Publishing of ESP recipients curtail corruption  - Solomon Star News

Publishing of ESP recipients curtail corruption 
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23 October 2020
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Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) acknowledges on day one that at times like this Covid-19 pandemic, emergency powers are needed pointing out at the same time that these must have a clear deadline and limited scope. 

Furthermore, based on experiences of the ethnic tension days the Executive Government was reminded about the indispensable importance of protecting the rule of law, parliamentary oversight, independent judicial control, and effective domestic remedies, during the emergency.

From the experiences of the ethnic tension days emergencies and experiences of the ensuing years, Transparency Solomon Islands called on the Executive Government and the ever-watchful public to stay alert to the risks of undue influence and lobbying by special interest groups who may push to be first in line for public bailouts or self-dealing government officials who make decisions to benefit friends and family. 

The Executive Government was called on and TSI continues to do so urging the government to put in place tough safeguards that will protect against self-interested parties taking advantage of this state of emergency for their own benefit.  

The need to monitor how these extraordinary powers are being used is very important.  This continues to be the call of ordinary as well as the voiceless people to the office of the Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI). 

These calls are based on their actual experiences and observed incidences of the almost 10 months of being under the State of Emergency Powers.   

These powers are huge and wide but lacking depth. They have created uncertainty, disturbance, and distraction as we have seen time and again.  

Above all, it contributes to an environment where corrupt actors, corrupt conduct, and corrupt practice do take advantage of the crisis for their own benefit. 

Reports reaching TSI with regard to the various packages released as responses to the Covid-19 SOE report indicate that there is no transparency at all with regard to the millions released in the name of various undertakings addressing the impact of the pandemic, focusing on health and the economy. It is in response to the many issues raised that in this article we focus on the Economic Stimulus Package [ESP].

Information is power and the most important in pandemics, and in curbing down corruption, corrupt conduct, and practice. It is in this regard that the Transparency Solomon Islands is calling on the Executive Government to publish the recipients of the so-called Economic Stimulus Package (ESP). 

Not only is publishing the recipients important for accountability and transparency but for the taxpayers who are funding this package and the recovery of the economy.  

It is also important to applicants for the package and for the country to know that the SOE Emergency Powers Regulations under which these funds were released have not been abused and misused, subject to undue influence and lobbying by special interest groups who may push to be first in line for public bailouts, or self-dealing government officials who make decisions to benefit friends and family. 

Transparency Solomon Islands and citizens of this country are concerned that the names of recipients of ESP will not be published in the media as announced by the Permanent Secretary (PS) for the Ministry of Finance & Treasury Mr. McKinnie Dentana during a talkback show program on Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC).

The Permanent Secretary informed the public through that talkback show that the reason for not publishing the names is due to the huge cost in terms of money to publish the names. 

The PS further shared that software is being worked at or put together that will have all the names of recipients.  These he said will be accessible for public viewing online. 

The Economic Stimulus Package has its own committee therefore Transparency Solomon Islands believes, the information should be readily available and published as decisions are made be it weekly or monthly.  

Any delay is a concern for data that does not need any new software to be specifically developed for it.  It can be done on a simple excel sheet unless of course, the taxpayers are going to pay another political appointee for something as simple as this. 

The information that the public wants to know is; the successful applicants, area funded/project, company name, province/location, and the amount approved. Is making it sound complicated in the interest of suspicious recipients like the much talked about piggery. Is there something suspicious about some ESP recipients going on behind closed doors? Where is transparency and accountability in this ESP screening and selection? 

The decision to have the software installed to cater to the list of names that receive the ESP is already very suspicious and could put this information inaccessible to ordinary people. 

It may be cheap for the government, but accessible only to people living in urban or semi-urban areas where access to internet 3G is reliable. Going so high ICT is just another way of keeping the public ignorant.  

The rest of the population residing in the rural areas will not be able to access the list of ESP recipients since most of the remote communities rely only on SIBC for news, messages, and updates from the government. 

 

Transparency Solomon Islands supports the intention of the ESP committee to have the list of names available online. It alerts the ESP committee of the public’s interest of having the information published online the sooner the better. 

The Executive Government by virtue of the power it exercises it is required to be transparent and accountable in building people's trust in how you have made your decisions with regard to ESP. 

Every applicant cannot wait to see the list of names/companies/provinces/projects of those whose applications for ESP was approved. Waiting for this information has been a long wait for some. 

TSI acknowledges that some people have already received their projects applied for under the ESP, while others are anxious to know about the fate of their application. 

Making a list of recipients, the public will help in exposing corruption as well.  For transparency and accountability sake, TSI and the public hold the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury to keep his promise to the public and ensure the list of recipients be made available online, by end of this month. 

For transparency and accountability, it is suggested that the names of ESP recipients be made public first before collecting the funds.  This could be an option for ESP distribution. 

The current practice of contacting ESP recipients on phone not only looks fishy but it makes the whole process suspicious and subject to corruptible practices. 

Already there are allegations that those approved to receive ESP have a connection to the ESP committee or other authorities mandates under the SOPE. 

There are also allegations of nepotism involved in the selection process and awarding of ESP. Publishing the list of recipients can prove these allegations to be incorrect. 

Transparency Solomon Islands thanked the ESP committee for the assurance that the names of successful applicants would be made public using software to enable the list to be accessible online. 

TSI values and appreciates the assurance from the ESP committee to continue to inform the public via press releases on ESP and keep on updating the nation on the Radio Talk Back Show aired by SIBC. The entire nation is anxiously waiting for the ESP information.  

The money is not big enough to go around and the majority of applicants may have not received it but having the information will inform them of how the government has allocated the funds and how much, where, what sector, and which provinces. Making the information on ESP can minimize the prevalence of biasness, nepotism, or corruption involved in the process of awarding ESP.

This is the ESP but lest we forget $500,000/constituency and $25 million in total, went through the Members of Parliament before the ESP. 

The rightful use of these funds is for funding Projects inwards, zone, villages within a constituency following an application process. 

Now it is released to Members of Parliament without any measures to account for it. They too need to make public how they have used these funds.

- Transparency Solomon Islands

 

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