Acting Prime Minister, Honorable Fred Fono (MP), has defended Prime Minister Dr. Derek Sikua's overseas trips following what he describes as misleading criticisms by Opposition MP, Japhet Waipora.

Mr. Waipora criticized the trips saying Dr Sikua should remain in the country to address serious national issues including reconciliation, high prices, rehabilitation for ex militants and a so called strike by public servants.

But Mr. Fono out rightly rejected Mr Waipora's criticism, describing it as a desperate media propaganda to discredit the good work of the present government under the competent leadership of Dr Sikua.

Mr Fono said Dr Sikua's initial overseas trips were necessary to mend relations with our regional neighbors after relations were unnecessarily messed-up by the administration of Manasseh Sogavare and Mr Waipora.

He said the Prime Minister's latest trip to Australia is crucial to boost investor confidence in Solomon Islands. "Dr Sikua's attendance at the Australia-Pacific Business Council this week is very important to attract foreign investors into the country by re-assuring the government's aspiration to boost foreign investment.
"The trips were taken for our national interests and Mr Waipora should not confuse the public about it," Mr Fono explained.

On the issue of reconciliation, Mr Fono said the CNURA government had already allocated funds to facilitate reconciliation between conflicting parties to proceed with the program. He said the latest delay stems from a request by Guadalcanal leaders who asked the government for deferment to a later date.

"The government respected the wish of Guadalcanal province because it is unnecessary to hold a reconciliation ceremony when people are not prepared. "It's hard to do anything if people are not prepared and we cannot force them," Mr Fono explained.

On the issue of post conflict rehabilitation, Mr Fono urged Mr Waipora to stop blaming him for a SBD$150,000 compensation package for ex-combatants promised by Mr Sogavare during the political situation that resulted in his downfall. "I categorically deny promising a SBD$150,000 compensation package for ex-combatants. In fact Mr Sogavare himself made the promise before he was defeated in a motion of no confidence," Fono said.

Fono also dismissed claims that the present government is asking ex-combatants to submit proforma invoices to access a rehabilitation program to be funded by UNDP.
"This is totally untrue and we have never facilitated any such arrangement between UNDP and ex-combatants as falsely claimed by Mr Waipora".

The Acting Prime Minister explained that UNDP indicated its willingness to assist in the rehabilitation of ex-combatants and the program is still in its early stages.
On the issue of skyrocketing goods prices, Mr Fono said the CNURA government already took immediate measures which included the removal of tax on rice imports. The removal helped to reduce a sudden increase in rice prices to levels people cannot afford to pay.

He said the current price crisis is a global issue linked to higher international oil prices which the national government had no control over. Mr. Fono said Waipora needs to do more research on the issue before running a point-scoring political campaign against a government that cares very much about the welfare of its people.

Responding to claims of a potential strike action by public servants as professed by Waipora, Mr Fono said the cabinet had never received any strike notice from the Solomon Islands Public Employees Union (SIPEU). He said the only issue that cabinet deliberated on is a submission from SIPEU for a wage increase for public servants.

The Acting Prime Minister urges Waipora not to mislead the public for mere political interests that are aimed at destabilizing the efforts of the present government to resurrect the country from the failures of the Sogavare regime.