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John Roughan: Culture Of Impunity!

Culture Of Impunity!

By John Roughan
15 May 2006

Why is it that some Big Men are exempt from punishment no matter what their crime? They live charmed lives--rising higher and higher in national political life--no matter how serious the offense. For instance, they make false, exaggerated property claim losses supposedly suffered during our Social Unrest years. Their original excessive claims are initially knocked back yet slightly smaller but still outlandishly false payments are paid in full. Their claims are clearly false yet our justice system overlooks this official corrupt conduct.

This is what is meant by a Culture of Impunity . . . our society's Big Men think they are exempt from penalties for wrong doing. Over years, they have continually escaped punishment, from suffering, in spite of criminal behavior. A main way of doing this is insure that their crime is hard to trace or if, ultimately, found out, they are protected from going to jail. For this kind of impunity to root, to become strong and to become part of society, it needs many years and many examples of Big Men getting away with crimes. This is what people mean when they speak about the 'big fish'!

Last week's Star newspaper on its very front page--last Friday's edition--detailed how more than two dozen Big Men filed exaggerated, false and criminal compensation claims while the government (during Sogavare's two years as PM, 2000-2001) "knowingly paid for non-existent properties".These crimes took place more than five years ago and still we are yet to hear about many of these Big Men facing a law court. Most who made clearly fraudulent claims still run around free and only a few have faced arrest and now await their day in court. The Auditor General's 2005 devastating reports on corruption in forestry and fishing sectors, also, have yet to see a single prosecution take place.

The best way of making sure that Big Men's crimes remain unknown is never to have crimes officially investigated. Take the Civilian-Police Coup of 2000! To this day there has never been a proper inquiry of who did what, who planned the destruction of the state, how did they do it and who were the major players and actors. As with the Youth Riot of 1989, only silence prevails. No, really not silence, but rumor, 'coconut wireless' and tok stori. This lack of clear, proved facts with names attached to the crime fits Big Men's view of themselves. As long as the facts are unclear, unsure and unreliable, then the crimes of these people can never be known.

The major architects, planners and actors of Fiji's 2000 Coup, on the other hand, are only now coming to light. It has taken the best part of 5 years to nail down who were the true coup leaders and not simply be told that George Speight should shoulder all the blame. But at least Fiji is trying to get a more informed handle on their Coup masters. In our case, however, our political leaders are stonewalling and have been stonewalling any inquiry from the beginning. Civil Society asked for a Commission of Inquiry to study exactly what did happen in the Coup and how the election of PM Sogavare went ahead and how many of our Big Men were behind these events. The 'coconut wireless' points fingers at some of our Big Men, some of whom are still in power, who need to answer a lot of hard questions!

At present the nation is sliding towards another case of 'deafening silence' about Black Tuesday and Black Wednesday when most of Chinatown burnt to the ground and followed the very next day by the burning down of the Pacific Casino hotel. Who planned, orchestrated and ordered the destruction of these buildings? Was it simply a case of anger, copy cat behavior or something more sinister?

What was the Australian Federal Police's role in this disaster? The country had never experienced such a meltdown even during our darkest Coup Days and the 1989 Youth Riots. Only when we had the might of RAMSI on our doorstep that our troubles exploded. Why didn't the foreign police respond to precise information that Chinatown was next in the mob's sight? When credible information was shared by people of many years of Solomons' experience, it was disregarded out of hand. The growing mob outside Parliament Building was dismissed by a senior Australian as 'huff and puff' that would disappear once the sun tired the mob out. Well the so called 'huff and puff' mob almost blew the whole town out of existence. How can the Federal Police's professional conduct be taken seriously when some of them were unaware that the word 'waku' is Pijin for Chinese people. What does this say about the Police's lack of social interchange with the people of this nation!

It is clear why RAMSI isn't that anxious to have an independent Commission of Inquiry study the whole Black Tuesday/Wednesday debacle Its 'peace, order and tranquility's role suffered a severe jolt. Rather than touting the RAMSI intervention as a template, an example of how to run other intervention scenarios, serious questions must be asked of it. Solomon Islanders will closely study RAMSI's answers. Their 3,000+ gun collection is ancient history. What now must be on the RAMSI agenda is why it failed the Solomons people in their hour of greatest need. It wasn't village people who rebelled, burnt down other villages and put at risk the lives of hundreds of people. It was here in Honiara under RAMSI 'protective' shield that the destruction took place!

And why isn't government itself standing up and SHOUTING for an inquiry? Does it hide something? Are some of their own members implicated or at least have some nasty questions hanging over their heads? The Culture of Impunity still rules present day Solomons. It will weaken only when the nation determines to bring the criminal, incompetent and inept under the microscope of public knowledge. If the Government and RAMSI fail to call for a Commission of Inquiry then Civil Society, NGOs and the Churches must face that challenge for the good of the nation.


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