By ANDREW FANASIA
THE Russell Islands Plantation Estate Limited (RIPEL) issue will remain stagnant if the government and the national leaders continue to politicise the position in the RIPEL Cabinet sub committee and other sub committee, under the Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (OPMC).
Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for East Malaita and Public Accounts Committee member Manasseh Maelanga made this statement when the OPMC members appeared before the PAC last week to submit their appropriation bid for the remaining months of 2018.
His statement came after the question raised by PAC member and MP for Aoke/LangaLanga Mathew Wale about the current status of the RIPEL issue.
As has been widely reported, the Government has established a cabinet sub- committee late last year to work on reviving RIPEL.
Mr Maelanga said that as a deputy prime minister and member of the DCCG Sogavare-led government they were about to complete the whole process but then because the government changed, it seems that the RIPEL sub-committee has to start again.
“This is the major problem our government is facing because when you remove the people who have been working tirelessly on this issue just because of politics in our government, we will be doing the same thing again and again,” Mr Maelanga said.
He strongly stated that the national leaders should not politicise those position or committees so that we use the right people to do the job we want especially to deal with such national issue as RIPEL.
“We cannot complete the RIPEL issue this year with the current government because as far as I know there were no reports or updates on what is going on with the RIPEL sub-committee,” he added.
But Special Secretary to the Prime Minister John Muria Jr told PAC that the RIPEL sub-committee has engaged an assessor to look into the claims of the RIPEL workers.
After assessing their claims the sub-committee will have to do a report to be handed over to the government for further deliberation and what steps to take next concerning the workers claims.
Mr Wale again asked what the RIPEL committee is trying to achieve.
“Is the government trying to buy RIPEL or just buy the assets or is it the government trying to get another investor involve or trying to get the current investor to resume operations,” he asked.
Mr Muria Jr told the committee that it is quiet early for him to make any outlook on what the government should do.
“But what the government is trying to do is to assess the current situation,” Mr Muria Jr said.
But Mr Wale said it’s been four years and what does he mean by saying too early because this sub-committee suppose to work in four years and the government had a good part of three years to formulate its position on what to do with RIPEL.
“If it’s too early, then it might take another four years,” Wale assumed.
Mr Muria Jr however said that the end gain of the government is to revitalise RIPEL but the first step to take is to settle the workers’ claims and then later deal with the settlers.
“Those were the steps the committee intended to address before we can see how the government can see where to start,” he said.
But PAC chairman and MP for East Honiara Douglas Ete said that should be the work done in the last four years from two successive prime ministers.
“Surely there must be reports and some planning to direct the government and we have heard that the previous government already made some payments to RIPEL on amortised basis.
“It is true the government wants to revitalise RIPEL but that could be the country’s cosmic picture but it does not stated clearly in the last six to seven years and now we are heading to the end of another four years and it’s still not clear,” Mr Ete said
He further stated that as the responsible office that looks after this vital issue, OPMC must put this country into the right direction as to how we should go concerning this RIPEL issue through their policy frame work.
Meanwhile, Mr Muria Jr confirmed that a report on the progress of RIPEL issue will be submitted to the PAC in due course.
The Solomon Star understands that the coconut plantation at Russell Islands is the largest in the southern hemisphere and its revival will certainly boost the economy.
This paper is also aware that there were other numbers of Cabinet sub-committees under the OPMC; they are CEMA, Gold Ridge and Kolombangara Development Advisory Council (KDAC).