Are they victims of regional power play?

By Alfred Sasako

WE may never know why winning candidates John Moffat Fugui and Jamie Vokia were singled out in election petition rulings following the National General Elections on 3rd April last year.

Both men were the only winners removed from their parliamentary seats in controversial High Court rulings by use of a repealed Act.

Rulings by Justice Rex Foukona and Justice Immanuel Kohouta on the two election petition cases respectively have in fact raised more questions than answers. Written defence which appeared in letters to the editor columns by the Registrar of the High Court, Myonnie Tutuo, convinced no one but herself and those who support her view.

In the latest election petition ruling, Queen’s Counsel, Justice Terence Higgins, appears to have shot to pieces such a defence that the matter had been adequately dealt with by the High Court. It was not.

The crunch of the controversy is the application or use of a repealed Act or its provision to pass judgement against the two gentlemen. The argument simply does not stack up.

“It should be noted that, as a matter of statutory interpretation, the repeal of an Act or a provision thereof leaves the common law as it was before that Act was passed,” Justice Higgins said in a judgement on another election petition on Friday.

“It does not revive previous statute law,” he said.

So were the judgement against Mr. Fugui and Mr. Vokia – judgements without charge, prosecution and conviction – merely a cover-up for a much larger forces at work?

And is the cover-up intended to stop Solomon Islands and China from normalizing diplomatic relations?

Indications are that the removal of Mr. Fugui and Mr. Vokia from Office is the sum-total of this power-play which many unsuspecting Solomon Islands nationals, often used to being pulled by the nose, know little or nothing about.

To understand the background to all this, it may help to go back to the beginning. Support for normalizing diplomatic relations between Solomon Islands and China was gathering momentum from mid last year. The move irritated Taipei immensely. Solomon Islands’ traditional allies such as Australia and the United States felt equally uncomfortable.

So Taiwan got to work, allegedly offering money to politicians to keep its four decades old relations with Honiara intact. The Taiwanese Embassy in Honiara even went to the extent of drafting a letter of support for Taipei.

About 13 MPs, including senior government ministers, signed the letter, which the Embassy deliberately leaked to the media. It hit the headlines.

An investigation by Island Sun found that the text of the letter was in fact prepared by the First Secretary of the Taiwanese Embassy in Honiara. The move worked against Taiwan.

For when Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare got a copy of the email circulating the text, it was the last straw on the camel’s back on the Solomon Islands-Taiwan relations.

Prior to the switch last September, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare set up a parliamentary bipartisan committee to investigate the pros and cons of the proposed switch.

Mr. Fugui was promptly appointed Chair of the Committee. Mr. Vokia became his Deputy. The 10-Committee members visited the Pacific Island Nations that have diplomatic relations with Beijing. Their brief is to compare China’s support in those countries in terms of infrastructure development versus Taiwan’s cash diplomacy.

The Committee began in Vanuatu. Two days later they were in Fiji to take the first eye witness account of what China had done there in terms of infrastructure development. Their next destinations were Tonga to be followed by a visit to Apia, Samoa.

While they were in the Fiji’s capital, Suva, something very interesting happened. An investigation by Island Sun has confirmed that the Committee received a diplomatic cable, ordering the visit to Nuku’alofa, Tonga be aborted. Committee members were to return immediately to Honiara.

According to committee members, the terse explanation for the recall was no senior officials would meet the parliamentary committee. The cable was from none other than the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Colin Beck. Before taking up the post, he was Solomon Islands’ High Commissioner to Australia, based in Canberra.

But who might be behind the cable? No one seems to know.

The Committee defied the order and traveled on to Nuku’alofa. Contrary to the contents of the cable, the Committee met with senior government officials including a member of the Royal Family of the Pacific Kingdom.

To get to Samoa, Committee members had to travel back to Nadi, Fiji, where there are direct flights to Apia. In Nadi, yet another diplomatic cable was waiting. The diplomatic note simply asked the Committee to discontinue the visit to Apia, citing lack of accommodation, owing to the Pacific Games there at the time.

Again, the Committee defied the return-to-Honiara-immediately instruction and traveled to Apia where they were met by senior government ministers and officials. So who was behind all the futile diplomatic notes?

Could it be Prime Minister Sogavare trying to undermine his Government’s own Committee? Or was it Taiwan, Australia and the United States behind these bizarre diplomatic cables?

Is it possible that Mr. Fugui’s and Mr. Vokia’s removal from their parliamentary seats the punishment for pushing Solomon Islands’ foreign policy change? Is it possible too that the High Court might have been used to remove both gentlemen from Office to avoid suspicion?

Now, a third winning candidate, Anthony Veke, is staring down the same fate.  As Premier of Guadalcanal Province before entering national politics last year, Veke was a pro-China advocate.

He is now a staunch supporter of the switch to China last September when Caucus voted 27 for the change, six MPs including former deputy prime minister John Maneniaru, abstained. They were sacked immediately after the vote.

The High Court has postponed the ruling on Mr. Veke’s election petition four times this month, prompting his supporters to ask why. The alibi for the indefinite delay is that the judge is having eyesight problem, reading.

Is it really? Or is there a much more sinister motive behind all this?

We may never know.

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