New Zealand response to Solomons spying documents 'hypocritical'
Former Solomons officials slam New Zealand over spying allegations.
Former officials in the Solomon Islands Prime Minister's Office have accused New Zealand of hypocrisy in the wake of the spying revelations.
Documents released by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden show that New Zealand set up a listening post in its embassy in Honiara to tap the mobile phone network and collect emails from named government employees.
The New Zealand Foreign Minister says the documents cannot be trusted, but those named in them have demanded he provide a better response.
Alex Perrottet reports.
Former and current government employees were named in the document that lists email addresses that were monitored. They include the former chief of staff to Gordon Darcy Lilo, Robert Iroga, the PM's special secretary, Dr Philip Tagini, as well as the current permanent secretary of the ministry of foreign affairs, Barnabas Anga and charges d'affairs, Fiona Indu, who worked in the Solomons embassy in New Zealand and now in Australia.
The New Zealand investigative journalist, Nicky Hager, who researched the papers after their release, says he was shocked that such people were on New Zealand's radar.
NICKY HAGER: I found that it's probably the most shocking thing I discovered in the Pacific, which was that these were not terrorists, or highly corrupt politicians or any excuse like that. These seem to be extremely respectable people who were working in the best interests of their country, either as public servants or in one case as an anti-corruption campaigner. And it doesn't look good for the New Zealand spy agency that they were targeting them.
Robert Iroga says New Zealanders needs to ask themselves if it would be appropriate for Solomon Islanders to spy on them, and if not, to ask their foreign minister why it was done.
ROBERT IROGA: McCully shouldn't be underplaying this. This is a serious issue and his government is spying on another sovereign state. Imagine if Solomon Islands was doing that to New Zealand, what the reaction would be. So we don't have any hard powers, we don't have any strong soft powers to counter what New Zealand is doing but they should be ashamed of what they are doing. McCully should be ashamed of himself for spying on our people.
Robert Iroga says the Solomons Government needs to immediately remove the spying equipment. Dr Philip Tagini, who now works as a lawyer, says the exposure is a breach of his constitutional rights.
PHILIP TAGINI: I do not expect New Zealand to be spying on officials like myself and others who are actually working with very certain intentions to protect our country but as well to work with New Zealand and Australia to advance the common agenda of the region. To spy on officials and the government, I think that's deplorable, that's not acceptable.
Dr Tagini says there are clear lines of communication and he can't understand why emails were gathered. The Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, sent this statement via email:
MURRAY MCCULLY: The Government will not be responding to claims made from documents stolen by Edward Snowden. The Snowden documents were taken some time ago and many are old, out of date, and we can't discount that some of what is being put forward may even be fabricated.
Nicky Hager has strongly denied anything was fabricated, and says the Snowden documents have been publicised and debated in many other countries without the authorities claiming they might be fabricated. He says the date of the documents doesn't change the fact that spying did occur, and the New Zealand officials should act more professionally and address the issues. But Mr Iroga has gone further and says he suspected New Zealand was spying long before the revelations. He says he was often frustrated in bilateral meetings with staff from New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said they had information about the plans of how Solomons was using aid from Taiwan when New Zealand encouraged Solomons to be transparent in its dealings with China, and believes New Zealand shared those communications with China.
ROBERT IROGA: New Zealand was bullying us in a lot of our negotiations. I was quite surprised that some of the information that they shouldn't know, they know already in some of the discussion and I won't tell what the information is but this all goes to tell you that they read exactly word for word what our discussions were and they had the upper hand.
Robert Iroga says he challenges Murray McCully to live up to the standards of transparency that his country demands of others. The Director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at Canterbury University, Professor Steven Ratuva, says the relationship between the two countries will take a hit.
STEVEN RATUVA: I think it's quite unprecedented in the history of the Pacific. It raises a whole lot of questions in relation to New Zealand's relationship with Pacific Island States. It's something which I would call very subtle diplomatic bullying, because a small island state like Solomon Islands has no way to respond to spying. I mean if you do it to the Chinese and Russians, they can respond in kind.
There has been no further statement from Mr McCully, other than to say he is happy with the measured reactions that have been evident. But Nicky Hager says that's far from the truth, and if there's measure in official responses, there's also a reason for that.
NICKY HAGER: I think it is rather hypocritical of Murray McCully to talk about a measured reaction from the South Pacific when his government has spent nearly two years going around and pressuring and persuading these governments not to say anything when the revelations came out. So what's really gone on around the South Pacific is that many people who were not happy with what they heard, I believe, had been leant on and persuaded that it wasn't in their interests to offend New Zealand by speaking up at this time.
Nicky Hager says he doesn't have documentary proof of the allegation that governments have been pressured to keep quiet. Steven Ratuva says the fact that the official reponses from Pacific Island countries has been muted may have more to do with their dependence on New Zealand aid.
STEVEN RATUVA: A lot of them rely on New Zealand and Australia for aid. And aid is a very very powerful leverage to keep the small island states under control. So for McCully to say the response has been measured does not mean that they are not angry, it simply means that maybe they are trying to play politics at that level, initially.
Steven Ratuva says the Pacific Islands Forum meeting this year may have some difficult moments if the spying scandal is raised.
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