By IAN M. KAUKUI
HONIARA city councillor and Chinese businessman John Szetu has threatened to sue the Solomon Star after the newspaper revealed his business was the supplier of fire extinguishers to the council under a highly controversial and secretive deal.
Early this year, the council under the leadership of Mayor Wilson Mamae had made it a mandatory requirement that business houses applying for licences must also purchase fire extinguishers to be installed on their premises.
No business licence is to be issued without the purchase of a fire extinguisher.
But Mamae and city clerk Rence Sore, who were believed to have initiated this new business requirement, did not reveal at that time that the supplier of the fire extinguishers will be Szetu, the owner of Pinnacle Enterprises.
Also, this service was never advertised as would be normally done by public bodies such as the council.
Szetu was an appointed councillor, representing the Honiara business community.
Appointments of councillors are normally made by the Minister for Home Affairs, which is responsible for the affairs of the council.
The controversy surrounding the fire extinguishers was brought to the fore last week after Mayor Mamae sacked his chairman of Finance Billy Abae.
Abae, the elected councillor for Vavaea Ward, has since revealed that money collected from business houses for the payment of the fire extinguishers were not deposited into the council’s account.
When members of the public started demanding the identity of the supplier, Clerk Sore refused to reveal the person or business.
When the Solomon Star revealed early this week that the supplier was a business owned by appointed councillor Szetu, the newspaper received a letter from Szetu’s lawyer, L & L Lawyers, the same day.
“We put you on notice to apologize to our client in tomorrow’s Solomon Star issue on the front page and in your apology we demand that you put a retraction of the allegations in today’s paper (Wednesday),” the letter demanded.
“We further put you on notice that should you fail to do so, we will issue a civil case for defamation of character in the High Court and make a referral for criminal investigation as to your malicious statement,” it added.
Solomon Star editor Ofani Eremae says the threatening letter was nothing more than Szetu’s attempt to silence the Solomon Star and stop this controversial issue from being discussed in the media.
“I would have expected that as someone whose name and business was mentioned in the news article, Szetu should come out and explain his side of the story,” Eremae said.
“This issue is not about Szetu, Mamae, or Sore alone,” he added.
“This is an issue about the Honiara City Council and a deal that was perceived to be unethical and corruptive.
“And as someone whose name and business was mentioned in that story, Szetu is obligated to explain to the Honiara public how this has come about.
“He also needs to remember that being an appointed city councillor, he is no longer the private businessman he once was.
“He is a leader of this city. Any decisions or engagements he’s involved will come under public scrutiny.
“Threatening a newspaper with a legal suit will do him no good. It will only raise more questions over his involvement in this fire extinguisher deal,” Eremae said.
Meanwhile, City Council insiders have urged Szetu to come out and tell the truth.
“If Szetu is not the supplier, then why is that a certain eye witness testified that the fire extinguishers were unloaded behind his Rove property – the OUTBACK Shop?” one insider said.
The Solomon Star was informed the fire extinguishers was not only one of the products Szetu’s business supplied to the council.
“He had also supplied other products, which you will come to learn shortly,” the insider said.
The insider added to claim the Solomon Star is responsible for revealing the identity of the supplier is just not right since clerk Sore himself has stated very clearly that “a local private entity is the dealer who supplied the fire extinguishers to a public entity, which is the HCC”.