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Action follows threat by Solomons consul in Sydney

By Alfred Sasako HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Feb. 27, 2010) - The Solomon Islands (SI) government has succumbed to a demand that it remove its Canberra-based High Commissioner, Victor Ngele, or face the immediate closure of the 10-bed patients’ referral program Solomon Islands has with Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

Sources said the demand was made by Solomon Islands’ Honorary Consul in Sydney, Trevor Garland, sometime last year.

Mr. Garland, a registered nurse, was put in charge of the 10-bed arrangement the Solomon Islands Government negotiated with the New South Wales government about a decade ago.

Diplomats familiar with the matter said the demand amounted to a threat.

"He (Mr. Garland) basically told the Government to remove the High Commissioner or he would do all in his power to terminate the 10-bed arrangement," one highly placed source said.

It is not clear why Mr. Garland wanted Mr. Ngele out of Canberra, but sources said there were apparent differences between the two men on a number of issues.

"In fact, Mr. Garland told the Government that Mr. Ngele’s tenure should not be renewed when it was up," the source said.

The government however went ahead and renewed Mr. Ngele’s tenure last year.

"When Mr. Garland found out the high commissioner’s term was renewed for another four years, he was furious.

"So he told the government that unless Mr. Ngele was removed from Canberra, he would do all in his power to end the 10-bed arrangement with St. Vincent Hospital," the source said.

The sources said the government felt that terminating the hospital arrangement was too high a price and has taken the easier option out.

Honiara has now decided that Mr. Ngele would be posted to Taipei, Taiwan.

He replaces veteran diplomat, Beraki Jino, who last weekend was farewelled by Solomon Islands students studying in Taiwan.

Mr. Jino will take Mr. Ngele’s place in Canberra.

Asked whether he was responsible for Mr. Ngele’s demise, Mr. Garland has denied the charge.

"No, I didn't have him removed he did that all by himself," Mr. Garland said.

"I would have wanted nothing more than to have a work relationship, however Victor involved himself with disaffected members of the SI community who set about to attempt to politicize the St. Vincent's patients program and my position as honorary consul which had they been successful would have resulted in the end to our referral program and I had to defend that."

Defending his stand, Mr. Garland said: "Victor just did not know what to do here, he offered no support whatsoever to Sydney and we did it tough with desperately ill patients and two deaths. Apart from the odd visit he did nothing," Mr. Garland said.

"My disappointment is that he has been posted as I know the lost opportunities we had with Victor as Head of Mission in Australia and now he is Taipei's problem," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ngele was a notable absentee at the weekend when Prime Minister, Derek Sikua, and his delegation stopped over in Brisbane on their way to Palau and later to Brussels.

Dr. Sikua left for Palau on Monday night.

In previous visits, High Commissioner Ngele was always in Brisbane to attend to the Prime Minister.

It is not clear whether his absence was connected with his forced posting.

However, sources said prior commitments, including farewells had made it impossible for the High Commissioner to meet the Prime Minister and his delegation in Brisbane last weekend.

Published reports said that Mr. Jino is being relocated to Brisbane.

However, Solomon Islands does not have a full diplomatic mission in Brisbane. It has an honorary consul.

A relocation to Brisbane would be a huge demotion for Mr. Jino, a veteran diplomat, who has served in Solomon Islands Missions overseas including in New York.

Mr. Garland often referred to as Dr. by Solomon Islands officials, is not a doctor by profession.

A Google search of doctors’ registry in New South Wales turned out that he is only a registered nurse.

In 1991, he was cited for service to nursing in Australia and overseas and was awarded Member of the Order of Australia [AM].

He had previously served in Solomon Islands as a medical doctor.

Under the referral program with St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Solomon Islands has access to 10 beds for emergency medical cases at the hospital every year.

The arrangement has come under heavy criticisms in recent times, with critics saying that the people who benefit most from the 10-bed arrangement are politicians and their cronies.

Peter Boyers, who chaired the recent Parliamentary Standing Committee into the National Referral Hospital was the most recent politician to be a patient there.

Doctors at the National Referral Hospital told the committee that the referral program with St. Vincent Hospital needed to be reviewed.

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