Funding 2023 Pacific Games could decide diplomatic relations
By Alfred Sasako
FUNDING the South Pacific Games in 2023 could decide Solomon Islands’ future diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
This emerged as pressure reportedly mounts on Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to switch relations to Mainland China now or face an internal revolt led by a combined group of Guadalcanal and Malaitan MPs.
The group is said to have numbered about 22 Government MPs.
The news came as Taiwan reportedly suggested last year that the Government use about $15 million it provides annually in prime minister’s discretionary funds to finance the Pacific Games, which Solomon Islands is hosting in 2023.
The suggestion was said to have come out during official donor discussions which Prime Minister Ricky Houenipwela ordered in January last year.
Hon Houenipwela asked a team of Caucus consultants to gauge potential funding support from donors on a list of priority projects the government had identified, a member of the team of consultants told Island Sun last week.
These projects included funding support for the 2023 Pacific Games, a new office complex for the Office of the Prime Minister as well as a new official residence for the Prime Minister and so on,” the consultant who requested anonymity, said.
“The Taiwanese official that we met was forthright with us on the Pacific Games,” he said.
“Taipei is having its own economic difficulties and the only way Tapei would be able to help is for the Solomon Islands government to allow the discretionary funds we provide to meet the cost of the Games. Taipei will top it up,” the consultant said.
The consultant said the discretionary funds varied in amounts of between $10 million and $15 million from year to year. Only the Prime Minister has the discretion over the fund, which is provided annually, he said.
According to the consultant, the Taiwanese official told the Team the funds were initially used to prop up shortfalls in education funding until 2015 when it was converted into a discretionary fund or slush fund.
It was subsequently converted into the prime minister’s discretionary funds. Taiwan continued to provide the funding under Hon Houenipwela’s administration which took over from Hon Sogavare.
Three weeks ago the Secretary to the Prime Minister, Dr Jimmy Rodgers told Island in an interview that Solomon Islands and Taiwan were due to sign a financing agreement for the Games later this month.
No figures were mentioned in terms of Taiwan’s financial support. Two Taiwanese firms have already submitted bids to build the National Stadium on the adjoining King George VIth School and Solomon Islands National University (SINU) sports grounds on lower Panatina in East Honiara.
An initial government study has put the cost at $277 million. The Games Village which includes accommodation for international athletes is said to cost around SBD2 billion.
Dr Rodgers said the over-arching agreement which covers commitments by both sides in supporting the Games was already signed.
The parties are simply finalising details of the financing agreement and are hopeful to have that signed later this month, Dr Rodgers said.