Solomons Politicians Allegedly Taking Money From Rural Fund

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Officials supposedly demanding cash for ‘constituency payments’

By Alfred Sasako

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Aug. 1, 2012) – Solomon Islands politicians appear to have found a way round Treasury requirements that funding from the SB$50 million-a-year [US$6.8 million] Rural Livelihood Fund be paid directly to suppliers instead of through Members of Parliament (MP).

Each Constituency is allocated SB$1 million [US$135,100] in Rural Livelihood Funding, which is tax-payer funded, each year. This money is intended for micro-project funding in all 50 Constituencies.

The only requirement is that no hard cash be provided to MPs from this source.

Instead, MPs are required to provide quotes for projects to be funded to the Ministry of Rural Development and Indigenous Affairs.

Payments would then be made directly to the supplier and MPs would simply collect the items on order.

However, sources claimed some politicians have now found a way round this requirement in an attempt to get their hands on the hard cash.

Earlier this year, for example, several MPs placed their orders for solar units and in some cases, iron roofing through a newly created company, said to be operating from a house in the outskirts of Honiara.

"These MPs authorized the Ministry of Rural Development and Indigenous Affairs to approve the orders and to pay the company the value of each order," sources familiar with the elaborate scheme said.

"One MP placed an order worth about SB$900,000 [US$121,590]. The other ordered solar units valued at around SB$400, 000 [US$54,040]. I guess there’s nothing wrong with this as it is in line with the Treasury requirements," one source said.

"The problem is that when these huge orders arrived and payments were made, MPs marched up to the company and demanded their Constituency money be reimbursed," the source said. It is not clear if the company had relented.

It is understood however the company has refused to reimburse MPs directly and instead opted to reimburse the Ministry if MPs insisted with their demand for the reimbursements.

Sources familiar with the elaborate scheme say the practice is widespread and is entrenched in just about every industry and service sector.

The use of the Rural Livelihood Fund for solar purchases appears to be a duplication as solar funding is appropriated separately under the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification.

This year for example, some SB$10 million [US$1.4 million] was allocated in the 2012 Development Budget for solar lighting.

Sources have confirmed that this money had been shared amongst MPs, with each having received some SB$188, 000 [US$25,398] apiece.

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