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John Roughan: Anti-Corruption's One-Stop Shop!

Anti-Corruption's One-Stop Shop?

John Roughan
4 May 2004

The Australian government is currently pushing the idea of pulling together under one roof--a one-stop shop--all the Solomons accountability institutions: its Leadership Code Commission, Ombudsman and Auditor-General. Canberra thinks it makes sense that these three key Solomons' institutions against corruption share one admin framework and join up their existing resources--investigators and staff. Over the past five years and in reality since our early independence years, these anti-corruption institutions have not performed brilliantly. Few, if any, political .leaders have felt the sting of the law when, for instance, they failed to declare their business interests, or were terribly poor in handling citizens complaints and corruption began to root deeply in the country. Why? Why? Why?

Where does the fault lie? The country has had these powerful institutions--strong on paper, at least--for many years. Our Founding Fathers created them to keep a critical eye on our political and government leaders, to keep them honest. Yet, they proved themselves toothless. Has it been because the country doesn't have the proper laws? Or were those who ran these institutions inept? Or did they fail to properly do their job? The answer to the question why corruption rooted so deeply in our country is probably connected to all three reasons. But something else also happened nationwide! The corruption problem has gone much deeper and is found in the whole of society--chiefs, landowners, villagers, among the churches, NGOs, but certainly in government circles.. A mere administrative move will never root this cancer out.

Yet, we are now informed that if these three institutions were housed in the same office area, shared resources and talked to each other more often, then they would make a big dent in our Culture of Corruption. I wish things were so simple! Unfortunately, corruption, the terrible weed that practically destroyed our nation and which still flourishes among the highest ranks of our political elite, needs much more radical surgery than a mere lumping together of three institutions. No, fundamentally a new approach is called for.

The Civil Society Network--SICA, NGOs, women's organisations and other groups--are currently calling for a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission to study why the Corruption Culture rooted so thoroughly among our political institutions, local organizations and our people. This commission would study why corruption rooted so disastrously in society, why the same noxious weed continuous to flourish even as these words are read and how it would root out any future corruption. A commission made up of citizens and government personnel could begin the process of tearing corruption out at its roots. It would be much more productive--and cheaper--for Australia to fund a commission than lumping organisations together which could easily be viewed as a safe way of sweeping the real problem under the proverbial carpet.

In the mid 1990s, for instance, Vanuatu appointed an Ombudsman who shook the political establishment to its core. An expat woman, Marie Noel Patteson, was handed the job and at once she zeroed in on the main problem: corrupt parliamentarians and other national leaders. After conducting strict investigations, acting with scrupulous honesty and true zeal, she brought corruption charges against some of Vanuatu's major political leaders. And she made these charges stick. Big Men went to jail for corruption, e. g. Barak Sope. Unfortunately, she proved to be such a thorn in the side of the elite and so effective that Vanuatu's parliament rushed to change the law to make the Ombudsman's work less effective. In the Solomons we don't have to change any laws. Our own Ombudsman's office has been truly ineffective for many years now.

If Australia and Solomons' officials really want to take a big bite out of corruption learn Vanuatu's lesson. Let's appoint a well qualified person from the outside, (as we did with the current Police Commissioner)--with little or no ties to the political, cultural and economic leaders who now dominate society--resource that person well and insure that training of local Solomon Islanders is a major goal of the project. A revamped Ombudsman institution along these lines would take no time to make major dents in the Culture of Corruption. Of course neither Australia nor the present Solomons' leadership feels comfortable with this approach.

Secondly, substantially fund a Truth and Reconciliation Commission made up of concerned citizens, leading church people, government leaders, etc. with full powers to examine the Culture of Corruption. Why did it root so deeply and thoroughly within society. Do not tie its hands by limiting its search to the immediate past because as some say it might 'open a can of worms'. Of course it will but that's part of the healing process. It's useless for a commission to focus its energies only on the last few years. Corruption's evil roots began thriving during the 1987-1997 round logging frenzy as detailed in Dr. Judith Bennett's marvellous book Pacific Forest.

The words 'rooted', 'radical', 'deep' appear more than once in the above paragraphs. And with reason. Corruption is not simply a theft here, a bit of bribery there, some missing money, etc. but an evil creature that has taken on a life of its own. To slow it down and then over a few years to tear out its deep roots will take time and energy. For many people corruption has become a way of life. It's impossible to get rid of this poisonous weed simply by bringing a few institutions together under one roof. No, much more is needed by many more people than is currently planned.


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