Thursday, 5 January 2012

Gordon Darcy Lilo's politics and logging connection


“Boss yah, hem smat man lo saed lo con and hem gud tumas lo manupuletem man. Mi skul wetem hem lo form wan to form five lo Betikama en later mi tufala waka lo govman en lo Prime Minister’s ofis en mi savve gud lo wei blo hem. Wei blo hem, hem no savve chenisim nao….. lo taem lo PM ofis, hem savve kam wetem aedia wea hem savve hem wrong, bat bae hem trae fo twistim… if iu talem hem hem wrong, bae hem go an leita kam bak wetem sem aedia bat bae hem putim lo diferen wei moa… hem na wei blo boss yah”. 


“Gordon is a smart conman and a good manipulator. We attended school together at Betikama Seventh-Day Adventist High School (now College) from form one to form five. We later worked alongside each other at the Prime Minister’s Office, when he was the Permanent Secretary of Finance. I know him very well. His doggy ways of dealing have never changed. He would come with an idea that was not the right thing to do, but if he was told that it was not the right way of dealing with it, he would go away and later returned with the same idea, but arranged in a different way. This is Lilo’s way of dealing business”.

  • The above abstract was taken from a conversation with one of Gordon Darcy Lilo’s former school and work mates at Betikama Adventist High School (now College) and the Prime Minister’s Office in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Lilo’s background
Gordon Darcy Lilo is from Ghatere Village, Kolobangara Island, Western Province. Before entering politics, Lilo came into the national scene in the mid-1990s, when the then Prime Minister, late Solomon Mamaloni, plucked him out of obscurity as a non-senior public servant of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, to become a senior bureaucrat and Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Finance. At that time, it was assumed that Lilo and the late Mamaloni were good friends and regulars of the casino social scene in Honiara. Back then, the Mamaloni government was embroiled in a number of controversial cases of systematic corruption that was allegedly aided by the logging and casino industries.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Honiara demanding the immediate resignation of the newly elected Prime Minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo.

The problem of corruption within the government machinery and public institutions in Solomon Islands over the years was highlighted by a motion of no-confidence that successfully removed the Francis Billy Hilly-led government in 1994. It was reported that the motion was bankrolled by the logging industry, which had allegedly bribed three government Ministers, Francis Orodani, Alfred Maetia and Alan Paul, to quit their portfolios and join the Parliamentary Opposition in removing the government. As a reward for their role in removing the government, Maetia, Orodani and Paul, supposedly received financial inducements, hotel accommodation and rental cars, from the logging industry and one of its major clients, Robert Goh Chartered Accountant.
The downfall of the Billy Hilly-led government was triggered by a Logging Bill, which was successfully passed in parliament. The main features of the bill were: (1) phasing out of major logging operations throughout the country by the end of 1997, (2) reducing the number of logging licences by 50%, (3) establishing downgrade processing of round logs locally and (4) introducing new logging levies, which became effective in 1994.

As a good friend of the late Solomon Mamaloni, Lilo was appointed on the basis of his loyalty to the former prime minister. He became the number one “go to man”, which the government had entrusted to carry out its dirty deals. Following few years in the job, he was rewarded by the government with an AusAid scholarship to study Developmental Administration at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, where he successfully completed and graduated with a MA. 

Lilo returned to the Solomon Islands in the late 1990s and briefly re-joined the Ministry of Finance. But his brief stint was entangled in yet another controversy, in which he was reported to have been the last person seen leaving the Ministry of Finance building in the early hours of the day in which a fire destroyed government filing systems and computers. A police investigation into the fire went cold, leaving the case unresolved till today.

Lilo’s logging connection

Lilo’s career in the logging industry began in 1999, when he established a logging company called, Viuru Development Trust (VDT). The company began in controversial circumstances due to strong opposition from landowning groups. Despite increasing hostility and resentment from local landowners, Lilo’s company began logging, under the chairmanship of James Rizu, who at that time was also working as a Senior Water and Sanitation Health Inspector of Western Province.

The ethnic conflict in Solomon Islands during 2000 and 2001 greatly impacted the logging operations undertaken by the Viuru Development Trust. As one of the managing directors, Lilo was accused along with his chairman, Rizu, of failure to pay the logging royalties owed to local landowners. In the 2001 national election, Lilo contested and won the parliamentary seat of Gizo-Kolobangara, Western Province, from its former holder, Jackson Piasi, a lawyer and anti-logger and strong advocator of good governance.

Following the election, Lilo’s opponents allegedly accused him of vote-buying. It was alleged that Lilo made a secret agreement with Earthmovers Logging Company, a Malaysian logging company, with huge logging concessions in Guadalcanal, Isabel, Makira, and Western provinces, to support his candidacy. As part of the deal, the Earthmovers bank-rolled Lilo’s election campaign with an undisclosed amount of money, rumoured to be in the tens of thousands of dollars. The money was distributed to voters at the eve of the election. Since then, it has been alleged that Lilo’s supporters, who have consistently requested financial help from him, would often as directed by Lilo, meet him at either inside or outside of the office of Earthmovers, where he would give them money.

Despite the controversies over Lilo’s ongoing alleged under table dealings, he successfully retained his parliamentary seat in the 2006 and 2011 national general elections. Over the past eight years, Lilo has been appointed and re-appointed as a government minister of finance by four successive governments. It is also alleged that during the past three national elections, Lilo’s political campaigns have been bankrolled by Earth Movers and other Asian logging companies. Additionally, since Lilo became a politician, Earthmovers logging company’s interests have been well protected.

The appointing of a Malaysian national and Earthmovers Managing Director, to various positions on the board of directors of a number of different government statutory authorities, including the National Provident Fund (NPF), has embroiled him in further controversy.

Lilo’s alleged corruption cases

Police provided security at Parliament house during the election proceeding of the PM

In 2010, as a logger and former Minister of Finance in the Dr Sikua-led government, Lilo was yet involved in another controversy involving his release of an Earthmover’s tug-boat, which was currently held under police custody, for its involvement in illegal activities. When ordered to pay $2m  by the High Court of Solomon Islands for illegal activities, Lilo, intervened, ordering the release of the boat with a fine of a mere $200,00, claiming that the Earthmover’ Company will continue to pay millions in government taxes. Despite the unprecedented nature of the case, the then Prime Minister. Dr Derek Sikua, and his cabinet bowed down to Lilo’s decision.

But Lilo’s under table dealings did not end there. Other allegations of corruption also surfaced when as the then Minister of Finance in the Sogavare-led government in 2006/7, Lilo was accused of misappropriation of multi-million dollar aid funds, which were donated by foreign governments and aid donors to rebuild infrastructures and entire villages in the Western Province, devastated by the 2007 tsunami. The funds were intended to provide immediate relief shelter, food, water whilst providing financial aid in the rebuilding of the township and provincial capital of the Western Province, Gizo. At the same time, Lilo was also accused of fraud over a government multi-million-dollar computer school project, which he was coordinating as the Minister responsible. Initial reports alleged that Lilo, subcontracted an IT firm owned by one of his relatives, Anthony Gona, to deliver the project. Allegations were raised that the IT firm had ordered second-hand computers; way below market values but with inflated costs and distributed them to a few schools, less than the ones earmarked to benefit from the whole project. 

The failure of the IT firm to deliver the project and the apparent non-action by Lilo, who has been a Minister of Finance in the past two successive executive governments has prompted a number of former and current leaders and backbenchers of the Parliamentary Opposition, to call upon the government to either establish commission of enquiries into the alleged cases of corruption or initiate Police investigations. But despite the calls, successive governments have refused to take action.

One of the difficulties in carrying out an investigation into the above alleged corrupt cases have been partly due to the presence of Lilo as a Minister of Finance in the past three successive executive governments. The only probe into the tsunami funds was carried up by the Auditor General Office few years ago, but the report has been vetoed by the past and now the newly elected Prime Minister, Lilo, from publication, citing various dubious government provisions. As such, the chances of investigating corruption cases within the current government system are now looking remotely unlikely to happen anytime soon. In recent days, the Acting Commissioner of Police, Walter Kola, has weighed into the debate and claimed that the Prime Minister has no case to answer.

Meanwhile, since 2005, Lilo’s logging interests in the island of Kolobangara have also come under closer scrutiny by tribal land owning groups, one of which has taken a High Court injunction against Lilo’s logging operations. Despite the Court case, the newly elected Prime Minister’s logging interests have been expanded to three logging concessions in Kolobangara Island, with a fourth one in Rendova Island. According to a source close to the tribal group, the land owning group had claimed that Lilo’s logging concessions were acquired illegally and included areas that are not his. In the traditional history of Ghatere village, Lilo’s maternal family comes from a non-landowning group. His father is from Rendova, where the former Prime Minister, Danny Philip, is originally from.

Philip, Rini and Lilo's family values

Former Prime Minister Danny Philip (now back bencher), and his former Minister of Planning and Aid Coordination, Snyder Rini (reappointed), and former Finance Minister and now newly elected Prime Minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo, are said to be relatives. The trio were former graduates of Betikama Seventh-Day Adventist High School in the 1970s and 1980s. Currently, they are non-practicing members of the Seventh-Day Church. Lilo, Philip and Rini, have either divorced or separated from their first wives. Philip has been living in de facto relationships with women from the Western Province, Rennell and Bellona, Samoa and now Kiribati-Solomon Islander; while Rini initially married a woman from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and now is with an ethnic Malaitan woman, Alice, while the newly elected Prime Minister is with a second partner.

During the early years of his political career, Lilo left his wife, from the Western Province. He is now in a de facto relationship with Bronwyn Noda Meke, who was also separated from her former ethnic Malaitan husband, John Meke. Bronwyn is part Malaitan from Langalanga region, near Auki, and Guadalcanal (Weather Coast). The Solomon Islands Pijin word for a second or third partner is 02 or 03 and so on. The term is derived from the numbering of patrol boats that the Australian government had supplied to the Solomon Islands, since independence in 1978, which are numbered 01, 02, 03, 04, and so on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting Article Duran that is both very insightful and tactful for the sake of the common people.

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