Called the Constituency Development Funds Bill 2013, the legislation legitimises the current practice of MPs controlling public fundings allocated within respective Ministries as discretionary constituency funds.
The Bill provided for the establishment of 50 Constituency Offices for the management and administration of constituency development funds in accordance to Constituency Development Plans to be formulated by each constituency based on constituency profiles.
It also legitimises the use of constituency accounts and specified that the signatories will be the Constituency Development Officer (CDO) and the Members of Parliament. In addition, the bill (soon to be an Act) also gives power to the CDO to enter into agreements with project recipients and maintain proper registers, accounts and other documents as required by the Minister. This, I believe is one of the weaknesses of the bill for it definitely creates room for corruption and signing of dubious contracts. It does not really address the problem of cronyism which is a major concern of many Solomon Islanders today who are not actually benefiting from the constituency funds.
I believe the only positive aspect of the bill is that Constituency funds will be subject to financial audits, an improvement from the previous system where most constituency development funds are not subjected to public expenditure audits.
Even so, public audit reports are just piece of documents as far as Solomon Islands is concerned. There is no guarantee that if misappropriations are reported, appropriate actions will be taken to investigate and prosecute people who are implicated to have committed those offences.
One of the biggest concerns of ordinary Solomon Islanders is that the Bill was not thoroughly consulted and that wider consultations with ordinary Solomon Islanders, particularly in the rural areas should have been undertaken before the drafting of the legislation. This argument was presented in parliament together with a petition signed and presented to the Members of Parliament in accordance to the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
Even before it was even tabled in Parliament it was almost certain that the petition was going to be defeated. The local media reported that the Prime Minister was under heavy pressure from members of his Cabinet and power brokers to pass the Bill. So it was an uphill battle for Forum Solomon Islands International, the Anti-corruption Network of Solomon Islands, and Transparency Solomon Islands, three civil society organisations that were at the forefront in the tabling of the petition.
For many of the MPs it was unsurprising that they have voted in opposition of the petition - they are renowned self-servers. Information provided by sources in Parliament indicated how the voting went.
Only ten (10) Opposition MPs voted in support of the petition. They are: Manasseh Sogavare, Andrew Manepora'a, Douglas Ete, Peter Shanel Agovaka, Johnley Hatimoana, Bodo Dettke, Milner Toxaka, John Maneiaru, Mathew Wale, and Dr. Derek Sikua. The rest of the MPs voted against the petition and made a fool of themselves trying to justify their actions.
The most outstanding of them was Hon. Dick Ha'amori, MP for West Makira constituency who was very childish in my view raise very irrelevant and insignificant arguments to try and point out where he is to vote against the petition and in favour of the Bill.
In his contributions of the debates he showed how self-serving he was and his presentation and eventually his vote was truly his own, not that of his constituents. An extract of his contribution on the Bill will be posted tomorrow here at Prejudiced Blog .
Generally, the Bill is indeed a double-edged sword. If sensible and genuine people are voted into Parliament the bill will be an advantage for them for it will allow for forward planning and effective financial management and budgeting. The real problems will arise if MPs are corrupt and self-serving like most of the current bunch.