BY GEORGINA KEKEA
THE Government is not aware of the private undersea cable to be pulled from Vanuatu to Solomon Islands.
Upon his return from Australia last week, Prime Minister (PM) Hou made an announcement to the media on the ‘private sea cable’ status. PM Hou says government have not had any consultations with the private firm nor been informed by the company running the cable from Vanuatu.
“So far we are not aware. We don’t know where it is. We don’t know who’s doing it. I’ve raised this matter with those in Papua New Guinea and Australian counterparts.
“Papua New Guinea in no uncertain terms will reject this. Australia of course said they’ve been approached but they’ve decline it. So we only have this one cable.”
Hou says anyone or anybody wanting to do anything of this sort must take the right protocols and take the right channels, if they want government to be involved.
However Island Sun understands that Interchange, a private owned company, based in Vanuatu has a valid licence to operate in Solomon Islands since 2013.
In an earlier correspondence to Island Sun, Interchange’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Simon Fletcher says this installation of the undersea cable from Vanuatu to Solomon Islands will cost them USD30 million.
But Hou says what they are concerned about is how government is kept in the dark on such development activity.
“The issue I have here is that government is hearing this through the news. That I don’t like. They should come straight to the government,” he said.
“Maybe some officials in government know about this, but for me, I don’t know.”
He said for the three countries that have signed the agreement last week, there is only one cable that they know of and will support. It is the Coral Sea cable.
“We have not been informed of it from the people running it or the Vanuatu Government,” Hou says of the ICN2 Cable.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Interchange Company, Simon Fletcher says he will be much honoured to meet with Prime Minister Hou and to present their project to the government of Solomon Islands. However he says there was no invitation extended to Interchange.
“We hold a valid telecommunications license, Foreign Investment Board Approval, Environment and Construction permit. Our supplier TE SubCom has commenced the construction phase of the project,” Fletcher says.
He said they are proceeding with the ICN2 cable as construction phase has commenced and they expect the cable to be brought into commercial service on 9th November 2019. In February this year, Vanuatu’s Daily Post reported they are worried Australian security concerns might be used as an excuse to sideline or even stifle Melanesian-owned and operated businesses.
Nevertheless they say they want to see the cable move ahead as it would effectively close the loop in a genuinely trans-Melanesian network. The ICN2 link from Vanuatu to Solomon Islands is designed to provide initial 200G high-capacity access.
Vanuatu’s National Provident Fund holds 37.5 percent shares of Interchange Ltd, with Vanuatu’s Government and Post holding 6.25 percent respectively and the other 50 percent privately held.
In February this year, Government of Vanuatu was presented its first dividend cheque of VT21 million by Interchange Cable.
Interchange limited have had their first cable ICN1 linking Fiji to Vanuatu in 2014. It was only last month that TE SubCom has won a contract to construct the ICN2 submarine cable that will connect Port Vila, Luganville (Vanuatu) and Honiara.
TE SubCom is highly reputable as they were also selected to supply the North Atlantic Hafvrue cable system which will connect mainland Europe to the United States.