As questions circulate about the likelihood that the Democratic Coalition for Change Government will reintroduce the Anti-Corruption Bill withdrawn in Parliament this week, some are taking action instead of waiting for an answer.
Casper Fa’asala, Acting General Secretary of the Solomon Islands National Council of Women, called a meeting Thursday for members of civil society organisations and concerned citizens to discuss ways to revive the bill.
“Anti-corruption is a national issue,” Mr Fa’asala said. “It is an issue that the Solomon Islands National Council of Women is also concerned about as a body working with civil society organisations and women in the country, who are often victims of our leaders’ decisions.”
But those who filled the Honiara YWCA conference room for the meeting represented more than women’s interests.
A doctor, activist, lawyer and leaders from the village level to provincial constituencies shared concerns and planned a way forward at the meeting.
Mr Fa’asala said understanding public opinion is an important precursor to the SINCW raising issues publicly.
“The council likes to have the views of individual women, individual leaders, youth, men as well, who are concerned about their families, communities and country,” he said.
To lead efforts of those at the meeting, a committee was established with: Caroline Mariu, a village training centre coordinator; Philistus Fafoi, who ran for office in 2010 for the East Malaita Constituency; Ishmael Nori, a volunteer and former Forum Solomon Islands International vice president, and Dr Huddie Namo, who operates a private medical practice.
Several others pledged support to the committee as ex officio members.
The committee chairman, Mr Namo, raised concerns during the meeting about the government’s reasons for withdrawing the Anti-Corruption Bill.
He said the DCCG’s main reason for withdrawing the bill — to strengthen it by incorporating recommendations from the Bills and Legislation Committee’s 2016 report on the ACB — is a cover for political motivations.
“Sogavare has been preaching this,” Mr Namo said. “Everywhere he goes he has been preaching this Anti-Corruption Bill.”
But he considers the withdrawal an abandonment of principle, not a show of support to root out corruption.
The Prime Minister is using anti-corruption as a catchphrase, he said.
“If it’s ever introduced into Parliament, it will not be the original document,” Mr Namo said of the bill. “Never. It will be a document that’s whitewashed.”
But in a statement, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretariat said the 2016 ACB had to be withdrawn before a new version of the bill that includes significant changes based on the BLC recommendations could be considered.
It said outcry over withdrawal of the bill has given the misleading impression that the government is backing away from the fight against corruption.
“This is a commitment — a crusade — the DCC Government had pledged to pursue and we will deliver on it as we have promised in our manifesto,” the Prime Minister said in the statement.
To ensure that promise is kept, the civil society committee adopted a set of resolutions to pressure the government and reintroduce the ACB on the floor of Parliament after it resumes from special adjournment on 9 October.
Among the committee’s resolutions is a petition to urge the government to reintroduce the bill, and consideration of introducing the bill through a private Member of Parliament’s motion.
The committee plans to draw on civil society networks to garner support in Honiara as well as in provincial centres. Organising a protest also made the list of actions, but many expressed fears about opportunists interfering.
Ella Kauhue, SINCW president, reminded the group that it will take time to realise many of their objectives.
“If we really want to do this, we have to shake the government,” Ms Kauhue said. “And when we shake the government, this nation is shaking.”
She said it is not about violence but rather about civil society taking direct action.
Though the meeting and resolutions focused on the anti-corruption legislation, Mr Fa’asala said that is not the only issue concerning the SINCW and other civil society organizations in the country.
He said constructive thinking about the future of the government and nation was an overarching aim of the meeting.
“It is a quiet war, that I would say, between the citizens and the state at the moment,” Mr Fa’asala said. “And therefore, it is up to us to tell people the right messages in order to maintain our peace and harmony in Solomon Islands.”
By Merinda Valley