The sale of government shares in the Daily Post to what appears to be a bogus company, in blatant violation of tender requirements, raises some serious questions.
The deal with Belmont Trading Ltd has been struck secretly without the sale of government shares in Fiji Daily Post being approved by Parliament.
The SDL Government has broken every rule relevant to the tender process, in accommodating this sale to a virtually unknown company that is not registered in Fiji and whose directors are not known.
It is equally fishy that government is currently selling just 5% of its 46.4% shares in the newspaper with the rest to be sold in bits and pieces over a five year period.
Government’s intention in engaging in this piecemeal sale is clear: it intends to hold on to The Daily Post in the lead up to the 2006 general elections with Mesake Koroi, a journalist with strong connections to the SDL Party, in the editor’s seat as its mouthpiece.
The requirements of the tender process were that:
- the successful bidder must have “prior commitment and a proven track record” in the newspaper industry
- it must have the financial capability to inject new capital in Fiji Daily Post and
- the most competitive bid would be considered
Belmont Trading Ltd. has no proven track record in the media industry. It has not injected new capital in the newspaper and it was not the most competitive bidder, Indeed, it submitted the lowest tender.
“On what basis then was Belmont’s offer accepted?” Mr. Chaudhry asked.
A search in the Registrar of Title’s office shows the company is not registered in Fiji nor is there an application for registration.
The company received FTIB approval but on what basis this approval was granted is not known. FTIB claims the company is registered in Hong Kong but the FLP is reliably informed that no such company is registered in Hong Kong.
The FTIB did not carry out a due diligence on the company nor is it aware of how much investment capital Belmont Trading Ltd brought into Fiji.
“There is something very fishy about this entire transaction. Government must advertise and sell its assets on the open market. It must then go for the best offer and seek Parliament’s approval first before a deal is struck.
“None of these procedures were followed. Government has already announced the sale to Belmont Trading without obtaining approval from Parliament.
“All these blatant irregularities indicate a clear conspiracy to sell to a bogus company so that the SDL can continue to exercise control of the newspaper in the lead up to the general elections,” Mr. Chaudhry said.