Unlikely but true: despite being the poorest country in the Pacific, the Solomon Islands could become a model for executing transparency and anti-corruption reforms. After a long day of conversation in Honiara — including a sitdown with the prime minister’s chief of staff — here’s what we learned from yesterday’s Global Integrity Dialogues workshop.
The latest in the Dialogue workshop series was an unqualified success, bringing together a diverse mix of key stakeholders from government, civil society, and development partners to debate prospects for governance reform in a country facing crucial decisions this year in the context of putting into place key anti-corruption safeguards.
High level engagement…
This workshop was notable for the senior level participation from government, including the auditor general, the ombudsman, the head of the Ministry of Finance’s Financial Integrity Unit, and the prime minister’s chief of staff (who also serves as point person on the government’s reform agenda). We couldn’t have asked for better participation.
What made the event in Honiara particularly productive was the timing. Government is currently in the midst of a series of crucial decisions regarding accountability and transparency reforms. The workshop allowed for an honest, evidence-based debate about the trade-offs that will have to be made in a country where human and financial capital are so limited. It was that core theme – the need to prioritize reforms, focus on sequencing, and identify low-hanging fruit – that drove the day’s discussion.
It led to a number of concrete conclusions that will likely be boiled down into the final consensus conclusions and recommendations, including:
- The need for government to sign up to both the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a way to demonstrate political will as well as unlock financial and technical assistance;
- The need to reduce discretion in the procurement and tendering processes in the short-run, even if broader public financial management reform will take years to implement. Participants brainstormed around ways to implement simple transparency measures (such as making procurement decisions publicly accessible) as a means to stem the tide of wasted resources flowing out of government; and
- Setting aside some “best practice” reforms that were simply too resource-intensive or too sensitive in the short-term to be practicable (two examples were enacting a Freedom of Information mechanism and eliminating the routinely-abused Rural Constituency Development Funds granted to MPs).
Despite the huge structural challenges facing Solomon Islands, we came away from the workshop encouraged that the political will exists to see through what could be a significant reform program in the coming 12 to 18 months. Despite being the poorest country in the Pacific, Solomons could quite literally become a model for the possible in terms of implementing effective transparency and accountability reforms where resources are limited.
— Norah Mallaney and Nathaniel Heller