TSI Reply to PS Response to the ESP Leaked List
TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) thanked the Permanent Secretary (PS) of Finance, for his explanation on the amount of SBD$1,443,840.00 paid out of the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP). He explained that the public officers whose names were put against the amounts in the list were Imprest Holders for funds used to pay for work done by youths that were engaged on casual basis to carry out work as per his explanation carried in Government Communication Unit issued media statement.
Transparency Solomon Islands would like to remind the Permanent Secretary that his explanation fails to answer the question that must be answer. That question relates to the payment of so many imprests out of the Economic Stimulus Package. He has not denied that these payments were listed against the Economic Stimulus Package – period. Transparency Solomon Islands examination of the ESP funds is based on the intended use of the ESP.
It is also a pity that Government Communication Unit (GCU) fails to capture the body of the explanation in the title of their press release on this. TSI of course did its work and contacted the Director on the facts from the list leaked from his own office. The Director’s response was that it is correct to charge these imprests against the EPS because work done was related to the Economic Stimulus Package. TSI begs to differ for such a cost should have come out of other budget allocations of the Economic Reform Unit than the ESP package. The responses given so far have not addressed the question asked with regard to the public officials.
The responses given in social media by some of the imprest holders raises a lot of question. Some of these responses are: –
- If their [students] pay were to be included in government payroll it might attract tax deduction,
- Students are paid under ESP because government wanted to see a fair pricing is charged to Solomon Islands citizens,
- Casual workers not obligated to pay tax,
- Students do not have bank accounts, putting them on payroll would cause so many hassles,
- Government payroll is designed to cater for permanent employees and not casual,
- A lot of youths do not have valid bank accounts,
- The urgency of these made us some ERU [Economic Reform Unit] to be responsible holders of imprest etc.
These are but nonsensical and weak responses that indicate that either the head of ERU or the Permanent Secretary do not know what they are doing. This is not the first time that Solomon Islands Government has engaged casual workers. It has always paid them according to the provisions of the Financial Instructions and has always paid their NPF as well. With regard to tax, the tax threshold is $30,000.00 and anything above that would be taxable. When the list of retirement is provided the public can then be assured that they are indeed not paid more than that. If they are then both the Permanent Secretary and the Director of Economic Reform Unit have come up with this scheme to avoid paying taxes and the students NPF contribution. They have therefore breached the General Orders, the NPF Act and Financial Instruction.
Transparency Solomon Islands stands on its belief this use of ESP is totally contrary to what this fund is intended for. It is hoped that the Permanent Secretary will re-imburse the ESP of this amount so that it can be given out for its true purpose under the SOE Emergency Powers Regulation.
Whatever explanation the Permanent Secretary gave, he still needs to assure the public that ESP allocation have not been tampered with in the processes of allocating it including what groups are allocated. Transparency Solomon Islands reminds the Permanent Secretary and those who are in position of power that you are being asked these questions because of the position of power you occupy, no more no less.
Transparency Solomon Islands did not claim any of the things said by the Permanent Secretary. The list was published as it is leaked. Already it is revealing a number of things that is raising a lot of questions. Asking hard questions that must be asked does not equate to inciting public distrust, with information that is misleading for public consumption, nor does it equate to TSI assuming self-servicing. The uneven constituency allocations, the Permanent Secretary’s failure for the timely publication of recipients of the ESP resulting in the leakage of the list are more likely to incite public distrust. All these points not to TSI Integrity but the integrity of the Permanent Secretary’s office and officials handling the Economic Stimulus Package. For example, what is so special about one MP receiving more than $3million?
These are some of the many questions the PS should be clarifying to the public instead of throwing everything on the floor without linking it in his explanations of the ESP payments. Why concentrate on the Imprest Holders only. Is there something more than these innocent Imprest Holders going on behind the scenes Mr. Permanent Secretary? For the Imprest Holders are grappling all over the place trying to explain this and for the retired long time public officers know these reasons to be so superficial and what must have been told to imprest holders when they were asked to be imprest holders.
Again, the public would have consumed the right information if detail information on case by case for each recipient were given, whether it is an MP, Company, individual or a ministry’s unbudgeted work. But to make a sweeping statement on the list of individual recipients does not speak well on the integrity of the PS and the Economic Stimulus Oversight and Implementing Committee (ESOIC). It only brews more confusion, suspicion and expose loopholes and weaknesses in the entire process for corruption to thrive. Transparency Solomon Islands again called on the ESOIC and the PS for finance to publish the list now.