30 Nov 2005

Former Solomon Islands finance minister deliberately holds back critical report

4:39 pm on 30 November 2005

The former Solomon Islands Finance Minister, Francis Zama, is defending his inaction over a critical auditor general's report concerning the prime minister.

The report alleges that millions of dollars are missing and unaccounted for, from a loan extended by Taiwan's Exim bank to Solomon Islands for compensation payments in the wake of the ethnic tension.

The Minister of National Unity and Reconciliation at the time was the current prime minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, who was responsible for the disbursement of the funds from the loan of 20.7 million U.S. dollars.

The report was handed to Mr Zama last year with a recommendation that the case be referred to the police but nothing happened.

So, the auditor general tabled it in parliament last week.

Mr Zama, who's still an MP, is defending his inaction.

"I deliberately did not want to take any action at that time because I know that it is a very sensitive issue, and as a national leader, I've got to make decisions that are good for this country and for these people. I don't believe, honestly, I do not believe in trying to further divide this nation because this report, once it's given to the police, you know, the police will have different agendas, and those that are pushing this report, have a different agenda."

The audit report states that 5.7 million dollars went missing from the loan and many of the compensation claims were excessive or falsified.

Despite this, Mr Zama says there was no point in referring the case to the police.

People will be throwing mud at each other but me, I have a different view. For me, there has to be a cut-off point in as far as getting peace back in the Solomons is concerned and I think that is my concern here. I don't want to continue making further rifts within the community and society. And, I think that position's got to be made very clear and I stick with that position.

The auditor general, Floyd Fatai, did not accept that position and eventually came to the decision that the report had to be made public by tabling it in parliament.

Meanwhile, the first secretary of aid programmes at Taiwan's embassy in Honiara, Ken Lai, says they know very little about the report but will look into it.

Well, I think we will find out first whether the allegations are true or not, and whether, or how much has been misused. That's what we are going to find out.

And, Mr Zama, who is himself facing corruption charges, believes the report may well get thrown out of parliament.

This EXIM bank report is now before parliament and I think there's going to be a motion tabled into parliament for the debate of that. And, they are very serious allegations and very serious recommendations that are in the report. But, I think at the end of the day, for me, this report is going to be thrown out because, at the end of the day, it is the price for peace in Solomon Islands.

It's understood that a police investigation is under way into the allegations against the prime minister but for the second day running, the Royal Solomon Islands police were unwilling to confirm or deny this.

The current finance minister, Peter Boyers, is also unavailable for comment.