Posted by: nativeiowan | July 31, 2009

press release 30/7/09

The Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) held a members meeting on Thursday 30th July to discuss the current debate surrounding the Parliamentary Entitlements and increasing the maximum number of seats in Parliament to 70.

The main issue of contention here is good governance. Our MPs are elected to Government in order to serve the people who elected them.  The Solomon Islands is underdeveloped and relies upon foreign aid for economic survival. What is desperately needed is good leadership from our MPs, who must be dedicated to improving the country, be it in terms of economic or social development.

However, what the public witnesses time and time again is the absence of a motivation to develop the nation. Instead MPs are currently increasing their entitlements in the midst of a global recession and national government budget crisis.

The Minister of Finance, who was one of the MPs on the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission (PEC), gave a speech to the SICCI members in May this year. During his speech he outlined the seriousness of the government’s financial position saying, “The Solomon Islands is confronting worsening current account deficits and a slowing economy.” He assured the SICCI members that his Government “have taken steps to bring the budget back into balance, ensuring that the Government continues to be able to meet its commitment to delivering services to its people”.

Taxes have been raised on certain items, which impacts the private sector and their customers alike. The Minister informed the Chamber that Government spending has been cut back by a “10% reservation on 2009 recurrent expenditure across all Ministries.” These actions have negative consequences but taken in the context of a budget crisis and economic slowdown seem reasonable. What does not seem reasonable is for MPs to increase their own entitlements, despite the fact that they have already acknowledged a serious shortfall in government funds.

The Minister of Finance went on to discuss how some thought that increases in spending were necessary for growth. He said, “This shows a misunderstanding of how serious the cash problems are at the moment. The Government must act prudently to ensure essential services continue to be funded.”

Parliament has subsequently passed a new bill increasing the maximum number of seats in Parliament to 70. There seemed to be little concern for the intense public debate outside of Parliament. There was no explanation of how an increase in MPs is to be funded. Once again the Government does not seem to be concentrating its efforts on the effective management of the nation.   There are more pressing issues to address than remote areas being made into separate constituencies.

Such issues include various economic problems that require reforms in land, labour law and tax to name a few areas.  Social problems persist and will get worse if not dealt with now. The offices of GPPOL, a major investor in the Solomon Islands, have been burnt down, for the second time. The SICCI urges the authorities to make all possible efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. The underlying issues that result in individuals committing arson and risking the departure of a major investor and employer must be addressed as a priority. Security in general is a persistent problem. The cost of doing business in the Solomon Islands is too high. Water and electricity provision is poor with frequent interruptions. Inter island transport is poor. Some of these issues are being tackled but mostly by donors and aid agencies.

When the public perceives the Government to be grossly self-serving then civil unrest becomes a real possibility.  Often it is the private sector that becomes the target for civil unrest, despite the Government being the source of frustration. The SICCI strongly cautions the Government against behaviour that sends the message to the public that MPs’ interests come before those of the public. The Government and Parliamentarians must be seen to be making decisions based on democratic principles. The sentiment of the public must be taken into account. The interests of the nation must be the primary focus.

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