CONGRATULATIONS to Northwest Choiseul Constituency and its Member of Parliament Connelly Sandakabatu.
You have demonstrated to the nation what transparency and accountability is when you produced the first ever report on the $5 million shipping grant allocated to you.
The shipping grant, managed within the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, has been in existence for many years now.
Millions of dollars have been allocated for the grant each year.
A good number of MPs have received funding from the grant.
But very little is known about how the grants are used.
As soon as it is released to the MPs, that’s it.
There were cases where the MPs only used part of the grants to purchase old ships in the name of their constituencies.
They kept the remaining portions to themselves.
There were cases where MPs acquired the ships and when they were voted out, they keep the ships for themselves.
But there was no case, until yesterday, where the MPs submitted acquittal reports about how they spent the shipping grants.
Mr Sandakabatu and his committee have set the benchmark for all other constituencies to follow.
The shipping grant is public money.
It came from the nation’s tax payers.
Like any public funds, it must be used openly and with transparency.
Furthermore, those entrusted with the money, in this case our MPs, must account for its use.
An acquittal report, like the one Mr Sandakabatu and his committee prepared and handed over to the government yesterday, should be part of the accountability process.
It should be one of the requirements to releasing public funds to MPs.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development Selina Boso said North West Choiseul is the first constituency to submit a report on its use of the shipping grant.
That means grants released to MPs over the years have not been accounted for.
No wonder MPs continue to use public funds as their personal money.
And no wonder why this country has not moved forward.
Solomon Islands will remain in its current state unless leaders start to take responsibility for people’s money and see the importance of accounting for them.
The government cannot continue to allocate tax-payers money into funding schemes such as the shipping grant that does not bring meaningful development to the country.
It is irresponsible and wasteful on the part of the government to continue doing that.
Take a look at how many ships purchased under the scheme are still running?
And how many are still operating under the constituency they were bought for?
The shipping industry is best left for the private sector to run.
The government should concentrate on building infrastructures such as wharves as its contribution to boosting the industry.
It should do what the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is doing by co-financing uneconomical routes to support private operators to serve these routes.
The shipping grant scheme should now be stopped.
The grant should be allocated for other projects that best serve the needs of the people.