11 Jun 2013

Solomon Islands government challenged on farmers' funds

4:58 pm on 11 June 2013

The Solomon Islands government has come under criticism for the way it distributes funds to farmers.

Transparency Solomon Islands says instead of allocating the US$4.6 million of its Cocoa and Coconut support funds through its own channels, it is sending it to each constituency through MPs.

It says given that last year only four MPs gave an account of their spending, the scheme gives rise to corruption and leaves farmers vulnerable.

Alex Perrottet reports:

ALEX PERROTTET: The Solomon Islands Agriculture Ministry has allocated the funds to farmers, but the transparency watchdog is worried they won't see the money. Instead of administering the project funds through its 180 officers nationwide, the ministry has decided to channel it through MPs. Daniel Fenua, an executive officer at Transparency Solomon Islands, says that makes little sense when the officers are the ones dealing with farmers.

"DANIEL FENUA: We've got some complaints out there from the public, the farmers out there that some of the money they applied for through the agriculture, they didn't receive on those projects. Now if they give it through the constituencies more problems will be happening unless they have a mechanism in place."

ALEX PERROTTET: But the minister disagrees. David Tome says the insinuations of corruption have no meat and the system is secure.

DAVID TOME: That's incorrect. The statement they say is incorrect. It is not budgeted through the MPs, but through the constituency. And we have a mechanism in place to disburse to the farmers. I am convinced that the money will be received by the farmers. That will be administered by my ministry.

ALEX PERROTTET: The director of the Solomon Islands Development Trust, Manedika Longden, says he doesn't know of any farmers that have complained, but it's important they be dealt with more directly and have more consultation with officials.

MANEDIKA LONGDEN: The presence of the field officers needs to be, to put more effort to the villages. They need to do more visits, more training programmes, more information sharing to clear out the doubts.

ALEX PERROTTET: He says the success of the project will depend on the accountability of the members of parliament and the Constituent Development Officers. But Mr Fenua says these officers and the MPs are the only ones required to sign cheques and there is very little scrutiny. He says after last year's project, only four MPs submitted their accounts.

DANIEL FENUA: Just look at these two signatories. There will be no transparency in it, and it opens up more room for corruption to happen because only the two of them will sign.

ALEX PERROTTET: Manedika Longden says before development can happen, the farmers themselves need to be empowered with information.

MANEDIKA LONGDEN: Villagers need to be informed earlier, earlier, in advance and be given this information in advance before all this development takes place. And we have been talking about this information sharing for three decades. It's about empowerment comes first before development - that is the bottom line.

ALEX PERROTTET: The minister, David Tome, says the funds will be shown clearly through published annual records.