THE outspoken chairman of the Malaita Outer Islands Constituency Fisheries Taskforce, Lawrence Makili, has called on the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement to tell the absolute truth about the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) funding approved for the MOI Constituency Fishery Project.
Late last month, Mr Makili told this paper in an interview at Town Ground during the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and MOI consultative meeting that that DCGA has deviated from the original Fisheries Project that his taskforce applied for funding under the ESP to a Fish-drying Project.
He said his taskforce was informed by government officials in the ESP Committee that the project had been approved but ever since, it never received the money.
Mr Maikili said MFMR has instead held a consultative meeting in Honiara with MOI people about a Fishing-drying project which it said was fitting livelihood project for the people of MOI.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) responded to Mr Makili’s statement, saying that the MOI Fisheries Project fell through way back in 2016 due to land dispute and that the Fish-drying project it discussed with the people of MOI was to be implemented under a different funding arrangement.
But Mr Makili described the statement by MFMR issued through the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as a ‘total lie’ as the Fisheries Project he had accused the government of lying about is a project initiated by his taskforce- MOI Constituency Fisheries Taskforce- around time of ESP’s introduction.
“To put the record straight, my taskforce only came into existence around the time of the establishment of the ESP and it submitted the MOI Fisheries Project for funding under this funding arrangement.
“The Press Release issued by MFMR through the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet saying that the Fisheries Project fell through in 2016 due to land dispute was a ridiculous attempt by the government to cover up one lie with another.”
In his response to the ‘untruthful’ MFMR Press Release, Mr Makili gave the background information to the MOI Constituency Fisheries Project.
“This MOI Constituency Fisheries Project was put together by MFMR officials in 2020. So this was a joint MFMR-MOI Constituency initiated project. It was endorsed to be funded under ESP by both parties.
Last year, the MFMR called us to discuss our joint Fisheries Project application. In our company was the Constituency Development Officer (CDO) for MOI Constituency.
“We sat with the officers and we looked at the Constituency Fisheries Centre (CFC) project.
“My finding from our discussions then was that before the material for the project establishment arrived in MOI, the mobilisation funds have already vanished.
“When mobilisation funds disappear, how could one expect the first spade to hit the ground for the establishment of this Fisheries Project?
“It is hard because there is no money for the mobilisation team to go and build the project,” Mr Makili said.
Mr Makili said the disappearance of the funds was the very reason why the CDO of MOI Constituency told them during their meeting last year that the constituency would be injecting $400,000 for the project.
“That ESP money was gone and we don’t know how it was used,” he added.
Mr Makili said the truth about the ESP funding is with MFMR and the contractor with his middle man.
He said MFMR should just admit why the project failed, instead of coming up with some ridiculous lies which only makes itself a laughing stock.
“It was a failed project,” Mr Makili charged.
Mr Makili said his taskforce made it very clear when it met with the MFMR last year that the MOI Constituency fisheries funding component of $400,000 was insufficient due to some crucial factors.
One was the long distance between MOI and Honiara.
“This constituency funding component could only cater for two or three solar-powered deep-freezers.
“It has been proven by other constituency-funded fisheries projects that solar power is not strong enough to power a huge freezer when it is full. Just imagine solar-powered freezers stocked to their brim by perishable commodities as fish.
“Consider the distance between MOI and Honiara and the incapacity of solar energy to power two to three huge freezers fully-stocked with fish.
“Consider the fish being stored for some time in solar powered freezers then transferred into eskies for shipment to Honiara.
”Just consider would these fish meet quality requirements for sale at the market? No. You can’t sell them at the market because they are not fresh anymore.
The second crucial factor is the storage-capacity of freezers.
“The storage-capacity of freezers is an important cost-analysis factor when venturing into a fisheries project. Sad to say but it is a fact that the storage-capacity of a large solar freezer is limited when compared to that of a large electricity-powered freezer.
“In the situation of MOI, which is already far from Honiara, operating a fishery project using solar freezers would totally be unviable,” Mr Makili said.
Mr Makili said it is based on such crucial factors that his taskforce sees Constituency-funded fisheries centres as unfeasible for MOI.
He said his taskforce came up with the idea of applying for ESP funding because it wanted to obtain huge electricity-powered freezers that can accommodate more fish.
“We were looking at a large scale fisheries project that is viable in the long-run and not an alternative livelihood project as has recently been proposed to us by MFMR after the ESP funds for our project vanished.
Mr Makili said when the MOI Constituency Fisheries Project was submitted to the ESP Committee, its response was that it was a good project.
He said the committee told his taskforce that DCGA has a policy prioritising fisheries projects for Shortland islands in the Western Province and MOI.
“My question now is, where’s the policy DCGA has been so vocal about?
Mr Makili said his taskforce even sat with the ESP Committee in the conference room of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury and we were told that the prime minister was happy with the proposal and said it must be funded.
“Now the ESP has closed and we never heard about the funding for our Fishery Project again. We called them and they said it will come in the Development Budget under MFMR.
Mr Makili said this year, MFMR changed its tone about the project and talked to them about a Fish-drying Project which it advocated as a suitable alternative livelihood project for MOI.
He said according to the MFMR response to his statement, the Fish-drying project would be funded under a different funding arrangement.
“Who is telling me the truth, MFMR or MOFT? What are these two key government ministries going to tell us now, another ridiculous lie?
“My people demand the truth now.
“MFMR must tell us the truth so we can find out whether funding for our project is really provided for in this year’s Development Budget. If we find out that it is not provided for in the Development Budget allocation to MFMR, we will go back to MOFT and tell the officials that they lied to us.
“The MFMR statement saying that the MOI Constituency Fisheries Project failed because of land dispute is a total lie,” Mr Makili said.
By LACHLAN EDDIE
Solomon Star, Honiara Newsroom