Summary of SP position
- As a commercially operated SOE with established governance and financial procedures,
SP’s legal position on the matter has not changed to date. While SP respects Guadalcanal land and culture, SP’s position is that it had legally bought the land from the registered owner. It has since registered the land, fenced the site and considers the matter closed as of 2019. If there are other claims, then the other party can lodge their claim in court.
SP Response to Sasako
- Solomon Power would like to clarify Alfred Sasako’s misguided article on Monday’s Solomon Star. Due to a request from Sasako last week for a formal comment, SP did provide a formal response but this was never fully highlighted in Sasako’s article. He instead conjures comments from the CEO that were not verified and never part of the formal response. Sasako never asked SP on the issues regarding the customary ownership.
- Like other Sasako articles, he already had a preconceived agenda and whatever response SP provided was never going to be equally presented. SP therefore wants to present the facts.
- For the information of the public, SP (buyer) purchased the “land” (pn 191-046-81) from the legal/registered owners (seller) and formally registered it on 11 Feb 2019. This was to build its proposed solar farm at Tanagai. The land was original part of a larger parcel (pn 191-046-81, lot 484 of LR 910) registered in 2015. It was subsequently subdivided by the seller on 14 December 2018.
- The Tanagai land was purchased and transferred to SP over 2 years ago. It was legally acquired from the registered sellers in accordance with the Land and Titles Act. The transactions were authorized and reviewed by SP Board and Management (at that time). The Transfer is valid unless cancelled by court order.
- Moreover, Sasako tries to portray the purchase of the land and the removal of George
Keni’s incomplete house as happening in 2021. This is FACTUALLY incorrect because the transfer and associated issues with the land happened 2 years ago in 2019! The Editors of the Solomon Star would do justice to readers if they were to independently verify the basic fact on the ‘year’ of the event from one of their seasoned reporters. Verification of information is important to ensure it is factual and so that people can trust the news.
- As evident in the criticism of the Solomon Star and Sasako’s articles on other matters, it is quite concerning that Sasako is not dealing with all facts but only cherry picking of information and sleight of hand techniques to drive his preconceived agenda.
George Keni’s purported claim
- Sasako in his article brings up the case of George Keni who had claims on the land. SP is aware of Mr George Keni’s claim and have previously responded in writing to Mr Keni and his lawyer explaining why SP is not liable to pay Mr Keni any compensation.
Essentially, Mr Keni is not the registered owner of the land. Mr Keni claimed to have purchased the land from the customary landowners in 2017. However this is not possible as the land was registered land in 2015 and therefore only the registered owners have the right to deal with the land.
- SP is aware that Mr Keni’s incomplete house was removed by the then registered owners (sellers) of the land. The construction of the incomplete house within parcel 191-046-131 was done without the consent of the registered owners. SP is aware that the then registered owners, prior to removing the incomplete house, offered Mr Keni to relocate to another parcel which they were also the registered owners of but Mr Keni refused this offer. Therefore, the registered owners (sellers) had the legal right to cause the in complete house to be demolished and removed. It is normal in a transfer of land, for payment of the purchase price to be conditioned on the registered owner giving “vacant possession” of the land.
- Keni has made representations through various entities to help resolve the matter. He has written to the Ombudsman – SP has responded in writing to the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman has indicated that it essentially cannot deal with the matter. Mr. Keni has also asked his employer SPO to intercede on his behalf – SP has responded that it was a private matter for Mr. Keni and legally not an issue for SPO.
- SP has consistently informed Mr. Keni and through his lawyer that if he wishes to challenge the transfer or seek compensation, he can take his dispute to court. SP has also stated that any communication Mr Keni may wish to have with Solomon Power regarding his claim should be made formally through written correspondence and if Mr Keni is legally represented, through his lawyer. This has been SP’s position to date and it always ensures that it lawfully complies with all matters and issues.
Response on timing of transfer and payment
- SP became the registered owner of pn 191-046-131 effective on 11 February 2019. Payment of the transfer price was completed in about March 2019 when vacant possession of pn 191-046-131 was delivered to SP.
- It is normal in a transfer of land, and was in fact a condition of the transaction as agreed between SP (buyer) and the registered owner (seller) for the transfer of pn 191-046-131, for the payment of the purchase price to be conditioned on the registered owner (seller) giving vacant possession of the land.
Response on paying compensation
- If it is implied that SP (the buyer) should have obtained a court order before demolishing the house instead of requesting the seller to remove the house, it is very different in this case.
- Usually, a person goes to court to get a court order to evict a squatter when it is not possible to lawfully remove the squatter from the land. This is usually the case where the squatter is actually residing in the house and therefore not possible to demolish the house if the squatter refuses to vacate the house, or, where the squatter has obtained an injunction order restraining any eviction occurring until there is a final court order. However, the situation here is different as Mr Keni’s house was incomplete (see photo in map) and no one was residing in it at the time, and there was no injunction order. From a legal perspective, the seller’s action in removing the incomplete house would be lawful (as Mr Keni had no legal right over the land). If Mr Keni challenges the legality of this action, then he can go to court.
- Mr Keni has demanded $426,000 in compensation which SP as a financially and legally responsible SOE cannot blindly accept without justified reason. For that reason, SP’s position has been that Mr Keni file his claim in court. If the court rules that SP is liable to pay Mr Keni compensation, then SP will abide by the court’s ruling.