MY name is Oliver Nol Salopuka.
I am from the Russell Islands. A Lavukal by birthright and of the Kaiseleng Tribe.
I am the Chairman of the Lavukal House of Chiefs and the Lavukal Trust Board. I am also a director in RIPEL and Lever Solomons Limited.
I went home to the Russell Islands last Saturday and presented Sterry Lenny’s story to our people and I returned yesterday.
In the Russell Islands they are very disappointed with what they read and they asked me to respond with the true facts.
Sterry Lenny is my cousin brother and also a member of our Kaiseleng Tribe.
I regret to say that for some time now my cousin brother Sterry has had some personal issues against me that he has allowed to overflow into your papers and to regrettably disparage our Prime Minister, Central Islands Province, LEMCO, our Lavukal Trust Board, RIPEL and other victims.
I wish here to have the opportunity address my cousin brother for the sake of correcting some misconceptions produced by him to the public in your newspaper.
Sterry, the PM’s 30th September 2016 letter was addressed to the Chairman of RIPEL and discusses the re-starting of RIPEL’s operations and some exciting, good and long overdue developments for our lovely Russell Islands.
We are very happy and thankful to our PM and the DCCG for giving us some attention and showing to us their support for development in our Russell Islands. We say the same for LEMCO, RIPEL and Levers.
Sterry, the PM wrote the letter as the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands to promote to the world our Russell Islands and the Solomon Islands for development and to invite any interested investors to participate in developing the Russell Islands.
As a Lavukal person and a RIPEL Director, I am grateful to the PM and DCCG for the interest his government is showing toward RIPEL and our Russell Islands.
Sterry, the PM’s advisors don’t need to do any due diligence.
It is the prerogative of any investor wishing to invest in RIPEL or to invest in our Lavukal people, to do their own due diligence.
Sterry you know very well that the illegal industrial dispute that was masterminded, controlled and driven by the now defunct trade union SINUW is what has in fact brought the total destruction to the whole of the RIPEL operations.
Not the Russell Islands. Sterry, as a former police officer, you know very well that the RIPEL saga was allowed to become as you say it; the greatest economic liability and blunder, due mainly to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force reluctance to uphold and enforce the law.
Sterry, you know that it is common knowledge that anyone can make quick money by just going to the Russell Islands and deal in stolen RIPEL copra and cocoa.
RIPEL will make complaints to the Police but the Police won’t do anything. That is on the record for the last 12 years.
So Sterry, it is unfair for you to blame RIPEL management, directors or shareholders for the big mess that has resulted from no law and order on our RIPEL Estates.
Sterry, have you forgotten about all those years when you use to put a lot of effort into helping Mr Whiteside to try to get the Police to respond to the crimes against RIPEL?
Have you forgotten about all those times and hours when you used to talk to us about it?
All the ideas you used to give to us to try to get the Police to respond to our complaints?
Sterry, you know that the RIPEL management is not defunct.
It has been functioning in exile as best it can, given the difficult circumstances it has been forced to endure as a result of no law and order on its estates and the Police reluctance to deal with crimes committed.
You know that when we make complaints to the Yandina Police, they say that they are neutral and can’t get involved. So how can you expect our RIPEL to operate in a lawless environment?
It is only fair to our RIPEL investors for them to be allowed proper law and order on RIPEL estates before they invest anymore funds into RIPEL.
So Sterry, I ask you how can you expect RIPEL to operate when any Tom, Dick or Harry can freely commit any crime against RIPEL and the Police say that they are neutral?
Do you recall the time you personally witnessed at Yandina the Police Officer-in-Charge hiring out the Police Hilux to carry stolen RIPEL copra to Yandina wharf?
That time you were really upset about it and you complained bitterly about what you saw. You told Mr Whiteside to complain directly to the Commissioner of Police about it. Do you remember?
Sterry, you know very well that the foreigners did not deprive us indigenous landowners of our lands. You know that our Lavukal ancestors sold the lands to them. So it is wrong to blame the foreigners.
Sterry, you claim that the lands have now gone back to the true landowners.
With respect to you as a fellow Lavukal, we don’t understand how you can believe that Mr Alex Bartlett and Mr Jeremy Rua holding PE titles, could be true landowners of Russell Islands.
We know that these two persons are from different places in Solomon Islands.
Our Lavukal brothers of the Sevev Tribe in the Russell Islands that we know and associate with do disagree with your belief that their Sevev Tribe is the PE Holder of all the registered properties.
That very disagreement is the main reason why Sevev Tribal Chief Jason Kikolo and the other Sevev Chiefs have gone to High Court in Civil Case No. 148 of 2015 claiming that the so-called Sevev Land Trust Board and its Secretary Mr Alex Bartlett obtained the PE titles by fraud and mistake.
You already know that Chief Jason Kikolo’s court case seeks, among other things, the Court’s orders to get the PE titles returned back to the Commissioner of Lands.
You should know this because we saw you sitting in Court last week to hear the case.
Sterry, your claim that the PE titles had been in foreign hands and control for more than 100 years is very misleading and untruthful too.
If you check the law, section 100, Lands & Titles Act, you will find that the PE titles were taken from Levers (foreigners) by act of law on 31st December 1977.
That was when by law the PE titles were taken back from foreigners (Levers).
So Levers held the PE titles from 1905 to 1977. For 72 years. It was our law (not your friends) that got the PE titles back from foreigners 39 years ago, in 1977.
Since that time (31st December 1977) our Commissioner of Lands (not foreigners) has been holding the PE titles until by fraud and mistake your friends got their hands on them without even paying one single cent for them.
But let’s not waste time arguing about these PE titles here that your friends took for free from the Commissioner of Lands. Let us leave it for the High Court to pass judgment on.
Sterry, you are mistaken in your belief that any development in Russell Islands has to get consent from your friend Alex Bartlett’s Sevev Land Trust Board.
For example, RIPEL can carry out any development it wishes as long as it has the approvals of the various responsible and appropriate government authorities.
WeLavukal can likewise do the same on our custom lands, or on any lands that RIPEL and Levers gives back to us.
We don’t need any kind of development consent from your PE Holder friends that you talk about.
Sterry, you are also mistaken in your belief that RIPEL is wound up.
If you do a simple check with the Registrar of Companies you will find the RIPEL continues in existence.
The only reason RIPEL is not operating is because it is overrun by crime and under the unlawful control of some crime lords while the Police say to us that they can’t do anything about the crimes because the Police are neutral.
You know that this is true and that I am not making this up. You yourself are a witness of this fact.
Most of us Lavukal are proud of our shareholding we have in RIPEL which was given to us for free, but we are sorry about the mess that RIPEL is in and we have been appealing to the authorities to correct this.
We can only look forward to the day when proper action will be taken by the appropriate authorities, and RIPEL can resume its operations.
So you see, to us Lavukal, the PM’s 30th September 2016 letter was a source of great encouragement after all the hardship we have been going through for years.
Our Lavukal House of Chiefs and our Lavukal Trust Board has reached an agreement with RIPEL and Levers to give back to us Lavukal the fixed term estate (FTE) in lands not utilised by RIPEL.
We are happy to announce here that Kusuvau Island (FTE P/N 165-003-1) has already been returned to us.
This was possible only because the Commissioner of Lands still holds that PE title.
Sterry, your friends forgot to grab the PE title 165-003-1 for Kusuvau, so the Commissioner of Lands kindly consented to Levers transferring the FTE to our Lavukal Trust Board which is holding it in trust for the Keruval Tribe, the Lavukalindigenous custom owners of Kusuvau.
This is what we formed the Lavukal Trust Board to do.
Sterry, your friends hold the PE titles to the rest of the FTE’sowned by Levers and they have refused to consent to Levers transferring the other FTE’s to the Lavukal Trust Board.
But this is not a real hindrance to our Lavukal development because RIPEL and Levers have both agreed that we can enter and take possession of the FTE’s and develop them for our own benefit.
Sterry, your friends, the PE Holders, do not have lawful power to stop us from doing this as the FTE title is with Levers who has granted this access to us.
It just means that we will have to enter into some binding agreements with Levers and RIPEL to give us legal right to occupy and develop the lands for our own benefit, while Levers continues to hold FTE title.
Sterry, what have your friends the PE Holders accomplished since they got their hands on the PE titles?
We heard that they tried to buy from Levers all the FTE titles, but they failed.
We heard that they tried to sell all the RIPEL estate to foreigners, but they failed.
Mr Alex Bartlett tried to take over RIPEL’s Fiami Estate, FTE P/N 165-002-6, but he failed.
Then they demanded $millions in land rental from Levers, but they failed.
They tried to forfeit and seize back all Levers FTE titles, but they failed.
They have been powerless to do any of these things because most of what they have been trying to do is against the law.
Levers is just waiting for the outcome of Chief Jason Kikolo High Court case.
Should Chief Kikolo win and the Court orders that all your friends PE titles be rectified back to the Commissioner of Lands, Levers will then obtain the Commissioners consent to transfer all the other FTE’s to the Lavukal Trust Board to hold in trust for our various tribes with custom rights to those lands.
Otherwise Levers would be going to Court for orders to order your friends to grant consent.
You see the law says that consent cannot be unreasonablywithheld by the PE Holder.
If you don’t believe me, tell your PE Holder friends to check the outcome of Levers High Court Case No. 363 of 2010.
Sterry, I am sorry that you are upset with me.
If you wish to raise your personal grievances against me then I suggest here that you do so via the appropriate forum instead of disparaging others and misinforming the public by newspaper.
The majority of us Lavukal are very grateful indeed for the encouragement and support already given to us by our Prime Minister and DCCG, CIP, LEMCO, RIPEL, Levers and our Lavukal House of Chiefs, and by the vast majority of our Lavukal people who are tired of the corruption that has caused the devastation to RIPEL and has disrupted our lives, development and well-being for the last 12 years.
By OLIVER N. SALOPUKA
Lavukal House of Chiefs