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Solomon goes to the poll under the weight of mounting debt

As Solomon Islands gears up for its national general election later this year troubling signs of corruption, economic woes and mounting debts are overshadowing preparations. No one really knows the exact date for the election yet, although October 29 has been widely tipped. Discussion on the subject, however, has been somewhat flat since this writer disclosed the date in a recent exclusive newspaper article, citing politicians and senior government officials as sources for the information. This year’s election is likely to be fought along management or rather mismanagement of public funds by the current 50 Members of Parliament. Estimates vary. One suggests that up to $300 million (AU$43 million) in grants passed through the hands of Members of Parliament in any one year.

These grants are intended for rural development in the 50 constituencies or electorates. This means that in four years a total of $1.2 billion (AU$172 million) will have passed through Members of Parliament by the time the election is held. The picture in the rural area tells a different story. As a start in unclogging the public system allegedly bloated by corruption, new measures have been introduced for this year’s national general election. One of these measures is the introduction earlier this year of a new registration regime known as the Biometrics Voter Registration (BVR) system. Each voter is issued with an electronically produced photographic ID which allows him or her to vote.

By law no one casts a vote without it. The BVR system was introduced to help identify multiple registrations, which has the potential for a voter casting his or her vote more than once. The practice was rather widespread during the last national general election in 2010. In that election one voter reportedly voted eighteen times at three different polling stations. Electoral officials are hoping that the introduction of the photographic ID or swipe card would totally eliminate this illegal practice.

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