During the tensions, there was a widespread failure of Solomon Islands Government core administrative processes which affected all aspects of government business, including the delivery of services across the country. Restoring Solomon Islands’ public sector and accountability agency functions and democratic processes was identified by Solomon Islands Government, the Pacific Islands Forum and RAMSI participating countries as a priority for the Mission and addressing these issues was made part of RAMSI’s mandate.
The RAMSI Machinery of Government Program commenced in 2005. It was an ambitious program that aimed to enhance the capacity of the Solomon Islands public service, to enable it to deliver services more effectively to Solomon Islanders. The Program sought to strengthen the Solomon Islands Government’s capacity to meet their responsibilities and improve coordination and processes across government.
Initially, the Program had a wide remit and provided support to a range of Solomon Islands Government agencies. In the later years of the Program, support was rationalised to focus on public sector management, public accountability, electoral systems strengthening and increasing women’s representation in senior government decision-making.
As part of ‘transition’ the Machinery of Government Program was concluded on 1 July 2013. The development support that was delivered under this program was shifted to Australia and other donors.
During the tensions, democratic processes in Solomon Islands suffered. Parliamentary sittings were often brief and irregular. Attendance by Members of Parliament (MPs) was poor, and many of the key activities expected from Parliament, such as the scrutiny of legislation, were not being properly undertaken. Under the Program, a priority of RAMSI was to assist with the development of the National Parliament to ensure that it functioned well and fulfilled its representative, law-making and monitoring role and assist with strengthening the Solomon Islands electoral system, so it supported the conduct of free and fair elections.
The Parliamentary Strengthening Project was delivered in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as part of the Machinery of Government Program. The Project focussed on enhancing the procedures within the Solomon Islands National Parliament Office, improving the performance of Parliamentary Committees, enhancing the way Solomon Islands Parliament communicates and documents the work undertaken, and improving the Parliament’s corporate services. RAMSI’s assistance achieved a number of results:
- an increase in the number of Parliamentary Committee hearings from seven in 2004 to well over 100 in recent years;
- strengthened procedural support services for the Speaker, Clerk and MPs, setting precedents for parliamentary business and the application of Standing Orders;
- establishment of improved library, research and IT facilities for MPs;
- the installation of sound system in the parliamentary chambers, which has significantly improved radio and television broadcasts of parliamentary sittings; and
- launch of a parliamentary website, which includes daily Hansard documents for download.
RAMSI’s assistance to strengthen the electoral system under the Machinery of Government Program involved improving the status, structure, management and capacity of the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission, providing technical support to improve the electoral system and supporting voter and stakeholder awareness about democratic processes. With RAMSI’s assistance, a number of achievements were made:
- In 2010, the Solomon Islands Parliament passed an amendment to the country’s Electoral Act, providing the Electoral Commission with better powers to direct electoral officials.
- Improved ballot security procedures were implemented, such as indelible ink and ballot box security seals, which have helped to ensure voters only vote once, and that ballot papers are kept safe and secure.
- Solomon Islands voters are now significantly more aware of their electoral rights and obligations following extensive voter awareness activities by the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission.
These measures were all in place for the 2010 national elections, helping them to be declared ‘free and fair’ by international observers.
The program also facilitated early preparations for the introduction of the new national Biometric Voter Registration System which will ensure a new national electoral roll is in place for the 2014 national elections.
Strengthening and modernising the public service was one of the core challenges facing the Solomon Islands Government when RAMSI first arrived in 2003. There was little standardisation across government employment conditions, and regulations governing public servants’ performance were significantly out of date. Under the Machinery of Government Program, RAMSI provided assistance to the Solomon Islands Government to improve policies, procedures, systems and work practices, while simultaneously building the capacity of public officers to lead and manage a contemporary public service.
To achieve this RAMSI provided support to the Solomon Islands Ministry of Public Service, Public Service Commission and Institute of Public Administration and Management to help drive positive change within the Solomon Islands public service. Human resource practices and management skills were reviewed to ensure fair, equitable and appropriate human resource practices were used across the whole Solomon Islands Government.Government legislation, policies and guidelines related to recruitment were reviewed and updated.
In addition, RAMSI supported the Solomon Islands Government’s reform of the country’s Government Employee Housing scheme. RAMSI also provided assistance to the Solomon Islands Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, with a focus on strengthening the processes of Cabinet decision-making and the professional development of Permanent Secretaries.
RAMSI’s assistance in strengthening the Solomon Islands Public Service has made a number of achievements. Some of these include:
- The tabling of the Public Service Code of Conduct in the Solomon Islands Parliament in December 2009. This provided a minimum standard of conduct and work performance for public officers. Public servants also undertook training informing them of their responsibilities within this Code.
- An HR Management Strategy for the Solomon Islands Government was developed, with RAMSI’s assistance. This strategy, approved by the Solomon Islands Cabinet in November 2009, represented an important milestone for the strengthening of the public service.
- New HR Management software was implemented in the Ministry of Public Service. This software provided a central point for managing staff data, and ensures the Solomon Islands Government has a central point for managing government employee information.
- A strategic management team was established within the Ministry of Public Service, which continues to provide strong direction and leadership within the Ministry.
- A new Public Service Rental Scheme database was implemented, containing full details of all rental scheme leases, including information relating to landlords and tenants, property details and condition, financial information, title registry verification, and internal Ministry approvals. This database is in addition to other significant improvements to government housing data, with the Solomon Islands Government now able to collect full details of government-owned houses, illegal occupancies, and illegal structures.
Under the Machinery of Government Program, improving women’s participation in Solomon Islands Government became a priority in 2007. Under-representation of women in both Government and the public service in Solomon Islands was a problem when RAMSI arrived, and remains a problem today. It is compounded by traditional gender roles in Solomon Islands, to which women are often confined to domestic support roles, and a lack of men and women willing to publicly champion the cause. It remains a challenge for bilateral development assistance partners.
RAMSI’s work under the Program focused on the removal of many of the formal barriers that held back women’s participation and representation in government, including through advocating genuine change to policies, legislation and employment terms, and strengthening organisations that could foster women’s leadership development. RAMSI worked alongside and assisted in improving the capacity of a range of organisations including the Solomon Islands Ministry of Women, Youth and Children’s Affairs and the National Council of Women, with the focus on breaking down the barriers that prevented women’s advancement to leadership positions.
RAMSI helped to improve the conditions and opportunities for women within the Solomon Islands public service, with the aim of creating long-term women leaders within the Solomon Islands government. In addition, as part of RAMSI’s efforts to strengthen the electoral system, the Mission improved electoral and parliamentary processes within Solomon Islands to reduce the obstacles to women’s participation in elected government.
Prior to RAMSI’s arrival, corruption had undermined Solomon Islanders’ ability to govern their nation effectively. The organisations established to provide the checks and balances in government were badly understaffed, poorly funded and had almost ceased to function.
While it had conducted investigations of complaints, the Office of the Ombudsman had not undertaken any major investigations since 1997 – and had only ever conducted one in its lifetime (Special Report No.5 of 1997). By 2003, it had a backlog of over 2,300 unresolved cases. The Auditor-General’s office and Leadership Code Commission were faring little better: the Commission had not completed any investigations, and the Auditor-General had been reduced to a staff of two with no audit reports tabled in Parliament since 1996.
Under the Machinery of Government Program, RAMSI provided support to Solomon Islands Government to combat weak administration and improper behaviour through the strengthening of these important accountability institutions. RAMSI advisers worked with counterparts in each institution to strengthen local capacity to ensure that any reports into maladministration were investigated properly.
RAMSI’s assistance under the Program has improved each institution’s capacity to investigate the conduct of leaders, improved the standard of public service administration, allowed for proper auditing of government finances and performance, raised awareness of their roles and built public demand for accountable government.
As a result of this assistance, 2009 was the first time Solomon Islands Provincial Government audits had been completed on time in the history of the Office of the Auditor-General. Regular auditing of the financial records of state-owned enterprises such as Solomon Islands Water Authority and Solomon Islands Electricity Authority also now takes place.
With the support of RAMSI, changes were made to the legislation underpinning the Office of the Auditor-General, Office of the Ombudsman and the Leadership Code Commission, improving the efficiency in these organisations and giving each greater power to conduct investigations. RAMSI also funded the building of Isaac Qoloni House, to house the Leadership Code Commission and Office of the Ombudsman in Central Honiara. This building includes a purpose-designed hearing room, similar to a court room, where the Commissioners can sit to conduct inquiries into allegations of misconduct by leaders.
The Program achieved a number of significant outcomes towards strengthening democratic governance, and improving basic Solomon Islands Government functions and government accountability in Solomon Islands. These include:
- Strengthened elections management, with the 2010 national elections declared ‘free and fair’ by international observers.
- Since late 2012, all 27 Permanent Secretaries are being held publicly accountable for their performance, through the introduction of performance contracts signed with the Prime Minister and Chairman of the Public Service Commission.
- Public service recruitment and performance management processes are more transparent and merit-based, with all vacant positions now advertised for open competition and managed centrally by the Public Service Commission.
- The Office of the Auditor General is undertaking challenging and controversial performance audits, including on topics such as overseas scholarships and constituency development funds.
- The Office of the Ombudsman is able to securely manage investigations and collect disaggregated data on cases (including by year, province and type of complaint).
- A Policy Coordination Unit was established within the Ministry of Women Youth Community and Family Affairs to enable improved coordination and implementation of gender equality policies across Solomon Islands Government.
- The tabling of the public service Code of Conduct in Solomon Islands Parliament in 2009 represented a major milestone towards improving the performance and integrity of the Solomon Islands public service.
Solomon Islands Government central ministries and agencies still require external assistance following ‘transition’; however, through RAMSI support, their capacity has been strengthened to the point that they are able to lead on progressing their own, more ambitious, governance reform agenda. Bilateral partners continue to work with Solomon Islands Government to provide machinery of government support.