1 Oct 2013

Civil society groups say PM trying to gag them

5:20 pm on 1 October 2013

Solomon Islands civil society groups are accusing the government of trying to stop them from speaking out against it.

A senior government official says certain groups will be given 30 days notice of their deregistration under the Charitable Trusts Act because of the political nature of their activities, including petitioning the prime minister to resign.

He says the Act does not permit such activities and the groups should instead register as political parties.

But the Joint Civil Society Group's interim chairperson, Barnabas Henson, says they will not be doing that.

BARNABAS HENSON: I think we are compliant with the Act in terms of educating people, because this country has never seen the level of corruption that is actually going on in government before.

ANNELL HUSBAND: If the Registrar of Trusts after this review of your constitutions decides that the activities you've been carrying out are not compliant with the Act, how will that change what you're able to do?

BH: According to the Act, actually, in order to deregister we will have to show cause. A 30-day period will be given to us to show cause to the registrar why we shouldn't be deregistered. And what We are planning to do is we would definitely consider challenging a deregistration in court, and we would show cause to comply with the act. But under the constitution, we can still speak. We can still speak as an unincorporated organisation. The only thing a deregistration will take away is the legal personnel of each of these organisations.

AH: So it just gives the organisations a little less status, as it were?

BH: Absolutely. But we can still speak as individuals.

AH: So you said that you are prepared to go to court. Is that what you're going to do if it gets to that?

BH: Absolutely. We are prepared to go to court.

AH: Why do you think the government is doing this?

BH: It has to do with politics. The prime minister is trying to gag us, actually. At the moment, how we see it is he's using different arms of government to actually gag us and deter the process with the people's petition. As we progress it, we explain to people the issues that are contained in the petition. And as the realisation hits them we seem to be gaining more and more support from ordinary people.