Cable goodwill paid out?

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Office of the Prime Minister

By Mike Puia

IT appears the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) has made a goodwill payment to a group for landowners from Guadalcanal for the landing of the undersea internet cable on the foreshore of Honiara.

Efforts to confirm this payment, and the figure involved, with the OPMC all failed.

The payment is said to be hand delivered by the Attorney General, John Muria Junior.

Muria Jnr did not respond when this paper contacted him by email.

The payment was reportedly delivered in hard cash.

Reports reaching this paper revealed that this goodwill payment was done prior to the ground breaking ceremony at the cable’s landing station at SMI earlier this year.

The recipient of the payment and the involvement of the Attorney General have raised questions.

The group of landowners that received the payment are said to be landowners representing tribes in Tandai that own Honiara’s foreshore.

A leader of two tribes in Tandai that claimed to have documents to back their ownership of Honiara’s foreshore, Charles Keku, confirmed there were other tribes within Tandai that received the payment.

Keku informed this paper that the government has been backing and working closely with other tribes of Tandai.

He said these are the groups who received the goodwill payment and not their tribes.

The Ministry of Lands, Housing & Survey (MLHS) confirmed that Honiara’s foreshore below high water mark is all registered and are in private ownership.

The Chief Technical Adviser and Acting Commissioner of Lands, Alan McNeil, said the whole of Iron Bottom Sound next to Honiara, comprising more than 1,600 hectares of land covered by water is in private hands – apart from a small area around the port.

McNeil said none of it is owned by any tribe from Tandai.

The issue of ownership of Honiara’s foreshore is a matter currently before the High Court.

A recent election by the Tandai tribes to have Keku removed as paramount chief of the Tandai House of Chiefs is linked to this goodwill payout, according to Keku.

He said certain tribes within Tandai lobby other Tandai tribes to get rid of him in a move to cover-up this pay out.

Keku said the involvement of Muria Jnr is another issue.

It is not clear where the government took the money from to cater for this payout.

Keku said if the payment comes out from the Ministry Finance and Treasury then the Ministry has failed its part in verifying the payment.

If the payment was made outside the government payment process then there is a likelihood that it comes from the Solomon Islands Submarine Cable Company Limited (SISCC), a company that will own and operate the submarine cable service in the country.

It is understood Muria Jnr is one of the directors of this company. This has raised the question about his interest on this issue.

Keku insisted that the government should properly assess and find out the true owners of the site before committing a payment.