The Solomon Islands government has threatened to suspend the outspoken premier of Malaita Province and his executive.
Daniel Suidani has been one of the loudest critics of the national government's decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China, going as far as refusing any development assistance from Beijing in his province.
The Island Sun newspaper published the contents of a letter, dated 30 April, from the provincial government Minister, Rollen Seleso, to Malaita's premier. The letter accused Mr Suidani of embarking on unsanctioned overseas travel and wilfully disobeying a directive to attend a Covid-19 strategy meeting in the capital Honiara.
In the letter, Rollen Seleso was quoted warning Mr Suidani that these actions, as well as previous and ongoing breaches of protocol, contradicted the role of a provincial administration as an agent of the state.
"This gives rise to a security issue for Solomon Islands," Mr Seleso said.
"In light of the above and if in the event that this does not cease, I will be recommending to the Hon Prime Minister to exercise his powers to suspend the Malaita Provincial Government during the State of Public Emergency," he said.
Opposition urges caution
The leader of the opposition Matthew Wale urged the government to exercise caution and to refrain from suspending the Malaita premier, who enjoys strong support from local chiefs and communities in the province.
Mr Wale said suspending the Malaita provincial executive risked undesirable outcomes.
"I strongly urge the Sogavare government to refrain from taking any decision that is likely to incite social disharmony at a time when the country needs to be united in the face of covid-19", Mr Wale said.
The MP said any move against the premier was especially risky when the grounds for the suspension appeared to be a selective enforcement of the law.
Mr Wale said while reasons were given for the potential suspension it was hard to separate it from the stance taken by Malaita Province against the government's decision to enter into diplomatic ties with China.
According to Mr Wale, in 2017 under the tenure of Manasseh Sogavare in his previous stint as prime minister, three Premiers from Malaita, Guadalcanal and Western Provinces took a trip to China, with which there were no diplomatic ties at the time, without the approval of the responsible ministry.
"The travel by those three Premiers to China did not attract the same punishment that is now being threatened against Malaita Premier and Executive," Mr Wale said.