HCC urged to Explain Lock-up Shops tender

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The many issues surrounding the Honiara City Council management’s mismanagement and abuse of power for personal gain, conflicts of interest, inside trading etc. no longer commands the headlines of the media both print media and the broadcast media. Transparency Solomon Islands hopes that investigations are now being conducted to bring closure to these and assure the rate payers that any mismanagement, and conflict of interest will be brought against those involved.  But the residents and rate payers of Honiara City Council have many more issues that they need explanation on from the City Mayor, City Clerk, and its management. Here we again raise the Lock-up shops at the central market issue that many would like cleared and some honest answer to be provided by the Mayor and City Clerk.

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In this regard Transparency Solomon Islands is again urging and calling on the Honiara City Council (HCC) to explain the allocation of Lock-up shops at the central market in response to the many allegations of corruption.  These allegations do not speak well of the current HCC administration nor build trust in Honiara City Residents whose power they exercise including business sector.

Complaints as well as information made available to Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) indicates that the process for the allocation of Lock-up shops to applicants was corrupted or manipulated for the benefit of HCC management and their cronies.  The corrupt manner in which these lock-up shops were allocated has reached a level where it can no longer be tolerated nor accepted and seriously need to be investigated and dealt with. An investigation will expose those involved as well as put rumours to rest if these allegations are false.

The allegations raised are leveled at some city councilors and few senior staff of HCC who are alleged to be involved in allocating these lock-up shops outside of the proper tender process.  It is alleged that the winning bidders do so in exchange for cash or other forms of benefits to some city councilors and few senior staff of HCC.  This practice according to complaints raised dates back to 2008 and this is why it needs to be dealt with now and make the process transparent at all times.

Here is the story of one complainant and TSI quotes “ I have been applying several times over the years but was never given the chance and later come to learn of the corrupt culture that continues to hinders a fair and transparent manner of allocating lock-up shops. There are 15 lock-up shops and four kitchens at the central market and the interesting thing is that those people operating the shops and kitchens can be traced back to their connections to the HCC councilors or senior staff, either as close relative or a friend. He added that a friend of his was successful and the way he did it is to give money in return for a favorable outcome and he was selected to operate a lock-up shop at the central market.  This is now the practice of the day”.

The allegations raised in Transparency Solomon Islands office is that if you apply you must know who the people are you will have to give money to in order to be allocated a lock-up shop. The going price expected by these corrupted officials in positions of power range between $30,000.00 to $100,000.  It is alleged that these group of Honiara City Councilors and Officials normally sell this to their friends and families or to any interested people who have the money locking out those that needed income generating to pay for school fees, water and have no other means of income generating. Not that all applicants would be successful but a fair and transparent process would give everyone who apply an equal opportunity.

Reports revealed that two persons operating the lock-up shop been there since year 2009, which raised the question of fairness for hundreds of applicants been applied but the same people continue to be given the lock-up shops. There are women and youth organisations and other organisations that are trying to fund-raise to support their work, filling up a gap that Honiara City Council and the Government are unable to be active in and they should also be considered for these shops.  After all the prime sites are occupied by foreigners and for the poorest of Honiara residents to raise some funds to support them and their children, you find these at the graveyard at Kola ridge along the road by the sea front etc. unsafe locations from traffic. All look forward to a chance to be given the lockup shop for at least a year, but again another tier  of our government system fails Honiara residents miserably through the corrupt system they allegedly applied in the allocation of the lockup shops in this instance.

It is the practice now that the tender process for the lock-up shops with regard to advertising seemingly legalizing the allocation of the shops. According to information, before the advertisement went out those within the selection committee had already pre-determined who the successful applicants will be in exchange for cash benefits to them individually.

It is also alleged that one senior officer of HCC who is also a member of the selection committee awarded himself took two lock-up shops where he eventually sold one for a vehicle and another for cash. These allegations are serious just like the one concerning vehicles and fire distinguisher, whereby it is alleged that straight after these deals were made the City Clerk purchased a brand-new vehicle.  These must be investigated not only to find out the truth and charge those involved but to also clear them from these allegations.  The investigations should not only look into this but extend it to properties that these officials own with a view to answering the question of illicit wealth.  Transparency Solomon Islands urges the Leadership Code Commission, Independent Commission Against Corruption and other relevant authorities to look into these.  Honiara residents need better feeder roads, rubbish collection, and processes and systems that are transparent, and a closure to these allegations.

Transparency Solomon Islands urges the City Clerk to respond to the following questions raised by Honiara Residents the rate payers of the city: –

  1. What is the length of time that an awardee of the lock-up shop is expected to operate the lock up shop?
  2. When the lock-up shops come up for advertisement to interested applicants, are the existing or current awardees required to apply as well
  3. What are the criteria for continuing an awardee of the lock up shop to the next period?
  4. Why is it that certain people continue to run lock-up shops without giving a chance for new people? What is so special about them and those not renewed.
  5. Is it a requirement under HCC regulations that lock-up shops have to be allocated to those who have close connections to either the councilor or a senior HCC officer?
  6. Why is it that a number of lock-up shops are allocated to those coming from the same region within a province while some provinces are not considered no other regions within a province.
  7. What is the justification for allocating two lockup shop to one person?
  8. What are the requirements for a person to be deemed as qualified to run a lock-up shops at the central market? What are the selection criteria for consideration for the lockup shop lease?
  9. What is the rationale behind some shops being won by one person during the bid but operated by another person?
  10. What are the checks and balances in place to ensure those who win the bid are the ones running the shops?  The question is are they allowed to resale these shops after winning the bid.

Transparency Solomon Islands call on HCC in the first place to curb these corrupt practices in relationship to the allocation of lock-up shops. HCC is urged to suspend the committee that deals with selections of applicants applying for the shops and investigate them. Make a public call for people to come forward and provide information.  To Honiara residents Transparency Solomon Islands calls on you to come forward and be counted by providing information on this to the relevant authorities.  Your failure to do so means you too are contributing to this corrupt practice and are equally guilty of these allegations.

The corrupt manner in which the allocation of lock up shops is done is becoming business as usual in HCC and their hope that new council will deal with it is a dream and not a reality as they continue the practice instead of curbing it.  The public knows but they are silent.  Transparency Solomon Islands commends those who are still raising this issue and advice that give the evidence and your story to the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Leadership Code Commission.

Transparency Solomon Islands recommended that there has to be a system put in place to minimize the chances for corruption to thrive in the process of allocating lock-up shops to bidders. Either remove the selection committee that scrutinize all applications submitted or allocate the shops according to 12 wards within Honiara or according to nine provinces of the country.

We believed that the current HCC administration can do better by addressing the ongoing dirty practices with regard to the allocation of lock-up shops by making the process free from interference by corrupt politicians of the council and HCC officials. Come up with a process that is  fair and transparent and needs and merit-based.  Transparency Solomon Islands applauds the work of those HCC Officials and politicians that try to do the right thing. 

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ISSUED BY TSI

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