HCC’S BIG CAR BUY
By IAN M. KAUKUI
A COMPANY owned by local Chinese businessman and appointed city councillor John Szetu supplied seven vehicles worth more than $1.9 million to the Honiara City Council.
This is despite the council’s 2020 budget allocated only $180,000 for vehicle purchases.
The seven vehicles include five hiluxes and two RAV4.
They were procured from Golden Pacific Motors Co. Ltd, which Company Haus records show was owned by Szetu.
This latest controversy is revealed in the council’s 2020 first-quarter report that sacked deputy treasurer Obedson Pina produced.
The report said this vehicle purchase was never put out on tender, just like the controversial $1.8 million fire extinguisher deal the council procured from China.
The council illegally borrowed the $1.8 million from Szetu.
But the report was critical of the vehicle purchases, especially the two RAV4s.
“This vehicle payment warrants an investigation,” the report said.
“That’s because they were supplied by Szetu, which is a conflict of interest, as well as their qualities, which should have attracted lower prices.”
A Honiara City Council insider the Solomon Star spoke to said one of the RAV4s underwent maintenance during the first few weeks of purchase.
“It has window screen and alternator problems amongst others, forcing HCC to foot the maintenance bill.
“These two RAV4s should just be sold at say $30,000 to $40,000 each.”
The insider said an urgent investigation into the cost of the vehicles is a must.
The insider added because of the nature of the transaction and the need to keep it under wraps, the payment vouchers were hidden away from council records.
“However, one thing that remains clear is that vehicle purchases, as appeared under fixed assets in the first-quarter report, was a little shy of $2 million,” he added.
The insider also revealed that Szetu even had his two excavators contracted at the Ranadi landfill at an hourly cost of $1,500 per machine.
The insider said that this is a pure reap-off of public funds taking into account the municipal roles and responsibilities and the due accountability that HCC owes to the residents of Honiara.
The insider said that according to HCC 2020 Budget, an allocation was made for the purchase of an Excavator.
“However, till to this day, the excavator remains in the books,” he said.
When the Solomon Star contacted Szetu for comments, he hanged up as soon as our reporter introduced himself.
Meanwhile, one of the hiluxes, which was allocated to the council’s Education department, has been used mostly by one of the councillors, who is a close pal of Mayor Wilson Mamae.
Reports circulating within the HCC said the councillor intends to buy off the hilux at a lower rate.
It is believed that the Hilux would soon be purchased by the said councillor at a lower cost.
“The vehicle is brand new and for the councillor to purchase at a much lower price, let alone sold at all, is simply unacceptable.”
The insider said during a recent visit to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, the City Mayor and his delegation were donated with a G-Plated Hilux purposely to assist the revenue collection team within the Finance Division.
But instead of using the vehicle for its intended purpose, city clerk Rence Sore got hold of it and has it garaged for his own use.