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Axed Solomon Islands minister speaks out

North Malaita MP Jimmy Lusibaea says he believes his strong objection to a government move to privatise Solomon Islands Ports Authority (SIPA) was the “real” reason for his recent termination as the Minister for Infrastructure Development.

Lusibaea, who was one of the two ministers terminated in the recent cabinet shakeup, told the Solomon Star in an exclusive interview this week in Honiara.

“I believe the prime minister sacked me because of my objection to government plans to privatise the Solomon Islands Ports Authority.

“There is a plan in place for the government to privatise our ports.

“Many overseas companies are interested in privatising it but I totally objected to the proposal as I don’t think it is right to privatise our ports when it continues to make money.

“The Solomon Islands Ports Authority is one of the biggest revenue earners for the country.

“The privatisation of SIPA will result in private companies running port operations by receiving all the benefits from its operations.

“And the only benefit Solomon Islands will benefit will from will be the lease agreement.

“As Minister of Infrastructure Development and I made it very clear to the Prime Minister that the Solomon Islands Ports Authority will not be privatised unless I was removed and I believed this was the sole reason for my termination.”

Lusibaea said the prime minister stated in his letter of termination that he was removed due to many complaints about the poor state of roads in the country and his handling of the shipping grants.

However, he said those were lousy excuses to get rid of him for his firm stand against the proposed privatisation of the Solomon Islands Ports Authority.

“The Prime Minister stated in his letter of termination to me that there were too many complaints about the poor state of the roads in the country and the way I disbursed the shipping grants.

“The poor state of the roads in the country is not a problem of the Ministry of Infrastructure Development alone but the government as an entity and it boils down to the government’s poor financial position.

“Had he asked me explain to why are the roads bad? Then I will say it all boils down to our poor financial situation as a government,” he said.

“The road contractors cannot keep fixing the roads when their payments have piled up in the Ministry of Finance.

“So it is not a problem of the Ministry of Infrastructure Development per se, the ministry had submitted all road contractor claims to the Ministry of Finance and Treasury for payment.

“How can the Prime Minister expect road contractors to keep fixing the roads when the government, through the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, failed to meet its obligations to them?”

On the issue of shipping grants, Lusibaea said since the introduction of the shipping grants, he was the first Minister of Infrastructure Development to make a presentation to Government Caucus on the allocation of shipping grants.

He said he shared the shipping grant almost equally to all 50 Members of Parliament and also businesses that applied for funding under the scheme, unlike before where only government MPs benefitted from the grant.

“I think all 50 constituencies are entitled for the shipping grant as well as other businesses that provide shipping services to the country.

“We should help them too and also the local boat builders who have applied for assistance from the government.

“There were allocations to some recipients I reduced and they were not happy.

“But that was straight forward decision, if you applied in 2016 and already received $3 million or $4 million then you apply again in 2017 for another $3 million or $4 million it does not make sense for me to give that money.

“Where are the ships you bought last year?”

Meanwhile, Lusibaea has confirmed that he remains a member of the Peoples’ Alliance Party (PAP) despite his termination.

PAP is one of the three coalition partners in the ruling Democratic Coalition for Change Government.

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