Last month, Nathaniel and I linked up with colleagues in the Solomon Islands to conduct a day-long workshop as part of the Global Integrity Dialogues series. The workshop brought together local transparency advocates, key government officials, and a diverse range of anti-corruption experts; all of whom contributed their views on potential priorities in pursuit of a common, national-level anti-corruption agenda. The consensus-driven conclusions and recommendations have now been finalized and we want to thank all the participants for their contributions to the dialogue.
The Global Integrity Dialogue workshops provide the opportunity for a diverse group of participants to use the Global Integrity Report as a toolkit to inform policy agenda and to build common ground. In the Solomon Islands, we were lucky enough to have informed and influential individuals in attendance from the Ombudsman to the co-chairs of the government’s anti-corruption task force and many others.
With anti-corruption reforms, timing seems to be everything. Without the momentum that comes from political will, pro-transparency reforms are often times stalled or outright blocked. In the Solomon Islands, the impetus towards reform was palpable and initial prioritizing had clearly already occurred by the time Nathaniel and I arrived. John Keniapisia is the Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister’s Office and serves as co-chair of the Anti-Corruption Task Force. John opened the workshop saying the Dialogue was a “validating exercise” for the Task Force. Participants were able to use the Global Integrity Report to build upon the next-steps already sketched-out in the agenda towards national anti-corruption reform.
What are those next steps?
Here are the top 5 priorities identified by workshop participants:
1. Ongoing political reform efforts as key to any governance reform successes.
Solomon Islands’ weak and ever-shifting political party system needs to be strengthened and solidified in order for many of the anti-corruption and accountability reforms discussed to take root. The emphasis on political reform by the Solomon Islands government’s Anti-Corruption Task Force as a key priority was positively noted in this context. There was also consensus that reforms to promote greater transparency around the funding of political parties and candidates should not be left for another day but should be part and parcel of a broader political party reform effort. This was deemed especially important in light of the influence exercised by multinational extractive industry companies in Solomon Islands.
2. Reducing discretion in governmental policymaking was repeatedly identified as a priority for reform
The high level of discretion in decision making (both ministerial discretion and departmental discretion), coupled with poor transparency on decision-making processes across the board, were observed to be primary contributors to corruption within the Solomon Islands’ policymaking process. Participants noted that while reducing the discretion available to senior officials within government would take time given the systematic nature of such reforms, immediate steps to improve transparency on decisions could be implemented in the short-run which could have the effect of deterring potentially corrupt behavior and abuses of power. In this regard, participants agreed that, while it may be too early to implement comprehensive freedom of information legislation, interim measures such as increased publication of decisions and reasons for decision, raising awareness of what is already publicly available, making more information routinely available as a matter of policy rather than legislation, and increased information sharing between key government agencies could be effective in curbing the potential for corrupt behavior.
3. In the context of implementing key anti-corruption reforms, human resource constraints are equally as challenging as financial resource constraints.
While participants all agreed that greater financial resources are critical to support the governance reform agenda in Solomon Islands, participants were nearly unanimous in citing the lack of qualified human resources, particularly within key government agencies, as a major long-term impediment to reform. While on the one hand, increased salaries and conditions was considered necessary to retain staff and create incentives for ethical behaviour, on the other hand participants were worried about the financial impact of raising government salaries in the context of extremely limited budget resources.
4. Additional financial resources to support governance reform efforts could be uncovered through innovative reforms to streamline the public service.
Although all participants noted the serious budget constraints facing Solomon Islands (especially in light of the anticipated drop in revenue from the forestry sector in the coming years), they emphasized the need to “unlock” revenues from inefficient or underperforming areas of the public service as a means to redirect the country’s limited financial resources. One example discussed was to accelerate the work of the Public Service Commission to resolve hundreds of outstanding cases of public service personnel suspensions, which in many cases have resulted in suspended officials remaining on the public payroll for years without having worked a single day. Other participants suggested that signing onto international conventions such as the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) could unlock international technical and financial assistance in the context of implementing those commitments.
5. Being realistic and selective about which reforms to prioritize in the context of limited resources.
Participants repeatedly stressed the need to not take on a “laundry list” of reforms but instead to focus on selecting a few key reforms that, based on sound evidence, were deemed crucial to moving the reform agenda forward and were also affordable. They also sought to identify reforms that could result in positive “ripple effects” across the system, helping to catalyze other reforms. In this context, the Anti-Corruption Task Force’s priorities on political reform, public sector reform, private sector reform, and extractive industries was deemed a useful approach in the context of being selective and identifying priorities. Other politically sensitive reforms – such as overhauling legislators’ use of controversial Rural Constituency Development Funds – were deemed challenging for immediate action (though certainly not unimportant).
As noted in a previous post, Nathaniel and my experience in Honiara left us both optimistic about the potential for positive change in the Solomon Islands (and in the Pacific region more broadly).
To see the original Conclusions and Recommendations document and full list of participants, please see the Commons wiki.
— Norah Mallaney and Nathaniel Heller
— Image: Honiara by Francesco Osolemi (cc by/nc)