Landowners to sue Solomons government
Landowners of the Gold Ridge Mine threaten to sue government over unpaid royalties.
The Solomon Island government is negotiating the purchase of the Gold Ridge gold mine from the Australian company St Barbara.
The mine on Guadalcanal has been closed since April because of damage caused by flash flooding.
But local landowners are furious with the government over unpaid, and allegedly misappropriated, royalties.
They want their payments before any further negotiations take place.
Koroi Hawkins reports
A once industrious mine, crawling with scurrying workers, amidst the thunderous roar of monstrous machinery, now stands idle in the mountains above the Solomon Islands capital Honiara. It has been almost five months since the last gold was extracted from the mine. But landowners are still waiting for their royalty payments. The Chairman of the Gold Ridge Community & Landowners Council, Dick Douglas, says there are two lots of royalties owing. He says the first one has yet to be paid and the second has been allocated improperly.
DICK DOUGLAS: The misappropriated money is 18 million plus (USD 2.4 Million). This was happened by a authority of the Ministry of Mines and the officers of the Ministry of Mines have directed the FC (Financial Controller) to raise payments according to the directives of the former PS.
Transparency International was the first to report on the missing millions and its Executive officer, Daniel Fenua, says investigations should concentrate on where the money went and how the legal mechanisms for these payments were by-passed.
DANIEL FENUA: First of all it should start with the, like the Central Bank of Solomon Islands, what is wrong with the system and then if the case is reported then the police should carry on with the investigation all of these royalty payments usually channelled through the central bank of Solomon Islands, from their the landowners could access. There is a channel that they can get access to these royalty payments which they never did in the recent payments.
Meanwhile the government has begun negotiations to buy the mine from the Australian owner St Barbara, which is eager to get rid of the asset. Heading the government negotiation team is the Special Secretary to the Prime Minister, Phillip Tagini. He says government is committed to resolving the issues surrounding the royalty payments.
PHILLIP TAGINI: There was some argument about that but the government has decided to, to have a new formula for that, for the amount that has not been paid. And there is also been some discussions about whether the amounts that have already been paid should be reimbursed or the accounts should be rebalanced so that those who have taken more last time should be paid less and those who have been paid less last time should be compensated for the amount that they should have got.
But Gold Ridge landowners are demanding the government settle these accounts before any further talk about the mine's future.
DICK DOUGLAS: In any Negotiations that will take place in the future for reopening of the mine this has to be sorted out first. And failure to comply to that we will be taking the government on legal actions on that.
The issue of royalties is a sensitive one in Solomon Islands. However, there is no time frame for when the disputes will be settled - nor when the change of ownership is final.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: