Undersea Cable From Australia To Solomon Islands In Limbo Over Chinese Contractor

Australia has security concerns about Huawei; yet to approve landing rights for cable

By Moffat Mamu

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, July 26, 2017) – The much awaited Undersea Cable project faces a gloomy start following revelation Australian government has attempted to halt the project which is set to start early September due to security reason.

Canberra, through its Solomon Islands High Commission is said to be interfering with its own statutory authorities - the Australian Communication Media Authority (ACMA) and the process by preempting to the Solomon Islands Government that Solomon Islands Submarine Cable Company’s (SISCC) application for a landing permit in Australia may not be granted due to security concerns on the preferred supplier who will deliver the project, a well placed intelligence source close to the paper claims.

It is understood Huaweii from China had been tasked to deliver the project following the signing of the deal with the Solomon Islands Government on June 27th in Honiara.

The project is expected to boost internet connectivity in the country once it starts rolling.

Under the deal, Huaweii will only be responsible for laying the submarine cables directly from Sydney to Honiara. Australia’s communication giant Telstra will be responsible for providing broadband data services.

Huaweii, a Chinese communication firm has had an established presence in Australia for some years now.

The source close to the paper said, the Honiara based Australian High Commission over the weekend conveyed this preemptive revelation to the Government.

“Its likely Australia is trying to halt the contractor from undertaking the project,” the source claims.

Because of this, Solomon Islands government is currently seeking advice on how to address the situation.

The reliable source describes the move as ridiculous and questioned the Australia’s last minute action. 

The Australian Government could have waited for its owned independent authorities to assess SISCC application for the permit to be completed rather going directly to the Government to preempt its own statutory authorities due diligence process and decision, the source says. 

“This action just contradicts the principle of good governance and non-interference with statutory authorities and does not speak well,” says the source and concerned citizen, adding that it had taken close to 18 months since March last year to bring the project to the present advanced stage.

“Everyone is excited about this multi-million dollar project.”

The High Commissioner’s revelation, if true will only jeopardize the planned delivery of the much awaited system in early 2019, the source adds. 

“Why can’t the Australian High Commissioner deliver this message in early 2016 when the Government identified the preferred supplier and have to wait for more than a year when the project is ready to get started before delivering his message,” the source questions.  

“After all, millions of dollars have already been spent by both parties in putting together the project for final implementation.  If the above revelation is true, those money are just wasted.”

Solomon Islands government has so far injected well over $3 million into SISCC since 2016 in order to prepare the project which is expected to be rolled out in early September this year.

It was revealed Solomon Islands has satisfied all the requirements such as environmental and marine assessment in order to get a license.

This paper is aware of a similar concern raised during the Solomon Oceanic Cable (SOCC) tender process. 

However, a green light had been given from the Australia Authorities, which is why the same supplier was included in the recommended vendor in 2014, the source says. 

Its understood from the three recommended vendors, the Government opted for  Huaweii because it meets the policy direction of the Government as far as the project is concerned. 

Huaweii offered to install new cables at a cost of around $60m while other bidders offered a price tag of $100m in order to connect new cables.

According to the source, the High Commission’s eleventh hour intervention has only put into question Australia’s commitment to the people and well-being of this country. 

“It’s aid strategy that Promote Economic Growth in this country cannot be achieved if the office integrity is questioned.”

Another concerned citizen also questions Australia and its High Commissioner’s integrity in supporting the current 9th Australia Solomon Islands Business Forum.

“Businesses and citizens from both countries are tired of waiting to see this project actually happened.  This project had been heard during similar forums for many years now.

“If Australia is concern about developing Solomon Islands post-RAMSI then why do this,” the local official says.

The paper is aware that SISCC is now finalizing its submission through its consultants for submission to the Telecommunication Regulator of Australia to secure a permit to Australia.  

It was revealed the agreement between the preferred supplier and SISCC will become effective only after SISCC received the landing permit.

When the Solomon Star contacted Ministry of Finance - the ministry coordinating the project, responsible officials were tight-lipped on the issue and declined to comment.

The Australian High Commission in Honiara when contacted yesterday issued a statement declining to comment on claims of preempting the application process.

“No comments from the Australian Government have pre-empted the outcome of any application process.”

However the statement said, “Australia is strongly supportive of economic growth for the development and prosperity of Solomon Islands, including an undersea cable to provide the improved internet access that the business sector needs to generate jobs and growth for Solomon Islands.

“To land a cable in Sydney, the Solomon Islands Submarine Cable Company (SISCC) needs to apply for a permit under the Telecommunications Act 1997.”

The statement concluded, the Australian High Commission has been in discussions with the Solomon Islands Government about the undersea cable project and the application process for many months.

However in response to the statement issued by the Australian High Commission, the source last night described the response as hypocrite, shows how Australia is trying to distance itself.

“This is because they have assured the Solomon Islands government that they will not have any say in the process. But now they are trying to distance themselves from the government and the project.”

An independent analyst last night said the situation, if true, shows how Australia is trying to protect its own interests and its top close allies.

Solomon Star
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