Secret deal

Is Solomon Telekom undermining government’s joint undersea cable project?

By Alfred Sasako

SOLOMON Telekom, trading as Our Telekom, appears to have set the stage for confrontation with the Government over the controversial fibre optic undersea cable project.

Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela last week signed off on the dotted lines with Canberra and Port Moresby for construction work to start on the project, being partially funded by Australia as a sweetener to let go of Huawei, the Chinese telco giant.

Since the deal was initialled, Our Telekom has reportedly been working quietly behind the scene in an apparent move to upstage the government, by being party to another undersea cable project, according to sources who spoke to Island Sun on condition of anonymity.

The revelation comes as another State-Owned Enterprise, Solomon Islands Postal Corporation (SIPC), has entered a secret deal with an unnamed Chinese company without being cleared by the Government to do so.

SIPC last month paid its staff and board members $30,000 and $10,000 apiece in what was described as a special bonus to help boost staff morale.

On the undersea cable, Our Telekom was contributing some $300 million as an investment in the project on the understanding Huawei would get the construction contract.

The proponents of the move argue that all technical equipments used by Our Telekom are Huawei products. The Government rejected Our Telekom’s request because Canberra had elbowed Huawei from the project, citing security concerns.

“SIG never realises that their step is putting Telekom in danger. Telekom/NPF needs to survive.

“Tel/NPF took off to China without government’s notice and made peace with Huawei. They also arranged that Telekom/NPF has their own fibre link from Vanuatu and still have Huawei as Contractor. The deal was fixed,” the sources said.

The Solomon Islands National Provident Fund has denied any of its staff or board members travelled to China to make peace with Huawei.

Work on Our Telekom/NPF undersea fibre optic cable is set to start next year.

“The question is, after the government has completed their own undersea cable, which technical equipments are they going to connect too? Are they going to sell it to Bemobile or invite a new mobile company? If SIG is not careful, their efforts and money would be wasted,” one source said.

On the other hand, the source said once Our Telekom’s project is completed, it would easily be hooked up to its existing equipment used on their networks.

In Vanuatu, Interchange Company Limited confirmed yesterday it is constructing a subsea telecommunications cable between Port Vila, Vanuatu and Honiara, Solomon Islands with a branching unit spur connecting to Luganville, Vanuatu.

“This cable, “ICN2” is being supplied by USA Company TESUBCOM and this is not a joint venture with SolTel (Our Telekom). Huawei is not part of our project in any way (either),” Interchange Company Ltd Managing Director, Simon Fletcher told Island Sun yesterday.

“Interchange Limited is a private company registered in Vanuatu which 75 per cent owned by Nivanuatu citizens via their National Provident Fund, Government and a state owned enterprise plus private investors,” Mr Fletcher said.

“We have commenced the construction phase of ICN2 and expect to bring the cable into commercial service on 9th November 2019,” he said.

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