$7 million demand

KONGULAI water source landowners’ trustees on Guadalcnal Province are demanding the government more than SBD$7 million in outstanding arrears for land rental.

They want this to be paid up by this Friday, 25th March.

Trustees claim the amount of $7,565,655 is to yet to be paid from $10,565,665 as arrears payable under clause 2 of the 1991 variation.

“1991 variation is the initial first review to the original agreement signed for the lease between the government and landowners trustees in 1981.

“This is claimed under deed of release agreed to by the commissioner of lands, trustees and Solomon Water, declared by a high court order.”

Attorney General James Apaniai on behalf of the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Survey said in a statement that the only arrears due to be paid to the landowners is from 2001 to 2016.

The total arrears from 2001 to 2016 (10 year renewal date) is therefore $212, 480.

This is inclusion of the changes made in 2011 on rental from $38,400 to $46,080.

He said, the high court has declared the whole clause 2 of the 1991 variation invalid on the 30th June 2015.

“The effect of that declaration is that the reduction of the variation period from 10 years to 5 years as well as the increase of 20 percent to 25 percent and the charging for unit consumption is no longer valid.

“That means everything (except the rental of $32,000 per annum has reverted back to the original terms as per the 1981 lease agreement.

“Since no appeal has been filed against the High Court in CC 5/14; that judgment remains valid and binding on SIWA, SIG (COL) and Trustees.”

It states in light of the high court decision CC 5/14, rental for Konggulai water source land is still $32,000 per year.

Although a review since 2001 and again 2011; is yet to be done based on the 10 years renewable period which has lapsed.

AG Apaniai pointed out on trustees argument over rental on purpose for the review that trustees are not entitled to charge rent for water flowing from the Konggulai water source because no one owns flowing water.

“To charge 25 percent rental base on unit consumption is illegal. However because the court has declared the whole of clause 2 of the 1991 variation null and void, it means that the 20 percent rental increase still remains valid and in full force.

“The period of 10 years also still remain in force also because the reduced period of 5 years was of clause 2.

“The deed of release executed on 23 June 2015 is null and void. The payment of $3 million to the trustees under the deed of release was a mistake and is refundable to SIG.

“SIG under the Commissioner of Lands (COL) is not obliged (and it would now be illegal) to pay the remaining $7,565,655 to the trustees as required under the deed of release,” clarifies Apaniai on governments standing.

But a resolution reached by trustees dated March 16th 2016 which the Solomon Star has accessed to wants their demands be paid up by the end of this week.

According to the resolutions, LO’s demand that the government pay the outstanding as $7,565,655 inclusion of the $500,000 ex gratia payment.

Not separately or leaving out the final payment that is due to the landowners.

The land trustees argued, “If the government has agreed to make payment of ex gratia payment of $500,000 as ex gratia payment. The government can make an ex gratia payment of $7,565,655.

“The payment will be in compliance with Cabinet decisions,” it claimed.

It added that the government should make the payment of $7,565,655 before a new land rental amount is negotiated.

And not $712,480 as claimed by the government, the landowners said.

The landowners stated that this can only be the way forward to negotiating a new lease rate, that is after all dues are paid.

It added dismissing proposal from the government upon reviewing of the lease after ten years that an increase of 20 percent rate should be based on inflation.

“Cost of inflation does not reflect the value of water that Solomon Water earns. Cost of providing water is not based on inflation either.

“Neither the value of any natural resource is based on the increase or decrease of inflation. Solomon Water is selling water as opposed to a service fee.

“This is reflected in the installation of water meters to each household using water meter. No two meters give the same reading, more usage of water means more is paid.

“Solomon Water does not use standardized water billing,” said the landowners’ trustees.

Source: Solomon Star/Solomon Today Post