Criticisms Building Over Solomons PM’s Trip To Indonesia

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Spending of taxpayers’ money labeled ‘a wanton waste’

By Ednal Palmer

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, August 28, 2013) – The tug of war over the cost of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister’s trip to Indonesia has attracted widespread criticisms across a wide range of networks across the country.

The core argument is over whether or not the trip was fully funded, and the masses are not happy that a leader could take a lot of trips when issues that affect people such as students’ allowances, teachers’ issues and others were given little or no attention.

The Prime Minister’s delegation to Indonesia during the leg of the trip, which included Australia, released a statement which said the trip was ‘fully funded’ by the Indonesian Government - a claim later dismissed by the Opposition.

The Opposition said the Prime Minister was lying to the public because evidences gathered showed more than SB$1 million [US$138,300] was spent on the 15-member delegation.

The Office of the Prime Minister kept defending the trip, saying the Opposition has misinterpreted their statement.

A joint civil society group consisting of Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII), the Solomon Islands National Teachers Association (SINTA), the Anti-corruption Network of Solomon Islands (ANSI), and the Malaita Ma'asina Forum (MMF) then gathered evidences and called for the Prime Minister to step down.

Because of the defiant stance by the Prime Minister in defending the cost of the trip, the group gathered more concrete evidences which show some airfares, food, accommodation and per diem for the delegation were all footed by tax payers.

Documentary evidences collected by the joint group on the expenses incurred by the trip showed airfares cost tax payers SB$665,714.50 [US$92,068].

Under special imprest, which included food and accommodation, a total of SB$207,048.47 [US$28,634] was spent.

Per diem allowances for each member of the delegation were as follows:

Bronwyn Lilo (PM’s wife) SB$20;190.90 [US$2;792]; Gordon Darcy Lilo (PM) SB$28;267.25 [US$3;909]; Conelly Sadakabatu SB$33;039.65 [US$4;569]; Steve Abana SB$26;431.72 [US$3;655]; Mrs. Lemu Darcy SB$9;691.63 [US$1;340]; Fred Toliliu SB$9;691.63; Silas Atu SB$ 9;691.63; Robert Iroga SB$16;152.72 [US$2;233]; Malcom Foufaka SB$9;691.63; John Matamaru SB$9;691.63; Kareabu Sanga SB$9;691.63; Clarence Pana (no record); Kelesi Robu Maenu (no record); Douglas Marau (no record); Dr. Phillip Tagini (no record); Hon. Namson Tran (no record).

As per all the expenses incurred by the trip recorded above, the joint group said more than SB$1 million of tax payers’ money were used to shoulder the expenses.

The Joint Civil Society Group strongly condemned the trip describing it as "a wanton waste of taxpayers’ money."

Chief Executive Officer of Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII) Benjamin Afuga said Mr. Lilo’s recent actions are completely a contradiction to what he promised the nation when he was first elected as prime minister.

"Despite Lilo’s attempt to justify his trip, he has failed to convince the nation regarding the extravagant spending of more than SB$1 million for a large delegation to travel," Mr. Afuga said.

The group added that "Interestingly Mrs. Lemu Darcy may not have travelled but had SIG check #2949572 drawn against her name in respect of per diem allowances".

Mr. Afuga explained the delegates listed above with no records against their names will be further verified to ascertain their travelling costs.

Meanwhile, outspoken environmental campaigner Lawrence Makili who has just returned from Australia said, it is high time the Prime Minister tells the truth and do the right thing.

"People of this country have spoken, who are we fooling here?" Mr. Makili questioned.

He said it is time lies and the dark side of Mr. Lilo’s weaknesses are returning to haunt him.

"So, prepare for people’s power to unfold."

When contacted last night for comments, the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) described the action by the joint civil society group in releasing names and per-diems of members of the delegates to Indonesia as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘nonsense.’

The statement said the group failed to understand that it is the right of these individuals to receive the per-diem’s as part of their entitlements stipulated under their contracts.

The statement said the person who released those confidential details is liable to be sued as the information could only be released if there was a court order.

"This is a breach of these people’s confidentiality. It is just the same as someone having access to someone else’s confidential bank details without authorisation."

The Office of the Prime Minister therefore questioned the civil society group and those responsible for releasing the information whether they have a court order to do so.

"If you do not have them, then are you ready to be sued?"

Meanwhile, the OPMC said the latest stunt carried out by the civil society group was no doubt a personal attack by disgruntled minority groups that have personal grudges against the Prime Minister.

"The OPMC is surprised by the fact that the joint civil society group has picked on this particular Prime Minister and his delegation.

"There is nothing wrong with these per-diems because all government officers are entitled to receive it whenever they travel overseas and this also includes those from the Opposition office.

"So why pick on the Prime Minister when Government officers travel overseas frequently and receive per-diems just like any other public servants?

"We challenged the group to come forward and speak up on what has been really bothering them, rather than hiding behind the umbrella of promoting good governance but instead personally attacking the Prime Minister for political reasons."

Meanwhile, the OPMC adds that critics have failed to look beyond how the trip to Indonesia would bring maximum benefits to Solomon Islands in the future.

The statement said the trip was worth more than a million dollars because of the fact that it would provide more opportunities, jobs as well as opening up the path for Solomon Islands to engage with the ASEAN economies.

"People have been so narrow-minded but they will be surprised how the SB$1 million cost they are barking too much about in the media would be reimbursed by Indonesia through their investment in the country."

The Office of the Prime Minister initially defended the expenses of the trip saying it was fully funded.

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