18 Oct 2013

Solomons civil society leader alleges PM orchestrated job loss

5:55 pm on 18 October 2013

A Solomon Islands civil society leader is accusing the prime minister Gordon Darcy Lilo of causing him to lose his job.

The Joint Civil Society Group's chairperson Barnabas Henson says he had only been working for Evita Solomons Limited for a week when he was asked to end his involvement in politics or resign.

Mr Henson, who has spearheaded a campaign to have Mr Lilo step down, says Evita plans to grow cash crops in Mr Lilo's electorate, Kolombangara Island.

Mr Henson told Annell Husband he met with Evita's chief executive John Davies on Tuesday.

BARNABAS HENSON: And he said to me 'Look, I'll have to ask you...' This is what the prime minister said to us in a telephone conversation from Malaysia through a guy by the name of John Kabaroho who is working with Luma Darcy on this Kolombangara project. And the message that was to be relayed to the CEO was that 'I resign my position from the Joint Civil Society and stop talking or the company will sack me'. And it was urgent and immediate because the company had previously applied for a number of exemptions on machines - machinery and equipment they were bringing in. And the exemption committee was sitting the very next day. And so we had to make a decision then. I opted to remain with the Joint Civil Society because I told my boss I just can't back out because there's a lot of hopes and issues riding on my shoulders. I can't let my people down. So he said 'Well, if that's the case, you will have to resign from the company because it'll impact on company interests'. And what he actually told me was that agrees to what I was doing, from a democratic point of view. But he had no choice because he was a new investor and the prime minister in power, he could do a lot of damage to country interests and all that. So we agreed that, yeah, I was going to finish up with the company.

ANNELL HUSBAND: Is there any kind of action you can take over this... effective dismissal, really?

BH: Absolutely. I can take it up with the trade disputes panel. I can take it directly to court. A lot of colleagues of mine have actually offered to provide legal advice if I want to pursue this in court. That's exactly what I'm thinking of doing. I just need to sit down with some lawyer and work out a strategy for how to take this to court. But at the moment the difficulty about this is because the company has denied what I claim to be the reason for my termination.

AH: So the company also has not said anything about the contact with the prime minister or the threats made about tax exemptions and so forth?

BH: They actually denied the whole thing. The prime minister, he's working to shut us up and he's a very desperate man.