Corruption Hinders Development in Aviation

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Pothholes at Lata Airport in Temotu province…Photo...Teddy Kafo

SOLOMON Islands will be celebrating its 40th Independence Anniversary on 7th July 2018. Forty years is sufficient time for any developing country to accomplish and realize its development plans. Particularly the development and improvement of its infrastructures. Sadly, in our case we are still on a snail’s pace compared to our pacific neighbors.

Given today’s progressively globalized world, an essential area (in any country – including Solomon Islands) that needs well-developed infrastructures is in the aviation sector.

The development of aviation major infrastructures (or lack of) in the country has over the years been subjected to some public commentaries, particularly with regards to the various facilities we have – both international and domestic levels.

One of the frequently asked question from the general public is ‘why millions of dollars collected by Civil Aviation (MCA) each year is not reflected by the image and facilities provided at Henderson International Airport and our various domestic airstrips’.

Transparency Solomon Islands understands that currently, airfares go up by almost SBD80.00 effective May 2018. Say for example someone travelling from Honiara to Lata use to pay the sum of SBD2,466.00 but now is required to pay the sum of SBD2,541.00. A traveler from Honiara to Taro is now required to pay the sum of SBD2,147.00 instead of SBD2,072.00 (which would have been the cost if he/she had purchased a ticket earlier this year.) It is fair to say that travelling to Brisbane is cheaper than travelling to some of our provinces.

To put it into perspective, the travelling public would expect upgraded and better airport facilities and services (not only to cater for international travelers but more importantly, for our domestic travelers) in return for the increased costs.

Honiara International Airport.

Do we have sufficient funds to deliver such expectations? TSI have sighted a report carried out by the Office of the Auditor General (2017 OAG Report). An audit into the Civil Aviation Special Fund for 2013 – 2014. This fund is mainly to meet the cost of maintaining airport infrastructures and facilities. The special fund draws its revenue mostly from navigation fees paid in by aircrafts operating within our airspace.

According to this AOG 2017 report, there was abuse and mismanagement of these funds, direct conflict of interest in approving and offering of lucrative Aviation service contracts to family members and friends.

Huge unauthorized payments to the tune of SBD2,690,317.38 was disclosed by the report (SBD1,634,051.96 for 2013 and $1,056,265.42 for 2014 respectively).

Questionable deals and contract as follows were reported by the OAG report, i) contract for maintenance of the Civil Aviation grounds and supply of stationaries to family members, ii) Relative directly offered a contract worth more than SBD422,000 (US$53,000) to supply the Aviation department with its IT needs (despite the fact that this relative is not on the list of national preferred supplier of IT service for the government). Iii) This same relative contracted to supply two vehicles (Toyota RAV4) to Aviation at a total cost of SBD263,230.00 [US$33,000]. According to the OAG report, this relative/person was ‘not a genuine vehicle dealer’.

These OAG findings led to the eventual demise of the former Civil Aviation Director, who was responsible for the management of the said Civil Aviation Special Fund as well as being one of the two signatories to the Special Fund bank account. The other signatory was the then Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Solomon Islands (CAASI) board.

The audit report further shows failure to retire imprests worth thousands of dollars for overseas trips. It also stated members of the CAASI board paid themselves exorbitant travelling allowances during overseas travels.

The report shows that payment vouchers were not counter signed by authorized signatories and not duly approved and endorsed. Basic requirements pursuant to the Financial Instructions chapter 7 that requires PVs to be approved and signed were ignored and the system was bypassed to benefit only a handful of people.

This report shows misuse of public money, misappropriation of special fund, non-compliance to the Financial Instructions, fraudulent activities, theft of public funds, abuse of power and misconduct in office.

The Civil Aviation Special Fund was established within the Civil Aviation Department to help maintain aviation infrastructures in the country in order to meet international standard.

The report further shows that in 2014, the CAASI board decided to hold three of its meetings in Brisbane, that cost more than SBD608,524.62 [US $77,000]. According to the OAG report, Aviation could have saved that money had these meetings were held in Honiara.

This report shows that although there is sufficient funds under the Civil Aviation Special Fund to adequately meet the maintenance of our aviation infrastructures, our travelling public can attest to the fact most (if not all) our domestic airstrips (provinces) need some urgent revamp. How and where is this fund spent?

The consequences of corruption in the country is severe. Corruption gravely undermines our development. Solomon Islands citizens deserve better.

Transparency Solomon Islands urges relevant authorities to take action on corruption that suffocates infrastructure development under the Ministry of Communication and Aviation.

TSI welcomes the Auditor General’s Special Audit Report into the Civil Aviation Fund 2013 to 2014. It speaks volume to ensure officers dipping their hands into public funds and use it for their own benefit must face justice.

TSI calls on responsible authorities to look into similar allegations in recent years. The Auditor General’s Office did a great job in the fight against corruption. It identifies corrupt practices and conducts. All relevant institutions must work together to curb corruption.