Solomons PM Overrides Fisheries Officials On Beche-De-Mer Exports

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Minister told to ‘reconsider decision’ to deny export license

By Daniel Namosuaia

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Feb. 5, 2015) – Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s directive to issue an export permit to Ontong Java Development Company (OJDC) inorder to export beche-de-mer did not go down well with top fisheries officials, it was disclosed.

Sogavare’s involvement in the latest move has raised question over his leadership credentials and the way the country had portrayed him as the right leader to take this country forward.

According to documents cited by this paper, Sogavare had written to the Minister of Fisheries John Maneniaru to reconsider his decision not to accept OJDC’s application and issue the license with immediate effect.

"…I’m requesting you to reconsider your decision and issue the export license applied for by Ontong Java Development Company with immediate effect," Sogavare said in his letter dated 20th January 2015.

In another document cited, Deputy Prime Minister Douglas Ete on the 27th wrote another note as a minute directing the issuance of the Export license with immediate effect by 5pm of that day.

This has forced fisheries officials to grant that Export License to OJDC on that day which was confirmed by director James terry in an exclusive interview.

Asked if these documents were true, Director of fisheries James Terry confirmed it to be true.

[PIR editor’s note: Solomon Star reported that ‘Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare yesterday confirmed instructing the issuance of a beche-de-mer export licence to Dr Reginald Aipia of the Ontong Java Development Company Limited. ... And he said his decision is based on a recent Caucus Consensus that the Democratic Coalition for Change Government should prioritise assisting indigenous Solomon Islanders in their business endeavours. ... Mr Sogavare said his decision also took into consideration the fact that the company has in its possession 15 tonnes of legally harvested beche-de-mer ready for exportation and that the denial of a licence to it will only result in the sale of this beche-de-mer consignment at a lower price than what is offered by Dr Aipia and his buyer.’]

Mr Terry confirmed the ministry did receive a directive from both the Prime Minister and his Deputy Douglas Ete to issue the license.

Asked whether this is right according to fisheries processes, Terry said, its a total breach to the fisheries license process, however the minister has the discretion to change any decision.

Terry said, they can’t do much since the Minister has the final say over the decision.

It was reported even the Fisheries Minister stood by his officers not to grant the license at the first place but since it was a directive from the top leaders, he can’t do much but to follow their directives.

When questioned about reports he (Terry) tries to avoid being contacted and at some point went to the extent of handed in his resignation letter, James Terry said, he was only trying to do what he believes is right.

Terry said, according to the beche-de-mer license regulation, what happened was not right and seen to undermine their authority in the decisions they make according to the processes and procedures of fisheries.

"But what can we do about it when the Minister has at his discretion, the power to override any of our decisions," Terry said.

[PIR editor’s note: Solomon Star reported that ‘The Office of the Parliamentary Opposition is calling on the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources John Maneniaru to revoke the export license granted to Ontong Java Development Company (OJDC) to export beche-de-mer. ... The Opposition office urged the Fisheries Minister not to bow down to outside influence to overshadow his status as person with integrity.’]

He said, the stance of the Ministry not to issue the license was based on the fact that the person applying for the license Dr Reginald Aipia has an outstanding court case with them in the High Court.

Adding, according to their administrative procedures, they have strong evidence against Dr Apia despite the delay in the decision of the court on the case.

It was understood application for export license closed on the 19th of last month.

Terry further stressed that it is only right to give Dr Aipia the license if he is declared not guilty but not when his case is still pending before the court.

But Prime Minister Sogavare disagreed with the ministry’s stand telling them he agrees with the advice of private lawyer Wilson Rano of Rano and Company instead.

PM Sogavare wrote, "…I want to defer with your view and concur with the view tendered by Wilson Rano of Rano & Company from a legal standpoint. The High Court did not overturn the decision of the magistrate as it seems to be the rationale behind your (Fisheries minister) decision, rather it merely issue a stay but maintain the innocence of Dr.Reginald until that question is again dealt with by a new Magistrate," Sogavare wrote.

[PIR editor’s note: Solomon Star reported that ‘PRIME Minister Manasseh Sogavare did not seek any legal opinion from any lawyer before directing Fisheries officials to issue export permit to Ontong Java Development Company (OJDC). ... His press secretary, Deli Oso defended her boss after the Solomon Star reported yesterday, that Mr Sogavare sought advice from private lawyer Wilson Rano of Rano and Company before making the decision. ... However, Mrs Oso said Mr Sogavare made the decision on his own after reviewing all the documents relating to Dr Apia.’]

Sogavare added, that as head of the DCC, he has the duty to protect the government and as a Solomon islander he has the duty to put the interests of Solomon Islanders first.

The action of the PM and DPM has raised more serious question into DCC’s integrity and leadership which has reported to have painted a wrong message to the message of change they preached in their policy statement, sources said.

Meanwhile questions directed to the PM and the DPM through the Press Secretary has not been responded to till this paper went for print.

With the latest approval of Ontong Java Development Company’s license, it brings the total number of approved exported beche-de-mer license to 12.

Four are foreigners and eight locals majority of them Chinese citizens.

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