Dear Editor – I take this opportunity to respond to the Monday 10th January article on Rennell & Bellona Province financial management issues, described as ‘’Audit Report Revealed’’.
The article detailed audit findings on Renbel covering 2012 – 2016. Whilst the figures mentioned in the article are facts, I disagree with the conclusion that nothing was done by the Ministry to address the issues highlighted in the OAG report for the periods indicated in the report. And to use the case of Renbel to question the public expenditure management capabilities of eight other provinces is an indication that the author of the article is somehow out of touch and not the least updated on provincial affairs especially the capabilities of the PGs to support delivery of the much-needed infrastructures in our communities.
The writer may not be aware that on the receipt of the Auditor General Report for the year ended 31st March 2014, the OAG was asked to conduct a special investigation on the issues raised in the report. Recommendation 4 and 9 of the OAG report required MPGIS not only to investigate further but to also escalate the issues to higher authorities, which we did on the 27th day of December 2017.
The author and the Editor in Chief of Island Sun were probably not also aware that during the same period, the MPGIS took extraordinary steps to suspend the Premier and his executive for more than five months until after provincial elections in 2014.
The reason for the suspension was financial mismanagement by the then executive. To say that the MPGIS does not have the capability to ensure proper management of provincial resources is not a factual statement. Since it is apparent that the author had no idea of what transpired after the reports were published, one would have expected him or the Island Sun, as a responsible paper, to seek further information from the Ministry to substantiate the facts before publishing them, if the intent was to inform the public and to ensure proper accountability of public funds.
The Ministry does not only ensure that provincial issues are dealt with or reported to the right authorities responsible for horizontal accountability systems in the country, but it also proactively designs special tailor-made trainings for provinces like Renbel who are yet to come up to speed with other provinces. This has so far proven effective. The few provinces that were struggling to meet the minimum conditions of PCDF have been qualifying for the past five years including Renbel. I believe readers of all persuasions have the right to read news that is factual, objective, and balanced but it is unfortunate that neither the Editor of Island Sun nor the author of the article made efforts to check the facts to avoid releasing misleading information to the public domain.
Having clarified the issues on Rennell & Bellona, I wish to seize this opportunity to assure the author and the Editor in Chief that the nine provincial governments currently have a sense of satisfaction with the progress being made when they look back at the baseline in 2007. The following statistical data of the nine provinces gives the readers an alternative but more optimistic view compared to the gloomy picture being painted by the author:
- From 1993 – 2008 instead of nine provinces producing and submitting 135 financial statements they only produced 2 Financial Statements mainly by Malaita and Temotu Provinces one FS each.
- From 2008/9 to date there has been 100% submission of financial statements to OAG as per PGA because of the enforcement of minimum conditions by the Ministry.
- Of the SBD222 million disbursed by SIG from 1993 – 2008, only 14% was reported and accounted for by the nine provinces. Reporting is now a minimum condition thus all provinces submit quarterly reports before funds are released. We have achieved 100% reporting of both recurrent and PCDF.
- For 15 years before 2008, only six provincial transactions were ever audited by the OAG instead of 135.
- From 2008 to date all transactions of the nine provinces are audited because it is minimum condition for access to PCDF. This represents 100% compliance.
- There was no work plan or investment plan of any province for 15 years before the program started but now all provinces produce three year rolling investment plans as a minimum condition before the Minister signs the budget into law. This is 100% compliance.
- The capability of producing a credible budget did not exist before 2008 but since then all provinces have been capacitated to produce credible and balanced budget.
- Since 2008/9 there has been 100% auditing of all PG financial statements.
- With the rolling out of PCDF in 2008/9, provinces have started to have good audit reports ahead of most of the government agencies.
- Isabel cleansed clean audit reports in 2017/18 and 2019/20, Central cleansed clean audit reports in 2018/19 and 2019/20 and we hope both may have clean audits in 2020/21 whilst Choiseul and Western have for the past five years have been maintaining qualified audit reports.
- The MPGIS is on course to technically supporting all provinces to acquire clean audit report by 2027. This would mean intensifying capacity building through on the job training.
- We have strategies laid out in strengthening the performance-based grant of PCDF conditions and performance measures to achieve the outcomes intended by the SIG for the nine provinces.
- With the introduction of PGSP PCDF minimum conditions, provinces have delivered over 1,440 solid projects at a cost of about SBD295 million creating more than 8,000 jobs in our communities.
- The author may not be aware that PCDF has led to a creation of over 100 contracting companies who are the main beneficiaries of the SBD295 million disbursed to the provinces for projects. He may need to be told that PCDF contracts so far have been awarded to only local contractors and funds have been circulated locally.
- All these funds were provided by SIG and donor partners because they had confidence in the capability of the MPGIS to support the nine provinces to deliver and account for the funds.
- These are tangible projects that can be verified, and they include the Adau water supply of $114,753 funded by PCDF; Sulugwalu new clinic at $200,300; Manaoba new rural health centre at $1,277,399 and Orotah crushing mill costing $223,068, projects from the author’s home constituency.
- With the strengthening of the PG revenue mobilization systems, the author must be informed that local revenue collected by provinces as own source revenue, which used to be $20.6m in 2009/10 now stands at $64.8 million in 2021 about SBD7 million more than the recurrent grant allocated by SIG in 2021.
I would conclude by indicating to the Editor in Chief of Island Sun that whilst it is good to inform the public of the challenges faced by various provinces, it may be worthwhile to also educate them about the good efforts and progress being made in respective provinces. In this way readers would have a balanced view of a given situation. The situation in the provinces is not what the author tries to impose on the minds of the average readers who have no access to other sources of information to verify what he said. Perhaps when such articles are sent for publication, the Editor may in future make a bit of efforts to seek clarification in order to lend more credibility to the stories. We should all strive not to misinform the public so that they maintain trust in us as good citizens.
I must once again thank the provincial premiers and their hard-working officers who have been working tirelessly under difficult conditions to deliver tangible infrastructures in our communities. I must also thank the Solomon Islands Government for its visionary leadership for not only creating PGSP and its PCDF mechanism to strengthen the institutional capabilities of the nine provinces but also for mainstreaming it into SIG fiscal transfer system.