Solomons Opposition Calls On PM To Resign Over Shareholder ‘Scandal’

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Sikua committed to ‘exposing’ Lilo’s alleged illegal activities

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, May 8, 2012) – Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo has been urged to step down amidst latest allegations he had been involved in the "scandalous change of shareholders" in China United by Austree.

The call came from Opposition leader Dr. Derek Sikua.

"My office has hard evidence that points to the Prime Minister’s involvement in the deal," Dr. Sikua said.

"Our witnesses involved some top officials who witness this deal and are prepared to come forward to confirm this report," a spokesperson from the opposition added yesterday.

China United was the original investor and property owner of incomplete Town Ground Plaza whilst Austree is the company brought into the country by China United to build the plaza and rugby stadium.

Dr. Sikua said there is overwhelming evidence to prove that the prime minister had given a directive for the scandalous change of shareholders in China United by Austree and has been personally collecting payments from the General Manager of Austree.

"The Prime Minister’s involvement came to light after a lengthy court battle instigated by China United over the scandal ended in a judgment ordering the return of shareholding back to China United and that an employee of Austree has been charged over the scandal," Dr. Sikua claimed.

"Recently the Prime Minister has been seen visiting the staff of Austree which is now operating from one of his relatives’ house in Tasahe after moving out from the Town Ground Plaza following the shareholding dispute with China United," he added.

He alleged that the Prime Minister’s association with Austree started when he was Finance Minister and a board member of the Solomon Islands Rugby Union Federation (SIRUF) from 2006 to 2009.

The Opposition leader said the allegation against the Prime Minister of using his official position to "endorse the execution of a crime for personal financial gain" is very serious and damaging to his image and integrity and that of the Solomon Islands Government and therefore must stand down to allow for an investigation to clear his name.

"As a lawmaker and head of the government, the Prime Minister should be seen as a guardian of the country’s laws and not a lawbreaker," he said.

[PIR editor’s note: PM Lilo has denied all accusations made against him as "ridiculous," contending that he has no power to make the alleged shareholding changes through the Registrar of Companies to any private company. Lilo also commented on the alleged censorship reported in media, saying his choice to release information through legal advice came because the Opposition’s press release "contained material that carrie[d] defamatory contents."]

Dr. Sikua said he is determined to ensure that the Prime Minister is investigated by filing a submission on this matter to both the Leadership Code Commission (LCC) and police.

He said as Opposition leader he is mandated by the constitution to ensure good governance for the people of Solomon Islands and will discharge this solemn government watchdog role without fear or favor.

When contacted a spokesperson from the China United who want his name withheld said there have been injustices done to them, even resulting in their boss being arrested.

He refused to comment further.

The Solomon Star could not reach Austree for comments yesterday.

The Prime Minister’s office, instead of responding when the Opposition sent the news over the weekend to the media for publication, used a private legal practitioner, who is also the Prime Minister’s personal lawyer, Nuatali Tongarutu of ANT Lawyers, to make legal threats over any publication of the piece.

This has angered the Opposition Leader again to condemn such "media censorship."

"The action by Nuatali Tongarutu of ANT Legal Services in threatening my Press Secretary with legal action if she failed to advise the media to put the statement on hold and ringing up the media herself to advise them not to broadcast and publish the statement was shocking and uncalled for," he said.

Mrs. Tongarutu’s contention for her action was that the statement was based on unfounded allegations and that if the Opposition Leader has evidence on the involvement of the Prime Minister, he should refer the matter directly to the Leadership Code Commission instead of exposing it in the media. See more if her response in separate article.

The Opposition Leader said as his Press Secretary had told Mrs. Tongarutu the statement, contrary to the private legal practitioner’s claim, is supported by overwhelming evidence provided to him by reliable sources who are willing to testify against the Prime Minister in court.

He said as a lawyer, Mrs. Tongarutu should understand that any media censorship order cannot be served or issued without any court proceeding.

The Opposition Leader said this legal blunder brings into question whether the Prime Minister and the private legal practitioner had sought the advice of the Attorney General before taking this course of action.

Dr. Sikua meanwhile assures the nation that no amount of threat from the Prime Minister or his private lawyer will deter him from exposing the involvement of the Prime Minister in the "illegal change of shares in China United by Austree" and advises the media not to succumb to this unlawful censorship of his press statement.

He said as the Opposition leader, he is mandated by the Constitution to constantly question and hold the government accountable for its actions whilst the media plays an equally crucial role in shaping a healthy democracy by making the public aware of various social, political and economical issues in the country and abroad.

"Any ruling government has to remain answerable to the public at all times, and a good Opposition and media can put the spotlight on serious issues pertaining to or requiring government action to ensure they are resolved quickly," the Opposition leader said.

Meanwhile, the Solomon Star was told a female working with the company was part of the Prime Minister’s delegation that attended the MSG meeting in Fiji last month.

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