MINISTER for Infrastructure Development, Jimmy Lusibaea, caused a political stir when he sacked SIPA chairman Billy Titiulu and Board member, Johnny Sy on the weekend.
“I have taken the action because it has come to my knowledge that both men have been secretly negotiating an out-of-court settlement over SBD38 million allegedly owed Singapore’s International Business Dynamics,” Mr Lusibaea said when he announced the sackings on Thursday night.
Those familiar with the law were quick to point out that the sackings were invalid because the Minister of Finance and Treasury, Snyder Rini, did not co-sign the letters.
In an exclusive interview before he was due to fly out on the weekend, Mr Lusibaea was adamant he did the right thing.
“Legally I am empowered to make a decision and I have when no one was prepared to make a move. It is up to those who have not been able to make a decision on the matter to support the action I have taken,” he said.
“Decision-making is something that has been lacking. My action is to restore decision-making,” he said.
Other board members are quick to defend Mr Titiulu and Mr Sy in their visit to Singapore.
“They went to Singapore because the new Board needs to get to the bottom of serious allegations about activities undertaken by the new Chief Executive Officer of SIPA, Colin Yow, since he took up his appointment in January last year.
“In particular, the Board needs to know the deals involving rice and noodle as well as the down payment on the first sea-plane that Mr Yow had struck with suppliers.
“There is no record of prior approval by the Board large spendings incurred,” he said.
“We need facts. We want to know for example – is it true that SIPA owes International Business Dynamics consultancy fees and if so, is SIPA liable?,” the Board member who spoke on condition of not being identified, said.
“As a Board, we need verifiable information in order to make informed decision.
“This is the reason for the visit to Singapore, not to negotiate secret deals,” the Board Member said, adding Mr Titiulu had collected information which would be hard to ignore.
“The Minister’s action in removing the chairman and Board member is a case of killing the messenger.
“Both men have yet to submit their findings to the Board for its consideration and now this,” he said.
Others said Minister Lusibaea had removed the two men because he did not want a business deal with SIPA involving the hire of his side lift equipment exposed.
SIPA allegedly paid more than $2.2 million for the arrangement in recent weeks.
The payment appeared under the local consultants’ fees ledger, according to documents floating about.
It shows SIPA had clocked up payments of more than $2.6 million for local consultants between January and March this year.
Politically, the Minister’s decision is an interesting one – a pre-emptive strike on the SIPA issue which has become a minefield for the DCC Government.
Depending on how Minister Rini acts or reacts, the effect(s) would be the same.
For example, should Minister Rini decide not to endorse his colleague’s action, the public would view such action with scepticism.
Supporting the sackings could be seen as an indirect endorsement (by the government) of what Mr Yow is doing. In both scenarios, public reaction would be the same.
In the meantime, Minister Lusibaea said he was satisfied that when the issue was raised in Any Other Business (AOB) after Cabinet last Friday, the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had stopped any discussions on it.
“Let’s leave that to the two ministers to sort out,” Prime Minister Sogavare allegedly told Cabinet.
If you’ve been wondering who is next on the chopping block, you are not alone.
One thing is certain – scape-goating will not remove the SIPA issue easily.
It will only worsen as time goes by.
By ALFRED SASAKO