AN outspoken community leader on the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) has thrown down the gauntlet on the Government to disclose the true status of the facility, saying there is only one way to prove it still has money.
“Publish the list of ESP recipients for all to see. It is the only way to prove beyond reasonable doubt the ESP Account still has funds as claimed by the government,” Charles Karaori told Solomon Star Monday.
Mr. Karaori made the call in the face of a barrage of denials issued yesterday by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury.
Mr. Sogavare downplayed media reports, based on the Government’s booklet on the ESP, describing the reports as “misleading information.”
Solomon Star has consistently published reports in the past week suggesting the $309 million ESP budget has hit rock bottom.
But in a statement yesterday Mr. Sogavare said in his first nationwide address for this year “the information is not true.”
“Fellow citizens, contrary to sensational media report alleging the ESP has run out of money, all approved projects will commence receiving their approved funds effective this week,” he said.
He added that the payments of approved projects had been temporarily suspended in the lead up to the Christmas break as responsible officers also needed to take their break.
“I advise those responsible for such misleading information to stop misinforming the public,” Sogavare said.
The Ministry of Finance and Treasury has also weighed in with its own denial, saying the figure of $309 million was an estimate only. The statement of denial was published in both the Solomon Star and Island Sun newspapers yesterday.
But Mr. Karaori said the statements by Prime Minister Sogavare and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury have failed to clarify conflicting estimates in terms of figures provided in the booklet, Solomon Islands Government Economic Stimulus Package to Address the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
According to the booklet, the ESP facility was shown as $309 million. However, on page 17 of the booklet, the amount shown as “Total Approved SBD” was $606 million – some $297 million more than the figure announced in March last year.
Mr. Karaori told Solomon Star he acknowledged the clarification provided by the Government but added it fell short of the assurance the public needed about the status of the ESP funds.
“The clarification also fell short of clarifying the two figures as there is a difference of $297 million between the two estimates. So which figure is the true estimate,” Mr. Karaori asked
“In any case, there is only one way to prove the veracity of the claims by the government that all is well. Publish the ESP recipients’ list. It is the only way to prove me and the media wrong,” Mr. Karaori said.
“If the government is not forthcoming in publishing the list of those who have received the funding, then it means only one thing. The government is not being truthful and is accusing the media of falsity because it is easy to kill the messenger,” Mr. Karaori said.