By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN
OWNER of Helicopter Support Solomon Islands Limited who confessed to entering the country during the State of Emergency order in May has been fined $5,000 yesterday.
Paul Hubbard, 59, from Australia had pleaded guilty to one count of the prohibition of entry of non-citizen, contrary to clause 4 of the EMERGENCY POWERS (COVID-19) (Prohibition of Entry of Non-Citizens) Order 2020 and Regulations 8(1)(2) and 3 of the Emergency Powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020.
Chief Magistrate Emma Garo when delivering her sentence said the country is currently under a State of Public Emergency because of Covid-19.
“The Solomon Islands is still very fortunate to be Covid-19 free as a nation,” Garo said.
She added that the Court equally has a duty to protect the nation by coming to aid of the front-liners to enforce the laws through the sentences it imposes.
“The breach of any law made pursuant to the State of Emergency Act, the Regulations and Orders to ensure that the nation remains Covid-19 free and that the country is protected must not be taken lightly.
“Rather, it must in my view be enforced effectively and decisively, bearing in mind the need to be balanced, firm, fair and square when the meting out the sentence,” she further added.
While accepting the very powerful and exceptional mitigating factors exist in favour of the accused, the need to deter other would-be similar offenders, the need for general deterrence, given the circumstances of the country at this time, doing all it could to keep the Covid-19 virus out of the country she was unable to agree with the defence that an appropriate order would be the dismissal the charge no punishment imposed on Hubbard.
“If I were to accept the submissions by learned counsel Mr. Radclyffe on this point, I would be undermining the whole purpose of the declaration of the State of Emergency and the Regulations and Orders creating offences to deal with the threat of Covid-19 as a pandemic, by rendering these effective through the imposition of inadequate and ineffective sentences,” she said.
Hubbard who is a pilot and provides helicopter and air taxi services under the business name ‘Helicopter Support Solomon Islands Limited,’ flew to Vanuatu to assist in delivering relief supplies after Cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu.
The government of Vanuatu on April 26, had contacted Hubbard’s company to deploy their Helicopter to assist with cyclone relief in Vanuatu.
Vanuatu Civil Aviation Authority granted permission for the Company to operate in Vanuatu.
Hubbard telephoned the Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s office Robson Djokovic and informed him that they were urgently needed in Vanuatu and hoped to be back in one week.
On April 27 Hubbard and his one member crew left for Vanuatu and remained there for four weeks delivering food, supplies, and medical staff to administer treatment in the affected areas.
On May 20, Hubbard’s brother emailed Dr. Alex Munamua of the Ministry of Health and Djokovic, advising them of the return flight, the people on the flight and arrival time at Henderson Airport.
That same day, Hubbard filed a flight plan for the return trip with Civil Aviation in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands and obtained clearance from Vanuatu authorities before departure.
His return flight to Honiara was conducted on 30-minute schedules with a seamless handover from Vanuatu authorities to the Honiara Flight Region with up to date estimates of their arrival time in Honiara.
Hubbard landed at Henderson Airport on May 22 and contacted the Ministry of Health.
After completing arrival /COVID -19 documentation Hubbard and his crew were later picked up by health authority and transported to the quarantine station at GBR, Henderson area.
According to the facts, Hubbard was not granted an exemption to enter into the country by the Prime Minister’s Office or the (Covid-19) Oversight Committee.
After being quarantined Hubbard was interviewed by the police for breaching an order made by the Prime Minister on March 27 in relation to the prohibition of entry of non-citizens into the Solomon Islands during the State of Emergency.
Hubbard said in his statement to the court that before he left Vanuatu, he was aware there were restrictions on any commercial flights arriving into Solomon Islands.
He said he, however, assumed that as his company provides what he calls an important service and that he was returning from humanitarian work in Vanuatu, which is a Covid-19 free country, that he had been given 2 days’ notice to the PMO and the Ministry of health that he was alright for him to return.
He also explained that at no time before he left Vanuatu on April 29 was he told by any Solomon Islands Government officials that he would need a special permit to return to Honiara.
Hubbard was cleared by Solomon Islands Immigration to enter the country upon his arrival at the Henderson Airport.
His lawyer had asked the court to dismiss the case and have Hubbard discharged under section 35 of the Penal Code (Cap 26).
Andrew Radclyffe had submitted that there are unique circumstances that exist in this case to justify the court to take the approach provided for under section 35 of the Penal Code (Cap 26).
He also submitted that entering of conviction against his client who is a non-citizen runs the risk of being deported.
Garo however said this is not a matter relevant to be taken into consideration and the decision whether or not to deport a non-citizen rests with the responsible Minister and a matter best left to be dealt with by the appropriate authorities at the relevant time.
Hubbard first came into the country in 2004 as an employee of Bristow Helicopters who had a contract with RAMSI to operate in the country.
Hubbard saw the need for a helicopter service in the country and so in April 2006 he incorporated the company called Helicopter Solomon Islands Support Services.
He is the sole shareholder and director of the company and the company employs his brother who is also a helicopter pilot and at the moment they are the only two helicopter pilots available.
It was heard that the company’s main work in the country is providing support for the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), Australian Federal Police, and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, including Medivac operations for the National Referral Hospital.
The court also heard that in April 2020, during the MV Taimareho tragic incident, the Prime Minister’s Office had Hubbard who was quarantined at that time to be released so he could assist in the search for people lost overboard from Cyclone Harold.
The accused’s company also transported by Helicopter phone towers for Solomon Telekom and Bemobile and continues to support them.
The company also provides services for mining and prospecting companies in the country.
Ms. Garo said according to Hubbard’s statement provided to the court, it is clear that his company provided a wide range of Helicopter Services to different members of the business community in the country, the government and other agencies.
His statement also mentioned that his company does have a great working relationship with the business community and is highly respected in the field of its expertise and specialty.
Hubbard has until June 30 to pay his fine.
Failure to pay the fine by then will result in six months jail term.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Rachel Olutimayin appeared for the Crown.