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Corruption Is Alive And Well!

Corruption Is Alive And Well!

John Roughan - Honiara

The United Nations Development Program out of Suva is seriously working on setting up a domestic monitors scheme to support our nation's March elections. In 2001, for instance, dozens of foreigners monitored our last election. They called it a free and fair one. >From all reports the monitors did a professional job. Now the UNDP and other organizations are planning the next step. Trained local people --village men, women, youth--would have an official presence near polling stations across the nation. On election day, then, local people would act as a watchful presence, from outside the polling booth, to add weight to making the election free and fair.

As good as this presence at the polling station could be, corrupt practices are already raising their ugly heads. Money, goods, services and a basket of other goodies are changing hands as these lines are read. Village people last in government's eyes, whose voices are rarely heard in the halls of power, now know they have but a short time to make a difference. They're sitting in the driver's seat. Hopeful parliamentarians hang around villages, beg for people's vote (beg isn't too harsh a word!) and to secure the necessary votes, promise the moon. Candidates know they are at the villagers' mercy since it's these votes and only these votes that can get them safely into the Big House on the hill.

That is why pots, pans, dishes, knives, forks, even a kitchen sink or two are not merely promised but are actually delivered to village homes. Water tanks, outboard engines, chainsaws, etc. etc. are turning up there as well. Candidates are desperate to get themselves into parliament. That's where serious money, big power and special privilege are found in abundance. No other sector of society can make this boast. So it is not unusual for candidates to go into deep debt trying to make it into parliament. An intending candidate gambles that he'll get back all his investment, in fact many times over, once successfully making it as a member.

Unlike the 2001 election, guns or the threat of them, won't dictate this outcome. But money, big money, as in past years, continues to control the process. As said above, many a successful candidate on the day after the election lands in Honiara bone dry. In fact worse than that! He has gone into serious debt from all the things brought, money borrowed and promises made on the campaign trail. In a word, such winners are terribly vulnerable. Honiara's King Makers, the political elite, those who have won their own constituency and have access to Asian money, have positioned themselves well to buy into the next government.

It's almost impossible to stop politicians from promising voters the moon. That's the way they act all over the world. If a candidate promises an outboard engine and indeed delivers it to your home, the best thing to do is to take it, say thanks and inform the proper authorities what has happened. A gift is exactly that a freely given item. Although the free gift is meant to buy your vote, there is absolutely no reason to give it. In fact, one of the better ways of grinding this corrupt money practice into dirt, is to allow politicians to give gifts and get nothing in return. If a politician is trying to buy your vote, you know that he is the very last person you should be voting for.

As vital as polling day is, then, and the need to make it, as free and fair as possible, the more important corruption periods are these very current campaign days and the period immediately following election day.

The second most important corruption period arrives immediately after the election. That's when successful candidates--hungry, vulnerable, without money--heap up in Honiara to form the Solomons next government. Successful but dirt-poor candidates, however, have something very valuable to sell, their vote. Now they are in a position to make their vote pay off handsomely as well as helping those who aided them to win their present power position. The question uppermost in their minds: How can I get a ministry? What seats are open on government's boards--SIWA, SIEA, Solomon Airlines, etc.? King Makers, rarely give second thoughts to successful candidates' abilities, track record and ability to perform.

RAMSI wasn't around in the 2001 election but they are certainly here now. People still call for the prosecution of the country's 'Big Fish' which must include those public servants who stole large amounts of money while serving themselves in the Department of Forestry and Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources. The Auditor General's October 2005 report makes who stole crystal clear and how much was stolen. But these huge losses to the country came about by others offering bribes. The rise of the Asian Mafia's involvement with corruption needs to be caught in RAMSI's fishing net as well. Political King Makers can do little were it not for an ample supply of money and backing from those involved with round tree logging, tuna fishing enterprises and those who dominate Honiara's commercial scene.

Money is corruption's life blood. Follow the money trail, prosecute those guilty of using it illegally and corruption will begin to dry up quickly enough. This is the time to start sending out the message on corruption. Polling day must be as free and fair as possible. But the two periods--the current campaign days and that time period immediately following the election--must be watched as carefully. Then and only then will a free and fair election day really mean a change in Solomons politics.


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