ON TUESDAY LAST WEEK the High Court of Solomon Islands ruled in favor of several concerned citizens who had stood up to challenge the decision by the Members of Parliament Entitlements Commission (MPEC) after they amended regulations in 2015 to increase MP funds as well as allocate funds towards other activities that also cover their families.
It happened in the month of April 2015, the decision by the MPEC aroused discontent among the people of Solomon Islands and triggered expressions of concern from various groups and leading individuals.
Some of the amendments that were included regulated that the salaries of MP’s were now tax free, and that a new health and medical care scheme for all MPs also included their families. Furthermore all the MPs, and their families, were entitled to life insurance with a reliable insurer company from within or outside the Solomon Islands and the list goes on.
When this amendments were made public knowledge the Transparency International chapter in the Solomon Islands felt that this was an unfair decision, and raised that this amendments were not made in the interest of the citizens and the public servants of the Solomon Islands. Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) then launched a petition against the amendments, commonly known as PER 2015, and called for public support.
Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) was also part of this campaign and called for support, through the media, in Vanuatu and especially to the Solomon Islanders working or studying in Vanuatu. The campaign encouraged the public to participate in the petition so that justice could be served in the Solomon Islands, the petition recorded over a thousand signatures.
The successful claimants outside the High Court. (Photo provided by Transparency Solomon Islands.)
Eventually, several concerned Solomon Islanders took a more proactive approach. They sought legal action and fought the MPEC regulations in court, and on Tuesday this week, which is almost a year after the formation of the PER 2015, they won their case in court against the Members of Parliament (Entitlements) Commission (MPEC).
Transparency International Vanuatu has since send a letter to a claimant in the case, Ruth Lioqula, who is also the Executive Director of Transparency Solomon Islands to congratulate her, and her fellow claimants, on a campaign job well done.
“I wish to share my encouragement, and that of my office, to you and to those that believe in the values of good governance and anti-corruption that we must continue to fight the good fight” Dr. Tokon, the Chairman of Transparency International Vanuatu, expressed. “Our passion is ignited by the interests of the people and the core values of our nations, and we use this passion to motivate us, as well give us the strength to move forward, even when we know that the fighting will only get steeper. Amongst all our national and personal difficulties, we must be content that God has His own ways of letting us know that he is still in control,” he emphasized.
Ruth, as reported by BBC, stated that the court ruling is a “victory for taxpayers” and that the MPEC failed to take into account the overall state of the economy before recommending such generous benefits for MPs.
The citizens who took up this case were Waita Ben Tabusasi, Derick Rawecliff Manu’ari, Anthony Vernon Hughes, Graham Mark, and Ruth Lioqula.
According to the High Court of Solomon Islands Ruling Statement on Tuesday this week; the court declared that the regulations enforced in April 2015 by the MPEC are unconstitutional and null and void.
Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer, who presided over the case, stated that “there are guidelines to facilitate the work of a Member of Parliament in his representational capacity and performance of other duties towards his constituents and does not give MP’s a blanket right to dispense cash or money “willy-nilly” or for any sort of reason. These are not private funds to be dispensed with at will and pleasure, these are people’s money and must be accounted for in a plain, transparent and responsible manner,” the Solomon’s Islands Newspaper Island Sun reported this week.
This successful case involving concerned citizens and the Solomon Islands MPEC should be an encouragement the people of Vanuatu to continue to challenge questionable issues within the government to ensure there is transparency and accountability.