-Sacked Minister for National Planning spills the beans on PM Sogavare’s pre-determined move to China
-Processes for China switch was fake: Houenipwela
BY BARNABAS MANEBONA
GOVERNMENT telling people of the nation earlier that they will go through transparent processes before deciding whether or not to switch to China – was all fake, says former Minister of National Planning Rick Houenipwela.
Mr Houenipwela [Hou] and Dr Tautai Agikimua Kaituu (former minister for Justice and Legal Affairs) were removed from their portfolios yesterday morning.
In a media conference yesterday afternoon, Hou revealed that he was sacked by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare because they were at “odds” over the recent defiance shown by Hou and other ministers who refused to vote to recognise communist China over Taiwan.
It is believed that this is also the reason behind Kaituu’s sacking.
With government’s choice to dump Taiwan for China, Hou said though it was a Cabinet decision, the process taken was ‘not true’. In other words, it was all for show, to deceive onlookers.
Hou makes example of a talk-back show held on Sunday, September 15, before that fateful Monday. He said during the show, the PM’s officials and the Chairman of the Bi-partisan Task Force (BTF) kept repeating that processes were still not finished, knowing full well that the next day they will be deciding.
Hou sums up the whole saga by saying “the switch decision was predetermined”.
“Like the decision was already made several weeks ago, and then the PM just later tried to tell the people of procedures being taken which, we did not follow,” said Hou.
“The Talk-Back-Show was just a formality, meeting at Caucas were just a formality, Caucas was just a formality. Of course we debated a bit on this, but this was not to change anything. Everything [Switch decision] was already being set, because even if it was to go to the vote in which we went to it, it was all kind of orchestrated from the start to happen this way.
“This is the way how it was arranged so that the processes looked like being the appropriate steps taken. And, what I am saying is it is not straight. I feel bad that we have done this, we used the Cabinet and Caucas procedures to make something not straight.”
Hou said it was this process that he had always kept urging Caucas and Cabinet over the rush on switch, which saw him booted by Prime Minister Sogavare.
“I received a termination in the morning [yesterday] from the Prime Minister in relieving me from duties as the Minister for National Planning,” said Hou.
“In a way I have been expecting this to happen for a while now about four weeks ago. As far as I am concerned, it was just a matter of time before the PM will be doing this.
“Basically the Prime Minister and us the others are advocates of this Solomon Islands diplomatic relations switch to the Peoples Republic of China [PRC]. Where we have been at odds is on the ‘rush’ part.
“Why we are rushing this decision and given that the Prime Minister has already promised the nation and the world that the process sanctioned by the cabinet involves four different reports to be looked at and be considered, namely the report from the BTF, report from the Prime Ministers Department, report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and report by the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee (FRC), is what kept me repeating my concern.
“Apart from that, the Prime Minister too had said on many occasions that the government will leave no stones unturned in the process.
“Though it is a Cabinet decision, the process taken is not straight. This is why a small number of us disagreed with the rush decision though it is the Cabinet who made the decision.
“In fact a deadline that we had just learnt was from October 1 in which we asked who put that deadline for us? Reluctantly we were told that it is PRC who set this.
“For me I feel very bad for the country that such a very important decision was rushed by us. And, the other thing I feel about is the continuous lies of the government to the people.
“We have not been truthful, and especially the Prime Minister, we have not been truthful to the nation, people and to our friends.
“It is also quite a bad feeling to some of us that the government especially through the Prime Minister rubbishes development partners of the country.”
Hou said he was hoping for the Cabinet to have the sanity to sit down and think about the decision properly because they actually had an option which was going to be the middle path.
“And the middle path was one of the three options recommended by the Foreign Affairs Ministry report. That option was for us to wait and assess further the pros and cons. This is where and why some of us talk much on,” said Hou.
“But the way all the process was structured, you were not to consider any option.
“Of the four reports that the PM has promised, only two reports were received. The subject was not given the proper recognition that should be attributed. There was no view of CBSI in the report, we did not have such report.
“This subject is important, not just to see it during meetings. However the problem is we did not look at any other view contrary to this decision as it was not considered.
“It is sad we did not treat this subject importantly, the procedure and how we did it, the Cabinet and Caucas were not treated properly, [such as not allowed to talk freely]. It seemed like people were under threat.
“At that time when we were asked to vote for the resolution, the place was very tense. People were under threat. The threat is if you vote for the China resolution, you are with the government, if you vote against then you are voting against the government policy and you know where the consequences are.
“I was offered no money in any circumstance to switch or remain with Taiwan. The people surrounding me knew my position on this issue so no one offered me money at any time.
“For my colleagues during the vote for the resolution, I do not know, but what I sensed during the time of vote is you really have to have nerves in order to vote against.
“From the normal cabinet process, no one voted in a normal sense. So we abstained from voting then.
“Eventually for 16 of us shown earlier in the newspaper to be supporting Taiwan, around nine or ten later went with the resolution to switch for China. Whether those later switching were offered money, I do not know.
It had been revealed that the six MPs abstaining from voting for the resolution were John Maneniaru, Rick Hou, Dr Tautai Agikimua Kaitu’u, Lanelle Tanangada, John Dean Kuku and Samuel Manetoali. Two that were not present due to being sick but had expressed their stand against the China resolution are Augustine Auga and Bartholomew Parapolo.
“Otherwise all that are in the government around 27 had voted,” said Hou.
According to Hou, he has not yet decided over whether to be a backbencher on which he is still waiting to meet with their political party and decide what to do.
On September 16, 2019, Solomon Islands faithful friend (Taiwan) and long-time ally of 36 years pulled the plug on diplomatic relations between us; and on September 21, 2019, China and Solomon Islands established diplomatic ties.