PM called to step down
Amid text controversy, while investigations are carried out.
MEMBERS of the outspoken Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII) have called on the Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare to step aside and allow investigations into the text message correspondence debacle to be carried out.
The call for the Prime Minister to step aside came from the FSII Board after a popular decision by members and was reiterated by FSII Vice President Ishmael Nori in a press conference yesterday.
According to the executive and Board of FSII, this came about following the much debated issue of the Prime Minister personally corresponding with a mining official from Bintan Mining SI Limited mining company that bauxite will be zero duty and backdated.
Bintan Mining SI Limited is the mining firm contracted by Asia Pacific Investment Development (APID) Limited.
APID holds the mining lease for Rennell Island and has contracted Bintan SI Limited to do the operation.
Bintan SI Limited has been widely confused with PT Mega Bintang Borneo Limited.
PT Mega Bintang Borneo Limited is an Indonesian firm, which had the Government cancel its exploration licence in 2015.
Mobile phone text messages between the official and the Prime Minister was cited and published by the recent Sunday Star publication and showed that Sogavare was assuring an official of Bintan Mining SI Limited that bauxite will be zero duty and backdated.
Prime Minister Sogavare told Island Sun this week that the background of the text discussion was concerning the Government’s decision to impose a penal rate of 20 percent on illegally harvested bauxite on Renbel, which was done.
“That rate according to Cabinet only applies to illegally harvested bauxite and should cease to apply when the stock was fully exported.
“The company (Bintan SI Limited) was concerned that the rate continues to apply to legally harvested bauxite.
“It is worth knowing that the export rate of bauxite is zero,” the Prime Minister added.
Sogavare further made clear to the paper that the conversation is only confirming Cabinet’s decision on the matter (ie that duty will be reduced to zero after the stock of illegally extracted bauxite have been exported).
“The backdating is to legalize legally harvested bauxite that were (was) exported at zero rate – there is nothing wrong about it,” Sogavare added.
The FSII executive relayed to the media in a press conference yesterday that it would only be morally ethical to have the Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare step aside because the direct exchange of text messages “has had the public question their own trust over the Prime Minister’s authority and ethical leadership”.
The Prime Minister made clear to Island Sun early this week that if the public is of the opinion that the Prime Minister should not discuss government policy with investors, “then they are mistaken”.
“People think that we benefit financially from the decision and I am offended because that is not how I run this Government,” the Prime Minister stated.
FSII Vice President Ishmael Nori however, told the press yesterday that it is the moral aspect of the conduct that is being questioned as the Prime Minister was (is) “preempting a decision that was (is) yet to be set before Cabinet”.
The press was told yesterday that among many “controversial involvements that the Prime Minister had direct dealings with, including Skyline and Nazar; the nation no longer has trust in him”.
When further queried by the press on the call, the FSII Executive said, “We would like to make clear that this is call is not because we do not like the Prime Minister, it is not that we do not like this Government and we are not requesting a new Government.”
They further stressed that this call is simply to have the Prime Minister step aside whilst relevant authorities thoroughly investigate the whole text message correspondence legitimacy.
FSII told the press yesterday that when it comes to a healthy democracy, citizens should and have the liberty to question the conduct of their leaders and that this is a classic example of such.
The press was also told that should relevant authorities including the Leadership Code Commission (LCC) need to be involved over the matter to settle the observances of citizens on the direct correspondences between a mining company and the Prime Minister, then such should also be done.