APID - A special investigation - Solomon Star News

APID - A special investigation

24 August 2015

[I have mentioned in my last article on this that that article was the last on the handling by the Minerals Board of APID’s mineral licences on Rennell Island. But since then several documents have landed on my lap that the temptation to write another was irresistible.]

So here it is.

The Mines and Minerals Board’s handling of Asia Pacific Investment Development Ltd’s (APID) application for mining tenements in Rennell is a fascinating story.

It is fascinating to the point that in the end the Board’s decisions were nothing more than a comedy of errors.

And the comedians, it seems, not only come from the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification or the Board. They come from as far away as the Ministry of Public Service, thanks to misinformation fed to it by the former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Mines, Jeffrey Scott Kauha, documents have revealed.

Read on.

Here’s how it all started.

APID was granted a renewal of its prospecting licence in November 2012. Ten months on, on 05th September 2014, APID, a logging company masquerading as a mining firm, was allegedly granted a Mining Lease, according to documents I have sighted.

It’s all well and good. The problem is that there was nothing on record of deliberations by the Board in the months of June, July, August and September 2014 to show that APID was granted a mining licence.

In fact, the record of the Board’s meeting on 2nd September 2014 shows the Board had actually rejected APID’s application for a mining lease, according to documents.

So where and who granted APID its controversial mining lease?

The answer comes from internal documents I have been shown. Despite the fact that the Board had never approved granting APID a mining licence, a quiet but formal ceremony took place in the Offices of the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification at the upper Lengakiki on 7th September 2014.

It was a Sunday.

The first to arrive, ahead of APID’s delegation for the ceremony was none other than then Permanent Secretary, Jeffrey Scott Kauha. Shortly thereafter, the controversial mining lease was signed and granted then.

Cleverly it was backdated to 5th September, the day the Board held its meeting.

The granting of the mining lease to APID was contrary to the Board’s own resolution made at its meeting on 02nd September 2014 – a repeat of its resolution in June of the same year.

The Board’s stance is in defiance of Cabinet’s conclusion and instruction to grant APID a mining lease over West Rennell.

Here’s the resolution of the 2nd September 2014 Board meeting. It simply said:

“After much discussion the Mines and Minerals Board resolved to uphold its decision on the 12th June 2014 not (not) to grant a mining lease to APID until all three (3) requirements have been fulfilled. … “

Three conditions were imposed in the Board’s resolution of 12th June 2014. It said:

“That before the mining lease (is) be granted:

  • More awareness to the landowners is needed so that they are fully aware of what is happening;

  • Third party such as SOPAC, SPC or Commonwealth Secretariat needs to review the application and feasibility study of APID; and
  • Land identification and acquisition is required to identify the true landowners for the purpose of surface access rights.”

One wonders what changed in the five days to 7th September 2014 that a mining lease had to be issued on a Sunday. And why was the Mining Lease retrospectively dated, instead of affixing the true date of the actual signing?

This is not the end. Wait for this.

On 22nd May this year, PS Kauha was given his marching orders. But before he left, he wrote to the Public Services Commission, accusing the Deputy Director of Mines, Joseph Ishmael of “serious misconduct in office” allegations.

Mr Ishmael was subsequently suspended on half pay. In a letter dated 19th June 2015, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Service, Nego C Sisiolo, revealed the nature of the allegations as contained in the letter by Mr Kauha.

(a)  You have failed to properly advice the former Minister Maneka and the Minerals Board on the applications and tenement areas for both Mega Bintang Borneo and APID companies;

(b)  In late 2014, you have influenced the former Minister Maneka to grant export permit to PT Mega Bintang Borneo Ltd.

Ishmael was also informed that charges relating to these allegations would be forthcoming. They did.

True to his word, Mr Sisiolo wrote to Ishmael on 12th August this year. That letter spelt out the details of the offences or charges against Ishmael, alleging the offender has failed to comply with section 4.4 of COC and GO C22 as read with PSC Regulations 44.

The particulars of the offence simply amplified the comedy of errors in this whole episode. Here it is:

“That you, Mr Joseph Ishmael, whilst serving as the Deputy Director of Mines, between 17th of March 2015 and 15th April 2015, never attend to work regularly and continued to absent yourself from work. Therefore you have failed to:

1.     Comply with section 4.4 of COC, in ensuring that your absences are reported and appropriately recorded between the dates aforementioned above

2.     Comply with GO C202, in ensuring that you must not absent yourself from duties without leave, and that application for leave of absence must be made to your responsible officer.”

It is hard for a normal person to connect these charges with the initial allegations levelled at the officer. The initial charges accused the innocent officer of denying the Minister proper advice. The officer never sits on the Board until he was appointed interim chairman in February this year.

Here, the officer is being charged with offences relating to absenteeism, a common practice in the public service. It’s a bit like the Minerals Board giving a logging company a mining licence.

What’s the public service turning into? – a manufacturing base for a comedy of errors? Or is a nest for birds of the same feathers that flock together?

By Alfred Sasako

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