Solomon Island’s Parliamentary system is based on the Westminster democratic system of British. A system which requires people from respective constituencies to elect a representative to represent them at the parliament.
And their role is to debate and ask questions at their constituents’ behalf. The parliamentary representative is called a Member of Parliament.
The role of the members of parliament is to make laws approve annual budgets for the implementation of government plans.
Their tasks includes bringing the socio-economic views, concerns and issues of their constituents in parliament and engage in debates, and participate in the process of making laws to address these and approving national budget, and ask questions to respective ministers on issues that are displeasing to their constituents.
Westminster system was adopted from Great Britain after Solomon Islands become a nation of its own after former protectorate, British, left in 1978. In this system there is separation of powers between the Legislators, Executive and the Judiciary Arm of governance.
First members of a Solomon Islands parliament were elected on the same year before the declaration of Independence Day. The roles and responsibilities of the members of parliament as demanded by the system remained clear.
Although many of the first MPs were not educated as compared to today’s MPs, they knew their roles and carried them out honourably.
Today although no constitutional changes has been made to the role and responsibilities of Members of Parliament, our members of parliament are now more engaged in project deliveries and administration of constituency funds, with loose guidelines.
In the most recent citizens challenge, the Chief Justice of Solomon Islands High Court Chief Justice Albert Palmer, ruled that administrating such funds lowers the integrity, standards, requirements and obligations imposed on MPs by virtue of their office.
He said in handing down his judgement of that case that MPs must seek to maintain the integrity, honour and decorum of such respectable position. Chief Justice Palmer made these comments when he handed down his ruling earlier this year on the case between a five citizen and the Parliamentary Entitlement Commission.
In the case the citizens challenged PEC on its legality to increase awards for MPs in its amended Parliamentary Entitlement Regulations. And this includes the increase on the Members Discretionary Fund from $300,000.00 to $500,000.00
Evidently it appears our MPs have lost sight of their role and more concerned with administrating constituency funds in a non-transparent and accountable manner.
Not only our members of parliament have shifted their priorities from being a legislature to constituency accountants and administrators, but, they now also administer other ministerial services that used to come under respective and responsible ministries within government by-passing standing procedures.
From 2000 to date we have seen MPs assuming powers to administer funds and grants which used to come under respective ministries of government, requiring technical inputs, assessments and scrutiny experiences and technical know-how that they don’t have let alone not their role as stipulated in our Constitution.
For example; The MPs took over from Ministry of Home Affairs the dispensing of Church Grants. They took over the disbursement of grants for Constituency Centres Program for Women, Youth and Children which came under Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs.
It did not stop there, they even took over the administration, screening and disbursement of grants for Rehabilitation of Coconut and Cocoa industry which came under Ministry of Agriculture. These are but few examples of some of the grants that used to be under responsible government ministries which were allocated to the MPs for screening and disbursement.
The question of whether they have legal powers to administer these ministerial funds was never asked or challenged. This arrangement was made on adhoc basis without any proper regulations and is sticking and the public is silent.
In 2013 the government passed a Constituency Development Act, which officially adds the role and responsibility of an MP to also include administration of all constituency funds and grants. Even this law they have failed to comply with. When one reads through the legislation whilst regulation is a requirement, the act has become law and should be complied with given the fact that there is no provision in that act which says as prescribed by the Minister. This law has given powers to MPs the discretion to administer all funds intend for their constituencies.
Today, each MP is custodian on behalf their constituencies of $7M per year. Such huge money to draw away both the attention of electorates and MPs on the role of a Member of Parliament.
As if taking away project grants under lined ministries is not enough, we again start to see MPs dipping their hands on shipping grants which is under the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development and Scholarship awards under the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development.
As per documents reaching Transparency Solomon Islands office on the shipping grant; screening and awarding of this grant is being made by only three ministers. The Minister of Finance, the Minister of Planning and Development and the Minister of Infrastructure and Development. Already there are asked surrounding the awarding of this grant to MPs. Transparency Solomon Islands will write more on this issue in its next article.
Early this year, there was also controversy over how MPs now have a hand in awarding scholarships, especially to their constituents. This year we saw the huge number of scholarship awards awarded by MPs. Almost superseding scholarships awarded by National Training Unit of Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development.
This week on the newspaper, NTU published number of government scholarships for next year, inviting applicants with high GPA’s. An interview with an officer at the NTU, the officer who wants to remain anonymous said the scholarship advertised are based on the qualifications needed. When asked whether that includes those under MPs, he said, no and that these are normal scholarships that comes under their office. He said MPs may come up with their own, unfortunately their scholarships were never budgeted for, therefore often virements from other budget heads may have to be used.
The concern here is, the more powers our MPs occupy themselves with, the more there are chances of corruption. Not only that, but it lowers the integrity of our MPs office.
By ALFRED SASAKO