The Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) has today described claims by the Joint Civil Society Group & Concern Citizens, over the misuse of funds by the Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Jeffrey Wickham as being “grossly irresponsible and misguided.”
The JCSC&CC alleged that Mr. Wickham had misused a sum of four hundred thousand dollars, which was intended for Ziata tribal landowners in Western Province.
“The cheque was raised by the Ministry of Lands in the name of Mr Jeffery Wickham just for convenience since the Kekehe tribe had no bank account. A tribal elder Mr Biku and his delegates were also made aware and agreed to the arrangement,” OPMC said in a statement.
Mr. Wickham clarified that the payment had initially been approved following consultation between the OPMC and the Ministry of Lands as a goodwill payment in late January, to pave the way for negotiations with Ziata landowning groups over the supply of water from the Ziata source to Noro and Munda townships and also to stop any disturbances to Munda airport operations.
The cheque was halted shortly after it was discovered that a court case in relation to ownership of the land, which includes the Ziata water source, was still pending.
“The cheque was indeed raised, but following revelations of the pending court case, the Permanent Secretary of Lands had returned it to the Ministry of Finance and Treasury where it was promptly cancelled according to the normal financial instructions. We were not prepared to commit payments to any one landowning group as it would be illegal” said Mr. Wickham.
The Ministry of Finance and Treasury has also confirmed cancellation of the payment with appropriate evidence.
“Allegations of this nature by the JCSG&CC are increasingly common now, and my main concern is that the media takes these stories and publishes them, without any attempt to verify their accuracy and exactness; this is not only irresponsible and unprofessional, but also very malicious” said Mr. Wickham.
“I wish to inform readers for our newspapers that the money is safe and has been duly cancelled,” he added.
Mr Wickham said it is very unfair on Island Sun to give prominence to a misguided article from JCSG&CC without giving an opportunity for relevant government officials to respond.
“And to make matters worse some people think they know all the facts of an issue when in reality they have no slightest idea what it is all about. My advice to them is to simply stay out of any discussion on issues you are not familiar with. I don’t mind such organizations being watchdogs, but please get the other side of the story so that it is fair to everybody,” Mr Wickham said.
The OPMC shared the sentiments expressed by the Secretary to the Prime Minister.
Director of Communication, Mr. George Herming stated that whilst watchdogs such as the JCSG&CC have every right to their views and opinion, the exercise of such right must not mislead the people it claims to represent.
Press Release: GCU