and would it be independent?

POLLARD: It would need to be independent and at the end of the day you've got to have political will because you could have a commission appointed and then if the government appoints lame duck commissioners then obviously that's not going to work. But what we see now with the Auditor General's office, the Ombudsman's office, these have very little powers to actually to send people to court to get them convictions on some of these criminal cases of corruption. So I think you do need a system which is more effective and has a bit of bite.

COUTTS: Well how independent should the commission be? For instance should it be staffed by people outside the country altogether to avoid the wantok system?

POLLARD: No I don't think it's a question of them being from outside the system. I think we need a commission which can't be hamstrung by government not giving it the budget that's required or as we've seen for LCC in the past it often gets caught up with the government never getting around to appoint commissioners. So we need some way that it can be arms length from government, but at the end of the day you can't have a system which is always going to require some degree of accountability and we see with the Auditor General's office it's reporting to parliament but it's often reporting the criminal activities to people who reportedly committed them, and so of course then no action happens. So you need to have some way that people can actually get these prosecutions done.

COUTTS: And you're also saying that the Ombudsman's office could be more efficient?

POLLARD: The Ombudsman's office has been understaffed for a long time, I think the new Ombudsman has been appointed for just over a year or so and so we're looking to see whether the Ombudsman's office is going to be able to get better traction. I guess at the end of the day they too are confined to producing reports and the people who produce the reports to don't do anything about it, nothing happens.

COUTTS: Well I wonder whether it's going to get a bit top heavy and whether there's going to be a lot of witch hunts, because you're already got a Leadership Code Commission, you want an Ombudsman's Office, there's a Leadership Code as I said and a commission that you'd like to set up, and the judiciary itself and the police force and the government, so there's a lot of people supposedly doing the same thing?

POLLARD: I think one of the suggestions was some way of looking at merging the functions of the LCC, the Leadership Code Commission, Ombudsman maybe into one more streamlined body. I agree, we don't need to be creating massive institutions which cost millions, we can't afford that. But we need to be finding cost-effective ways in our small economy that we can deal with the issue and get action.

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