Corruption In Govt Contracting/Procurement Need Independent Scrutiny - Solomon Star News

Corruption In Govt Contracting/Procurement Need Independent Scrutiny

13 February 2021

Government contracting and procurement is now at a level that should alarm the people of Solomon Islands.

Some of the examples shared on air during the live panel discussion of Solomon Islands 2020 Corruption Perception Index is but the tip of the iceberg of what is actually happening.  For example, a computer of the same brand and specification as the one bought by the government costs more than what one can get for the same from businesses that sell computers.  The cost of the tank at KGVI shared previously is also another case and there are many more. 

Part of the problem lies in the ongoing practice of public officers who are alleged to have established their own private businesses and using these to procure government contracts for goods and services. The business of getting three quotes has allowed for business to be conducted from taxis and other locations outside of the business houses that do provide these services and goods.  

The former Permanent Secretary of Police and National Security and former Permanent Secretary of MID were both found guilty of conflict of interest corrupt conduct and imprisoned.  This has not deterred current public officials from doing the same thing.  

Transparency Solomon Islands calls for an independent investigation, the findings of which the Attorney General should use to inform legislative reform to address Government Contracting and Procurement.  In the same token Transparency Solomon Islands also calls for a review of the Anti-Corruption Act where corruption is defined, and a limitation is put to clarify what nature of corrupt conduct the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption will be responsible for. 

What is happening at the moment from various reports to Transparency Solomon Islands office is that there is a lot of inside trading going on to ensure, those individuals and entities who have a connection to those public officers sitting in power do get the contracts and at an unreasonable cost to the government. 

Prior to the three-quote system government procurement of goods and services is done only with registered companies. There was transparency and public officials are required to deal with long- and well-established companies. 

Transparency Solomon Islands is informed by insiders that public officers with private businesses are still milking the government despite the imprisonment of former PS for Police Mr. Edmond Sikua and former PS for the Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MID) Mr. Henry Murray.  

To remind citizens both former PS were arrested and convicted in court, losing their jobs. Mr. Sikua was charged in relation to the allegation on December 22, 2016, for awarding government tenders worth $630,436.50 to Beeds Investment, a company registered and owned by his two daughters. 

And Murray corruptly received more than $700,000 from the government, paid to Krash Transport and Marketing, a company owned by Murray and his wife for vehicle hire between 2014 and 2015. Murray was sentenced to four years imprisonment. 

While TSI appreciates the efforts made by the court and police to bring justice to these two cases, from reports to date this practice has not stopped but continues unabated and nothing much is done about it. An examination of the procurement by an independent enquiry should reveal the pattern of what is going on and give the necessary evidence for the police to further investigate.  

It is worrying that nothing is done about this and the country is losing millions into the pocket of these unscrupulous networks funds that could have provided improved roads, schools, water supply, etc.  Those working within the public service are of the view that the Whistleblowers Protection Bill is not enough to protect them, therefore an independent audit of government procurement is called for. 

So, if Murray and Sikua can be sent to jail for cases that held them accountable as related parties in the procurement of government goods and services why not others who continue to commit similar offenses not dealt with. This is not good enough as it diverts funds that could be better used to raise our standard of living is being milked through this practice.

Transparency Solomon Islands is aware that the audit report are not extended to cover the questions asked here with regard to parties/companies involved in the procurement of government goods and services. 

TSI is informed that there are specific cases where the colluding parties who happen to be public officials of having received more than $100,000 and $200,000 in their private businesses for procuring government goods and services. Is this any different from the cases of the two former PS? Reports reaching TSI confirm one public servant was able to build his permanent building as a rest house in Tulagi and operating business fuel purposely to exploit the budget allocated by the province for fuel and accommodation. 

The officer was alleged to collect more than $200,000 for fuel, let alone accommodation. It can therefore be understood why other businesses are raising the issue. This needs investigation for it muddies the clean audit status of Central Islands Province.  

This is a clear case of conflict of interest, inside trading even though the transactions were revealed in the audit report or the officer declared his business before the Leadership Code Commission (LCC). A clean audit it would seem does not equate to clean procurement and contracting. 

Transparency Solomon Islands urged that government including the provincial government take all efforts to tender out openly these procurements and any public officer handling these payments should stay out of it or not be involved in the procurement of government goods and services as this is not only a conflict of interest but inside trading both of which are corrupt conduct and hinder good governance.

Transparency Solomon Islands also take notes of feedback from some ministries that vows to address inside trading, conflict of interest very widespread in the procurement of goods and services. TSI commends those within ministries that are trying their best and asking why there are no tough disciplinary measures on officers practicing this. Know that you have the respect and support of the citizens of this country and urged that you continue to work towards a clean government with no room for corruption to thrive. Together we can stop this virus and create a better future for all and not just for a few greedy ones. 

Transparency Solomon Islands also encourages citizens to continue to reveal, report, and raise specific cases and issues related to corruption on platforms that can listen to by relevant authorities and organizations that advocate against corruption. The media, social media, police, TSI, and other integrity institutions of the government like the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption (SIICAC), Leadership Code Commission (LCC), Ombudsman, and the Public Service Commission. Share your views on what can be done and what you can do in this fight.

Fighting Corruption is everybody's business so we must work together to fight and eradicate corruption in our society. TSI would like to conclude by reiterating that both national and provincial government must be addressed the huge corrupt practices and conduct that is widespread in government contracting/procurement stemming from conflict of interest and inside trading [those who have inside information, putting themselves in a position to win the contracts for themselves]. This practice denies our people of medicine, water supply, sanitation, and economic growth that could provide employment opportunities for our growing population.

- Transparency Solomon Islands