12 Sep 2002

Former Solomons militants force government to pay extra compensation

12:31 pm on 12 September 2002

Reports from Solomon Islands say members of the former Malaita Eagle Force have extorted from the government a quarter of a million US dollars in unscheduled compensation payments.

Sources say the money was paid out on Tuesday after the MEF forced the finance ministry last week to double its entitlement to half a million dollars, or 4 million Solomon Islands dollars.

The sources say a cheque was written out to the chairman of the MEF committee, Malcolm Lake, who in turn disbursed the funds to MEF members.

The government this month received the last instalment of a multi-million dollar loan from a bank in Taiwan to pay some of the outstanding claims for property lost during the ethnic conflcit.

The claims had been approved but the government has been unable to meet all demands.

Previous compensation payments have been accompanied by controversy and last year the former prime minister sacked his deputy over the way he handled the process.

Some government offices are now surrounded by barbed wire to protect them against claimants making undue demands.

A union leader, Clement Waiwori, says he regrets that the money doesn't go to the workers.

"We can't do anything about it. It's paid to a group of people who maybe have an affiliation with the government - I don't know, but we know there was a payment made."

But Edward Kingmele, a spokesman for the prime minister, says he is not aware that any changes were made to the arrangement of who was to be paid compensation.

I am not publicly in a position to say which way ........ I haven't got any information on that.

Edward Kingmele.