20 May 2016
From the High Commissioner's Desk : Standing together against corruption
“Corruption is evil.”
Those were the words spoken by Prime Minister Sogavare during his public address on International Anti-Corruption Day last December. And he’s right.
People talk about corruption a lot in Solomon Islands. One of the hardest things about dealing with corruption is that it is, by its nature, often hard to see. Like cancer, we may not be able to see it but we know it’s there and we know it’s harming us.
Another problem with corruption is that it’s easy for the perpetrators to convince themselves that it’s a victimless crime. It’s not like stealing from someone’s house; it’s more subtle than that. The victim isn’t any identifiable person, but ‘the government’ , ‘the people’, or maybe ‘donors'.
Unfortunately though, corruption does have real victims. Mostly they’re the poor, the sick, the weak or the voiceless.
When corrupt officials collude to defraud funds from the health system, that means less medicine for sick people in rural areas. Real people - individual Solomon Islanders - suffer because the medicine they needed wasn’t available.
When there’s fraud in the education system, that means less money for school books and school facilities. As a result, real children receive a lower standard education than they should, a legacy that’ll limit their options for the rest of their lives.
And when donors like Australia see fraud occurring in our aid programs, we have to divert money away from services and spend it on extra financial controls. So instead of spending that money on health, education, infrastructure or rural development, we spend it on extra accountants to try to prevent more fraud. Of course we’d rather not have to do that, but those who commit acts of corruption leave us with no choice.
So corruption does hurt real people in real ways. Just as it holds back development, deters foreign investors and robs the country of prosperity.
But all isn’t lost. Corruption can be overcome if good people stand together and refuse to accept it. I recently had the honour of meeting 43 Solomon Islanders who’d completed a Certificate IV Course in Government Investigations, funded and organised by the Australian aid program. They’re now well-equipped to detect and investigate fraud within government systems. Hopefully they’l make like harder and more uncomfortable for anyone engaged in corruption in Solomon Islands. As I said to these 43 new anti-corruption warriors, they are now on the front line, defending ordinary Solomon Islanders from the scourge of corruption.
Other Solomon Islanders are taking a stand of their own. I’m always impressed with Transparency Solomon Islands and their determination to shine a bright light into the dark corners where corruption tries to hide. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, too, are tackling corruption with increasing skill and doggedness. And I know that many other people - in civil society, in business, in the public service and in parliament - are doing what they can to stamp out corruption. I am proud to stand with them, against the corrupt and in defence of ordinary Solomon Islanders.