I am offended: PM

Sogavare defends text message correspondences.


THE PRIME Minister has defended a publicised article in the Sunday Star quoting text message correspondences to a mine dealer granting his bauxite company zero export duty late last year.

It was disclosed that the Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare did so in relation to the bauxite stockpile in West Rennell, Rennell and Bellona (Renbel) Province.

According to the published article, the mobile phone text messages was cited by the Sunday Star and showed that Sogavare was assuring an official of Bintan Mining SI Ltd that bauxite will be zero duty and backdated.

It is understood that Bintan is the mining firm that is contracted by Asia Pacific Investment Development (APID) to mine bauxite on Rennell.

The article further states that the text message exchanges were made on Tuesday November 15, 2016 and on Wednesday November 16, 2016 around the time the political parties of the Democratic Coalition for Change Government (DCCG) were going through an internal political upheaval.

The text messages from the mining official are as follows:

“Dear Prime Minister, any good news today regarding tax to zero and backdate?” the company official wrote to Sogavare.

“The decision in the paper is to zero rate the tax and back date it,” the Prime Minister replied.

“The minister and all of us are still tied up in dealing with the current political situation coursed (caused) by the president of UDP and had Caucus whole day.

“We are still solid as a group. I want to assure you that the matter will definitely come to cabinet this week,” added the Prime Minister.

In response, the official wrote, “Dear Mr Prime Minister. Thanks for your information. I hope the current political situation can be solved by your leadership. Good luck and God Bless.”

The Prime Minister informed Island Sun yesterday when queried over the issue that if the public is of the opinion that the Prime Minister should not discuss government policy with investors, “then they are mistaken especially when they only made reference to a certain portion of the conversation”.

Prime Minister Sogavare told Island Sun 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 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; that duty will be reduced to zero after the stock of illegally extracted bauxite have been exported.

“The backdating is to legalise legally harvested bauxite that were (was) exported at zero rate – there is nothing wrong about it,” Sogavare added.

The Prime Minister then told Island Sun that it would be wrong if people assumed the Government (or the Prime Minister in particular) benefits financially from the decision.

“I am offended because that is not how I run this Government and briber (bribery) is a serious matter which I do not tolerate,” said the Prime Minister.

It is understood that an official statement will be released by the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) responding more thoroughly to the issue.

Spectators, including the Official Opposition have questioned as to why the Prime Minister would have direct contact with a mining official preempting the outcome of the bauxite issue and dubbed it as a serious concern.

The paper is also concerned as to how word for word correspondences between the paper and the Prime Minister yesterday on the issue were posted on outspoken Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII) claiming to be from a ‘Senior Cabinet Minister in the Government’.

This is will be further investigated by the paper and should there be a potential rift that the Prime Minister’s phone may be tapped into, relevant authorities will be notified and investigations may be carried out.