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John Roughan: People's Code of Conduct

People's Code of Conduct

John Roughan
5 June 2006

Parliament members had to go back to school last week. Their teachers--overseas speakers from PNG parliament, an Australian academic, Solomons' leaders, etc--stressed the idea that parliamentarians are necessarily held to high standards, higher than that of the ordinary citizen. But as Dame Carol Kidu, PNG's only woman member of the house clearly stated, the people themselves need also to measure themselves by standards as well.

Corruption is never a one way street. It takes two people at least for corruption to kick in: one who offers the bribe, a second to accept it. One to ask for an illegal favor and the other to grant it. Someone who seeks public silence to a dubious deed and a second to keep silent. That is why Dame Kidu is calling for a People's Code of Conduct.

Our own legislators are obliged to follow very carefully the rules and regulations of at least three constitutional offices--Leadership Code Commission, the Ombudsman Office, the Auditor General. Each of these institutions have a heap of laws, regulations and procedures which members must not only know about but their conduct must follow quite closely. It is hard for a member to plead ignorance or say 'mi no savvy' to the requirements of these constitutional watch dogs. The Ombudsman, for instance, oversees any "action or decision that could be regarded as illegal, unfair, improper, unreasonable or incorrect". That's a pretty big stick!

Members' lives, both public and private, are on display, visual from every angle, like fish in a fish bowl. Last year, for instance, one MP's private life spilled out into the public arena and he was fined a hefty $2,000.00 for misconduct. But Dame Kidu's observations of how hard the MPs' basic family life has become was on the mark. In the Solomons, members are expected to be "doctor and undertaker", "development officer", social welfare worker, walking ATMs--"voters expect cash. And they want you (the members) to solve all their personal difficulties".

Yes, let's keep our leaders code of conduct right up there with the best. But the nation needs a People's Code of Conduct as well. As said above, corruption is always a two way street, both parties need to travel the same road for corruption to work. That is why our own people need to have a set of clear guide lines as well.

But rules, laws and regulations on their own won't change attitudes. But a context of clear, up to date and consistent communication strategies would go a long way in shining a strong light on the dark areas where corruption thrives. Newspapers and radio immediately leap to mind but too often here in the Solomons these are limited to Honiara or at best a few of the provincial capitals. Just imagine if the nation could boast of a network of community radio stations scattered through out the country, broadcasting daily messages in language and connected with a culture of mobile phones.

Our people are not beggars! When the 1998-2003 Social Unrest laid heavily on the nation's soul, villagers hardly complained . . . who would have listened to them anyway? They just got on with life, feed the kids, the olos, the sick, the rest of the village--we never had a single food riot--and waited for the nation to catch up with them. In fact they did more! The village sector was one of the major contributors to jump starting the economy from below zero in 2002 to a startling 5.8% in 2003 BEFORE RAMSI came into the picture.

One could only dream about our country's fortunes if in stead of it having had to suffer five years of social unrest, had it been on the receiving end of a communication's revolution with a web of community radio stations and a culture of mobile phones. I hope and pray this is what the Sogavare Government is thinking of when it says it wants to turn the Ship of State around. From a direction that the country has followed for more than 28 years to another direction where the village and the villager become the major focus of state investment.

In a growing climate of easy, quick and accurate information patterns available to all, only then does a People's Code of Conduct root. Corruption, dicey conduct, wheeler-dealer moves, dodgy plans, con games, etc. find it hard to survive in such an atmosphere. Once people become aware of corrupt practices, these trend to fall away quickly. The Family Charity Fund, for instance, basically folded up but it took a public court case, convictions and prison sentences to finally nail it.

Corruption busting is for the long term. There's no silver bullet but just as parliamentarians need to know and follow a Code of Conduct, so too our people need a Code of Conduct drawn up by voters themselves and approved by those who have the most to gain, villagers.


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