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The controversial shipping grants and its Turkish connection

Hon Sofu and another Solomon Islands MP (on the right) who is eyeing
another Turkish boat. But the sale never went through

TO Solomon Islanders, the controversial shipping grants, administered by the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, is largely a domestic affair.

Except for purchases of ageing ships from Asian countries, the lion share of disbursements remains in the hands of Solomon Islands’ nationals who cunningly snaked their way in to get a slice of the $70 million-a-year scheme.

Now information has surfaced that the questionable tentacles of the shipping grants has gone as far away as Turkey, the resting place of Noah’s Ark.

Here’s what happened.

In 2015, the MP for East Kwaio Hon Stanley Sofu travelled to Turkey’s port city of Instanbul, where he saw a boat he had fallen in love with on first sight. Trouble is he did not have the money.

In ensuing discussions with a Turkish firm, a deal was struck which enabled the Hon Sofu to borrow USD150, 000 (about SBD700, 000) from the Turkish firm. So he used his pending application for $3 million from the shipping grants as a surety.

The deal was that the balance would be telegraphed through once the application for the shipping grant was approved. That “loan” enabled Minister Sofu to put down the deposit on the boat named Candy.

East Kwaio MP Hon Stanley Sofu [left] at Instabul wharf, Turkey in 2015
eyeing the Candy the boat he wanted to buy for his Constituency. It’s the one that got away. He borrowed USD150, 000 to pay a deposit on the boat

But by the time Minister Sofu returned home, he had changed his mind on the type of ship he wanted for his Constituency. A landing barge was what he wanted. And the Landing Craft Gulatata’e was what he ended up with.

He used the $3 million from the first application to buy LC Gulatata’e. But the Turkish firm which lent the $700, 000 that Minister Sofu used as a down payment on the vessel Candy was never reimbursed.

According to officials familiar with the matter, the Minister put in a second application for additional funding. By then the Turkish company had lodged its invoice for reimbursement to the Ministry of Infrastructure Development.

It is understood the second application was for $1.7 million. The claim for $700, 000 reimbursements by the Turkish company was added to the initial figure.

This had brought the total amount requested by the MP for East Kwaio to $2.4 million. It was approved and paid, according to those who dealt with the matter.

One officer recalled, “My involvement was an instruction to contact the former Accountant General to attend to the PV raised for that boat. I recall that was for the second instalment. I also recall that if the second payment was not forthcoming the initial deposit was going to be forfeited. In the end the PV was approved and payment released.”

Island Sun has established that the $700, 000 loan is still outstanding as to this day, the Turkish company has never been reimbursed.