Claims SIPA puts down $2.2m on first sea plane
As allegations of unapproved spendings swirl around Solomon Islands Ports Authority (SIPA) Chief Executive Officer, Colin Yow, there is new revelation of yet another alleged unapproved spending.
This time it is the alleged down payment on the first SIPA’s seaplane acquisition.
According to sources, SIPA has already put down SBD$2.2 million for the first aircraft. It plans to acquire six seaplanes over time.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was believed to have been briefed on the SIPA saga when he arrived back from his week-long visit to cyclone-ravaged Fiji on Monday.
Mr Sogavare visited Fiji in his capacity as chairman of the political sub-regional grouping, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).
There were suggestions he could ask Caucus to direct the SIPA Board for a formal investigation into these allegations of unapproved expenditures, bonuses, rice imports from Vietnam and so on.
The latest revelation of seaplane purchase adds to a string of allegations relating to unapproved spendings on rice imports and hefty bonuses, including a SBD$4.7 million bonus which Mr Yow allegedly awarded himself after just eight months in the top SIPA job.
Investigation has established that Mr Yow spent USD$1.1 million buying rice from a Vietnamese supplier through Singapore. A company said to be a Shell company was subsequently established in Singapore to handle the payment for the rice purchase, raising questions as to why SIPA could not deal directly with the supplier.
Our investigation has also revealed that Mr Yow had awarded himself SBD4.7 million in bonuses after just eight months in the job.
He had also awarded the new SIPA Board members annual bonuses of between $150, 000 and $170, 000 apiece – allegedly without the Board’s approval.
The payment for the plane is believed to have been made last year. However, it is not clear whether the then SIPA Board had approved the seaplane purchase or the intention by SIPA to go into the lucrative yet costly airlines business.
In an interview with the Central Bank of Solomon Islands’ Foreign Exchange Control last week the CBSI confirmed SIPA had made a large payment last year.
In the interview a spokesman said the Foreign Exchange Control was trying to locate the record of the payment, which he believed was for the aircraft.
CBSI later issued a statement refuting comments by the spokesman that “the possibility of money laundering could not be ruled out” in the rice purchase transaction.
This is because the second payment of USD$740, 000 (about SBD5, 705, 400) for the rice was made to a bank account with a different address from the initial address given for the Singapore company, Infrastructure and Industrial PTE Ltd, which was set up to handle the rice purchases. It is also alleged that the bank account belong to a couple who have no connection whatsoever with the company.
At this stage no one seems to put an actual figure on the down payment for the seaplanes.
Both the CEO and his financial controller allegedly gave conflicting figures on the down payment.
The controversial CEO, for example is said to have put the payment at USD200, 000 (about SBD1, 542, 000) the financial controller puts it at just half or USD100, 000 (about SBD771, 000).
Meanwhile SIPA Board members who received bonuses earlier this month may be asked to repay the money because it was not sanctioned by the Board.
It is understood only one member decided against accepting the payment.
By Alfred Sasako