Constituent policy

Long live RAMSI? – Political Forum

Since the end of the regional assistance mission to the Solomon Islands, anti-corruption initiatives have continued to receive government support, although little is being done to tackle some of the key drivers of corruption, write Grant Walton and Husnia Hushang.

Over the past three decades, anti-corruption reforms have become a central element of international post-conflict interventions. From Liberia to Iraq, donor-led interventions have increased funding for anti-corruption reforms, to help build legitimacy and good governance in conflict-torn countries.

However, some scholars and development practitioners to have interrogates the sustainability of these efforts, suggest that as donor “leverage” diminishes, political support for anti-corruption reforms is likely to decline.

Our recent Policy Studies in Asia and the Pacific log article reviews budget documents with a focus on financial support for anti-corruption reforms in the Solomon Islands from 2010 to 2020, to understand shifts in political will during and after the region’s largest peacebuilding intervention.

The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) intervention (2003-2017) was formed in response to ethnic clashes and brought together a regional force of peacekeepers and development experts to improve security and the governance of the Solomon Islands.

Many scholars and practitioners recognize that RAMSI has played an important role in easing tensions and maintaining peace. Opinions are divided, however, when it comes to assessing RAMSI’s legacy of building the Solomon Islands state and improving governance.

While some have suggested cautiously positive reviews others were more critical. These debates mainly took place during the RAMSI intervention, which means that the analysis did not take into account post-RAMSI developments. This is where our study comes in.

Anti-corruption reform was a central element of RAMSI’s statebuilding efforts. RAMSI has helped re-establish and support key state-based anti-corruption organizations, providing resources, advisers and infrastructure.

The article examines the extent to which these reforms were embraced by politicians in the Solomon Islands during and after RAMSI. Although there are many organizations and individuals involved in anti-corruption activity in the Solomon Islands – including those in the private sector and civil society – it focuses on state-based anti-corruption organisations.

The study tracks government allocations and expenditures for three key anti-corruption organizations: the Auditor General, the Leadership Code Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman. It compares the funding of these organizations to that of the Royal Solomon Islands Police and the Office of the Attorney General and, drawing on previous analysisanti-corruption organizations in Papua New Guinea.

Overall, the research suggests that anti-corruption reform in the post-RAMSI period has been marked by both positive and negative trends.

On the bright side of the ledger, although the post-RAMSI trajectory was not always linear, major anti-corruption organizations received similar or better levels of funding than in the years before RAMSI’s departure.

As a proportion of the recurrent budget, anti-corruption organizations have also seen their budget allocations increase, and Solomon Islands allocates and spends more of its available budget on its anti-corruption organizations than its nearest neighbor PNG. – even though PNG has more anti-corruption organizations than Solomon Islands.

To add to these conclusions, after the departure of RAMSI, political decision-makers passed legislation strengthen the Ombudsman, protect whistleblowers and introduce a new Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Thus, after RAMSI, policymakers did not reverse the anti-corruption reforms that began during and were supported by RAMSI.

The case of the Solomon Islands shows that, contrary to the fears of some scholars and practitioners, politicians are ready to support reforms and anti-corruption organizations after the official departure of peacekeepers and the reduction of their influence. While key development partners like Australia are still providing advice and assistance, their influence on government has diminished in the post-RAMSI period.

On the other hand, there are worrying signs. For starters, over the past decade, anti-corruption organizations have not always received the promised allocations, robbing them of millions of dollars.

Second, and most importantly, while politicians have supported anti-corruption reform, little has been done to tackle some of the key drivers of corruption. Politicians still use their constituency development funds to buy votes and supporters. Corruption in the forest industry is still allegedly endemic.

Finally, international indices suggest that the severity of corruption in the country has decreased over the past 10 years, but concerns remain about its impacts. Frustration over corruption was a key factor in the riots that broke out in Honiara in 2019 and 2021.

These findings suggest a contradiction at the heart of national anti-corruption efforts. On the one hand, anti-corruption agencies have been financially supported; on the other, some believe that opportunities for corruption have increased.

Our analysis provides a first glimpse of political support for anti-corruption organizations in the post-RAMSI era. To truly understand the health of anti-corruption organizations in the Solomon Islands, researchers will need to revisit this analysis in the coming years.

IIn the meantime, much more needs to be done to ensure that the government’s anti-corruption allocations materialize and that the country’s new anti-corruption watchdog – the Solomon Islands ICAC or SIICAC – receives the resources. it needs to independently and proactively investigate corruption.

This article is published in partnership with DevPolicy Blog. It is based on an article by Policy Studies in Asia and the Pacific review, ‘Long live RAMSI? Peacebuilding, anti-corruption and political will in the Solomon Islands‘, by Grant Walton and Husnia Hushang. All journal articles are free to read and download.

This research was supported by the Pacific Research Program, with funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views represent those of the authors only.