Solomon Islands PM explains cost of trip to Indonesia

PM Gordon Lilo: Getty Photos
Honiara (Solomon Star): PRIME Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo has changed his tone on the cost of who should shoulder bills for the delegation’s traveling expenses.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Lilo went on lengths in an attempt to justify issues of concern raised by a joint civil society group, the Opposition and members of the public.

Cost and the size of the delegation and roles each member played were some of the questions raised by the groups.

The Prime Minister said an understanding had been in place, whereby the Indonesian Government will reimburse expenses incurred during the trip.

He added that the delegation included an envoy dispatched a week before his trip to visit West Papua and compile a report.

“That delegation led by Steve Abana included Namson Tran, Special Secretary to the Prime Minister and other officials.

“They flew to Jayapura a week before we met in Jakarta. My delegation included two security officers because of the unknown situation in Indonesia.”

Below is the detail explanation provided by the prime Minister on the trip.

“Towards the end of last year, I had the first invitation from the president of Indonesia to make a state visit. The invitation came again on our 35th independence anniversary delivered by the Indonesian ambassador.

“At that point I was still reserved about the trip.

“Three weeks later, an envoy was sent with the invitation. I took it to cabinet and we looked at resounding and exploring ways to enhance our diplomatic and economic relations with Indonesia.

“This has been the first time for a president to invite any leader from the Solomons although in the past, there were invitations but jointly with leaders of other countries.

“But this was the first ever time for any president of Indonesia to invite a leader of SI, so I was curious too.

“I was thinking what could be the interest for a fourth largest country in the world Indonesia to have the interest in a small country like the Solomon Islands.

“I put it to cabinet and the proposal was approved that I should accept the offer.

“But there were also instances that come to my mind such as the MSG and West Papuan issue.

“Solomon Islands had made its name in a lot of dialogues on the international scene for decisions and stance it has taken.

“One is the issue of West Papua. So there were issues which Indonesia might have seen SI as a clout to influence the region on especially on fundamental issues.

“For instance, the issue of French Polynesia, SI was the primary sponsor of a resolution when other countries were very silent when a call was made.

“That resolution was passed at a UN Assembly, for the re-inscription of French Polynesia into the decolonization committee.

“That shows some of our capabilities and might have prompted them to think Solomon Islands could have a clout on issues in Indonesia.

“So when the request came in again, I put a condition to the president of Indonesia because I was worried if I accepted this invitation, it would water down the intention that was initially made known to MSG countries that there will be a visit by foreign ministers of MSG countries to Indonesia.

“I told the Indonesian president that if I was to visit, my condition was to send an envoy to visit West Papua – something they never allow any countries in the region to do.

“Australia had been fighting very hard to visit West Papua but was denied by Indonesia; others also tried but were refused.

“I was told that this was the first ever request the president of Indonesia accepted. That was why I send members of the delegation to visit West Papua led by Steve Abana, Namson Tran, the SSPM and others.

“You must allow my delegation to visit West Papua, that was my condition and the president accepted that only within days.

“Therefore a team of Ministers and Gov’t backbenchers and officials from the foreign affairs and PMO took the historic visit where no other Governments were allowed to take.

“I have to explain to the MSG that my delegation was allowed to visit West Papua before I had an audience with the Indonesian president.

“They went to Jayapura a week before they met me in Jakarta.

“My delegation was made up of nine people. I had two securities because of the unknown situation in Indonesia. 

Trip expenses
“When the request was made, they offered to fully fund it. But if I have accepted the full funding, what would be the reaction? People may have also twist criticisms as well such as a visit for my own benefit or pleasure.

“We need to have certain part of our protection too through cost, so that Indonesia and people will see that we are serous too and committed in the way we engage ourselves about our own issues and businesses we want to take to them.

“I accepted the fully funded trip but on an understanding that Indonesia will reimburse us if the trip was successful. We would reconsider the cost.

“Even when I was there, I confirmed that Indonesia will fully fund the cost. So they will reimburse.

“People misinterpreted our explanation in the past weeks.

“We are now working on an understanding for a reimbursement to be made. If the whole cost is reimbursed, will you stop or continue and shift the issue into some more new issues?

“There is a possibility that it will be reimbursed. The issue has now been driven out of context. Is it because some people are anti Lilo? Or is it just anti NCRA?

“What is it? Some people just want to capitalize on certain issues and make a fuss out of them?

“I would like the public to have a better understanding on this issue.

“I was saddened to see entitlements of some officials publicised.

“Remember, Members of Parliament have these entitlements under a regulation born out of the constitution not from Parliament.

“Other officers have qualifications and entitlements too under their contracts but were humiliated by some people.

“I leave it to these officers to take it to a level where they might want to challenge those behind publicizing their legal entitlements.

“For me, I don’t care if they publicize everything because I am a public figure.

“Sad to see people with malicious intentions to destroy images of these qualified people who went to do their jobs.

“I appeal to people to take away the jealousy lens and put a lens of fairness and equity so that everyone can see the significance of people’s roles for the betterment of the country.

“People say, its straining the budget, I must say NCRA’s budget is intact.

Benefits


“People failed to see the initial connectivity and bridge I built. Other engagements will follow but I have to break the ground by taking the leader to leader visit.

“It will pave way for other engagements down the line, but a breakthrough has to be made, so there are certainly going to be long term benefits and spin offs from the visit.

“If other members of the region do not have those benefits that were accorded to us, we have to show our obligations and better engage with them and build trust to stimulate developments.

“In marriage, you cannot judge the value of it on the first day; its value will be realized over time.

“Our relations with other countries are also the same. First day reaction from people will always be like this and I understand.

“I must tell you they are willing to work with us for economic benefits in the future.

“This engagement is just like marriage. You cannot judge it on the first day, benefits will come over time.

“Let’s look at the benefits that will come.

“Indonesia is a big player in the region and even Australia has very strong relations with Indonesia but for people to quickly jump to the conclusion over our engagement with Indonesia, is na├»ve.

“What we should look at is why they are interested in a small country like the Solomon Islands.”

When asked about reports of an engagement with his Malaysian counterpart to establish a bank here, Mr Lilo categorically denied having any meetings over a bank.

“I never had any meetings with any Malaysian official over a bank. That was yet another issue raised to fume the hate.”

Mr Lilo came out publicly to explain the issues surrounding the trip following claims by his delegation’s initial statement that the trip was fully funded, which attracted condemnation after it was found that airfares, food and accommodation and per diems were all footed by the Government.

FSII chief executive officer Benjamin Afuga said FSII applauds Prime Minister Lilo for finally taking the initiative to explain to the nation the details and importance of the Indonesian trip, although FSII believes that such initiative should have been taken up on hindsight.

“FSII along with the Joint Civil Society group (JCSG) has been asking questions after MOF documents confirmed that the PM was not truthful about the Indonesian trip’s funding.

“The document that we have in hand has details of money paid out from SIG treasury and not the Indonesian government as claimed by the PMO,” Mr Afuga said.

He said FSII remains adamant to this day that the PM was lying to the nation and in as far as FSII is concern the PM has demeaned the highest office of the land in the process.

“FSII will continue to engage in issues of national interest and it will never divulge in issues that are of petty or personal nature.”

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