Through thick and thin

HCC exclusive

By Alfred Sasako

IF anyone epitomizes patience and hard work in learning the ropes of political ascendancy, Wilson Mamae is certainly one. The new Lord Mayor of the Honiara City Council has been through thick and thin in a political system, which has shown it has no place for the weak and faint-hearted.

Over the years, Mayor Mamae watched the play makers in lobbying new Members of Parliament to join this or that group with the aim of forming the next government.

The new Lord Mayor watched behind-the-scene activities including political feud played out after each national general election every four years. If he had any fascination or political ambition to be up there, he did not show it … until a year ago that is.

In May last year, the quietly spoken boy from East Fataleka decided to make a move. He contested (Ward   ) in the Honiara City Council election and won.

Using the wealth of political experience he must have gathered over the years in watching the level of lobbying that was going on at the national political level Cr Mamae did not want to stop at just winning the Council election.

He put his name for the big one – the Mayoral seat – and again, won.

In an act intended not only to appease but encourage cooperation amongst new Councilors, Mayor Mamae appointed his political rival for the Mayoral position, Reginald Ngati, as Chair of the Council’s Adhoc Committee.

Little did he know at the time that a year on Cr. Ngati would allegedly conspire with others to turn against him.

“I cannot accept that kind of attitude. It is like stabbing me from the back. So I fired him,” Mayor Mamae told Island Sun in an exclusive interview over the weekend.

Cr. Ngati was not the only one who fell on his own sword.

Cr. Billy Abae, who won the Vavaya Ward in last year’s City Council election, was another. According to the Mayor, Cr Abae was relieved of his duties (sacked) as Chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee after several warnings to lift his work performance and to stop alleged alcohol-related incidents in the Council Office.

“Cr Abae ignored the warnings so he too was fired,” Mayor Mamae said.

The Mayor has now accused both men of being part of a network involving Councilors and at least two senior reporters of the Solomon Star of conspiring to destabilize his administration.

“These people have been spreading false information about what my Administration is doing. Their idea is to tarnish the names of the Council and its officials to distract us from what we have set out to do,” he said.

The Mayor was particularly ticked off by an editorial in the Solomon Star newspaper last Saturday. Among other things, the article accused the Honiara City Council of acting illegally in borrowing $1.8 million from a Mr. John Szetu, an Appointed Councilor, for the purchase of fire extinguishers.

“The article is false and full of misleading information. The Council never borrowed any money,” the Mayor snapped back.

“What happened is this. The initial idea of buying the fire extinguishers comes from Members of the Council Core Coordinating Committee (4Cs) who came into my office one day and said they had a proposal to discuss,” Mayor Mamae said.

“The background to all this is that when I took over as Mayor, the Council’s bank accounts were literally empty. There was no money even to pay Councilors’ Ward grants. We were living on a hand-to-mouth situation,” he said.

What we’ve found is that the Council’s books have never been audited since 2015.

“We have now begun the audits of 2016, 2017 and 2018 accounts,” the Mayor said.

On the fire extinguisher proposal, the 4Cs told the Mayor that, at its request Appointed Councilor Szetu has agreed to provide $1.8 million of his own money to buy fire extinguishers from China under the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) arrangement between the Honiara City Council and Jingsan Anbao Firefighting Company Ltd.

“My response it was ok to proceed as long as the decision would not have any repercussions for the Council. The 4Cs simply said there would not be any. Cr Abae was a member of the 4Cs at the time. He was at the meeting in my Office as well as Appointed Councilor Szetu,” he said.

“Under the purchase arrangement, funds recouped from the sale of the extinguishers would be returned to Appointed Cr Szetu. So there is no debt to the Council in any way.

“To suggest we borrowed the money is not only misleading but false. The money was offered by a Councilor who was willing to help salvage the Council from its financial strife,” he said.

“It’s the same arrangement the 4Cs have made for advancing their Ward grants.”

About 10 of the 12 elected Councilors advanced their Ward grants on the understanding that once their grants are paid they would reimburse the money. Mayor Mamae was not one of those who advanced their Ward grants.

“I was in Fiji at the time so I did not ask for it,” he said.

Part 2 of this interview will appear on Wednesday.

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