Monday, 26 November 2007 11:24 AM

Premier Lokopio Upset by Lilo's Cleanup Deal

Western Province Premier, Mr. Alex Lokopio, has expressed great disappointment over the former Finance and Treasury Minister's award of the Gizo Cleanup contract to the Red Devil company without a prior consultation of the Western Provincial government.

Mr. Lokopio made known his dissatisfaction to the government last Friday in a meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and the Finance and Treasury Minister, Francis Zama, after being told that the clean-up project had been awarded to the Red Devil Transport Company under a separate deal with Mr. Darcy Lilo.

The government's discovery of the improper deal was one of the many reasons which led to the removal of Mr. Darcy Lilo from the Ministry of Finance and Treasury.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Lokopio said he requested an audience with the Prime Minister and the Finance and Treasury Minister to follow up on the government's position over the $8-million agreement he signed with the former Finance and Treasury Minister for the cleanup of the Gizo Township.

He said the Western Provincial government was charged with the responsibility of managing and disbursement of the cleanup funding under the agreement.

In the meeting, Mr. Sogavare and Mr. Zama explained to him that the former Finance and Treasury Minister had awarded a contract for the Gizo cleanup to the Red Devil Transport Company, and a total of $5.8-million of the project funding had already been committed to the company to carry out the job without proper endorsements.

Mr. Lokopio said he commended the government for the bold step it took against the former Finance Minister for the misuse of public funds and, at the same time, urged the government to maintain its obligation in the contract by paying to the Western Provincial government the full $8-million intended for the tsunami rehabilitation.

"I am very upset by the action taken by the former Finance Minister for using the money in the way he wanted without consulting my government, and that is my biggest concern and I feel deeply unhappy about it," the Western Province Premier said.

Mr. Lokopio said that as it is public money, there should be consultation on how it is spent.

"I think it's good that whenever funds go different like that we have to do something about it. We cannot just cover up, we must do something so it can be revealed to the nation what we as leaders do," he added.

"Nonetheless I told them that the government is obliged to comply with the agreement I signed with the Finance and Treasury Minister on September 5, 2007 and therefore, the money that was already given away was not our business. Our business is that we must stick to the $8-million and if there is no money available in the national budget now then we want a rollover payment in next year's budget."

The Western Province Premier said the Prime Minister and Finance and Treasury Minister had acknowledged his concerns and reassured him of the government's commitment to urgently provide rehabilitation assistance to the earthquake and tsunami-affected people.

The Western Province Premier, meanwhile, urged all citizens of Solomon Islands not to engross themselves in the current political infighting but instead seek God for a peaceful resolution to the problem.