WESTERN Provincial Secretary (PS) and former Secretary to Prime Minister (SPM) has refuted claims of embezzlement over royalty payments intended for the Ziata Landowners in Munda, Western Province.
This follows a report claiming that Jeffery Wickham who was the then SPM under the Gordon Darcy Lilo government collected the payment in 2014.
The sum of $400,000 of royalty funds was intended for water payments to landowners was found to be missing and it was only recently made known by Wickham that unknown to him it was claimed that the money had been cashed and allegedly misused by him.
In response to the report, Mr. Wickham refuted the report saying, “this allegation has no merit nor proof and I wish to categorically deny ever misusing such money.”
He explained that to his knowledge the cheque had been returned to the Ministry of Lands following instructions issued by the then Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo.
The action was taken after it was discovered that a landowner Rex Biku of Munda and his associates have never entered into a land lease agreement with the Government over the piece of land in which the water source is situated.
He said Biku had been receiving funds from the Government up to 2014 despite the lack of an agreement making the payments illegal and for this reason the cheque had to be canceled and all payments stopped.
“No other payments were to be received until the issue at hand was sorted out and tribal disagreements settled on the matter of who should be the primary trustee to said land.
“For 6 years up to 2014 period there had been 6 land acquisition processes conducted all 6 failed for reasons only known to the landowners.
“I am currently investigating the matter for which I would like to thank ANZ bank for conducting an internal search to confirm if I had actually deposited the cheque,” he said.
So far a search has not been able to confirm that such money was deposited into Wickham’s account and he said that a cheque account identified to be the recipient of the deposit was a Government treasury account.
Wickham reiterated that he had not the slightest interest in the money nor would he stoop so low to misuse the money calling on beneficiary of illegal payments to be prepared to refund all the receiving illegally up to 2014 apart from the $1M received as advance payment in October 2008.
Yesterday the paper reported a court case is being file to investigate the missing payment.
A summon notice was sent to the former SPM last week it was revealed.
BY TERENCE ZIRU
Gizo News Bureau