AT least 24 Melanesian Arts Festival participants were thrown off their Air Niugini flight to Port Moresby yesterday, reportedly to make way for a last-minute delegation headed by Prime Minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo.
The 24 men and women have now been booked to fly on Saturday to join the 168-strong contingent at the official opening ceremony in the afternoon.
It is not clear whether the Solomon Islands’ contingent was scheduled to officially take part in the opening ceremony.
Papua New Guinea is hosting the Melanesian Arts Festival, which will feature arts and cultures of Melanesia for the next two weeks.
The drama in offloading members of the Solomon Islands’ contingent began on Tuesday afternoon.
Officials familiar with the travel arrangements said Prime Minister Lilo ‘personally’ telephoned the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, John Wasi, directing that seven seats be made available for the Prime Minister’s delegation on the lunchtime flight on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister’s delegation consisted of himself, his wife and six officials.
Mr Wasi along with the organisers were reportedly angry.
However, because the directive came from the top, they had little choice but to do as the Prime Minister had directed.
In the end, there were eight on the Prime Minister’s delegation, which flew to Port Moresby yesterday (Wednesday).
Consequently, 17 participants had to be offloaded. Already there were another five wait-listed for Saturday’s flight.
“In total, there were 24 of us that had to give up our seats so that the Prime Minister’s delegation could get on the flight,” one frustrated participant said.
“The Prime Minister’s wife does not even have any role to play at all during the Festival so why should she travel? It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” the participant who asked anonymity said.
“His last-minute intervention again is an act of his usual bullying and corrupt attitude,” he said.
It is understood Prime Minister Lilo is using the trip to discuss with his counterpart, Prime Minister Peter O’Neil, the release of this year’s K20 million (about SBD64 million) in bilateral aid to Solomon Islands.
Under a five-year bilateral grand-in-aid package negotiated by former Prime Minister, Danny Philip, PNG agreed to provide K100 million (about SBD300 million) to Solomon Islands over five years.
The multi-million dollar grant was effective from 2012.
The prime minister did not publicly announce the trip prior to his departure.
By ALFRED SASAKO