A strong delegation from the Lavukal House of Chiefs from Russell Islands today held fresh discussions with senior officials from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to press forward for solutions, better understanding and a way forward on various issues affecting the Lavukal People.
The meeting was attended by a 12 member delegation from the Lavukal House of Chiefs and the representative of the Lavukal Trust Board (Inc). OPMC was represented by the Special Secretary to Prime Minister, John Junior Muria and a representative from the Secretariat to the Cabinet Sub Committee.
The meeting focused on the need to clearly map out a new way forward in view of the DCC Government’s keen interest to re-invest in the Russell Islands Plantation Estate Limited (RIPEL).
Several issues were pointed out but the key ones included Land registrations, land Recording and also issues surrounding RIPEL.
The meeting was informed that the Lavukal House of Chiefs had already established links with the Itaukei and the Department of Indigenous Affairs in Fiji.
The LHC also reiterated that, it has placed its efforts in trying to position itself to meet the requirements of any dialogue on land issues that may arise.
Chairman of the LHC, Oliver Salopuka said they are ready for any dialogue between the government and the people when it comes to Russell Islands.”
He also informed the meeting that “preliminary land identification has been ongoing”.
In terms of RIPEL, the Chairman, confirmed that there is an existing corporate relationship between RIPEL and LHC, because the Lavukal Trust Board holds shares in RIPEL.
The meeting confirmed that “Russell Islands and any investment on Russell Islands can be the Jewel of this country.”
A prominent Lawyer and local Russell Islander Augustine Rose, explained that, “the key interest should be focused on addressing Land issues. This must be addressed before we could be able to move forward”.
The meeting also heard that there may be negligence on the part of Government in regards to the faults on the land.
It has emerged that the Perpetual Estate (PE) titles is claimed to have been granted in questionable circumstances. However, there is a case regarding this matter before the courts.
Nevertheless, the LHC maintains that acquisition and granting titles on Russell properties may have been done “without consent” from the Lavukal people.
There were also sentiments raised as to the effect of the Wasteland Ordinance enforced by the colonial masters.
The key issue therefore, was that Land must go back to the original landowners. It transpired that customary land in its current status is very minimal, only a small portion of the land is left; hence, LHC may be looking at LSL land.
Other issues raised included the ongoing negligence by successive governments to address the Russell Islands interests.
There were allegations of exploitation done by the government to the resources and people of Russell Islands instead of empowering locals to be partners in developing their resources.
A Chief, during the meeting highlighted that the case of Marving Bros was a point of reference, on how government told the people one thing but did the opposite.
In that regard, they said previous Governments had influenced people to sign development programs on their land in exchange for a resettlement scheme, allocation of land titles and registration by the Solomon Islands Government.
This has resulted in large scale logging operations in Russell Islands without any benefits to the indigenous people and more so, the Government did not fulfill its promise to resettle the people and fail to allocate PE Titles to the people.
The Lavukal leaders said the Government must take responsibility for some of the mess in the Russell Islands story.
The LHC leaders were informed that the Government is looking seriously into this allegation on “negligent conduct” from its part.
In terms of RIPEL, the House of Chiefs maintained that any re-investment program should be Government-led and that, SIG should be able to lead and direct everybody in regards to any investment program it plans for the Russell Islands.
Further issues discussed were in regards to the status of former workers on Russell Islands. However, the meeting did not go into detail on that aspect.
The meeting concluded with an understanding for ongoing dialogue between the Government and the Lavukal House of Chiefs. The Cabinet Sub Committee, is established specifically to look into this issue. At the moment it has compiled a “Government Report on RIPEL” and this will go to Cabinet for necessary discussion and actions.
OPMC is optimistic that such dialogue is paramount for ongoing work to resolve some of the country’s complex social, political and economic issues.