Few RMI Lawmakers Attend UNDP Accountability Workshop

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Useful discussions about financial oversight sparsely attended

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, June 25, 2014) – A two-day United Nations Development Program accountability workshop in Majuro produced "good discussions" about financial oversight but saw few members of parliament attend.

Fewer than a third of the 33 MPs showed up the first morning, and only six turned out Tuesday for a program requested by the Marshall Islands parliament for its members.

"We invited every member more than twice, and followed up with phone calls and text messages," said Public Accounts Chairman Sen. Kenneth Kedi Tuesday who expressed disappointment at the turnout.

The point of the workshop was to "build the capacity of the members of Nitijela (parliament) to better understand the duties of Nitijela to provide financial oversight of public expenditures."

Still, the few MPs who did attend said the meeting produced useful discussion about raising the bar for accountability of public money.

Finance officers from various government ministries as well as staff from the Auditor General’s Office attended the program Monday and Tuesday.

"There is no quick fix to corruption," said former MP and trade union leader from the Solomon Islands Joses Tuhanuku, who was a resource person for the workshop. "But you have to start somewhere and fight it."

Despite the poor attendance, Tuhanuku said the UNDP-assisted workshop was an important step for the Marshall Islands in addressing corruption. "The fact that the Marshall Islands hosted this workshop means they want to talk about the issue," he said.

A corruption scandal involving bribery for contracts at the Majuro hospital has seen several individuals charged in the High Court in the past two months. It is the second major incident of theft of government funds to hit the Ministry of Health in three years.

"You can’t eliminate corruption — it’s a part of human society," said Tuhanuku. "But the point is to control it."

He said corruption affects every country in the world, but its effects in developing nations are far worse than in rich countries.

"Corruption is the biggest enemy of poor people in the third world," he said. "If there is corruption in Australia, services are still intact. But in the Solomon Islands, there are no drugs in clinics or textbooks in the schools. There are more reasons to fight corruption in the third world."

The UNDP is providing similar accountability workshops in many other Pacific islands.

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