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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (January 18, 2001 - Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation/PINA Nius Online)---The Solomon Islands Commodity Export Marketing Authority is still unable to confirm how soon it can resume paying farmers for copra.

General Manager Peter Loke told SIBC News that he is not ready to comment on the issue.

The authority stopped paying copra from farmers last year as a result of the two-year ethnic conflict on Guadalcanal.

The non-payment of copra has inconvenienced many parents who depend on income from coconut to pay for their children's school fees.

Meanwhile, Mathew Kubebatu, a producer from Choiseul Province, urged the authority to explain to Solomon Islanders the situation surrounding the non-payments in an effort to resolve any doubts that farmers may have about the situation.

Mr. Kubebatu said copra in Choiseul is rotting as a result of the authority not paying to purchase it since last year.

Last month, Parliament was told that copra funds have been diverted to buying ships and building a resort and offices.

The non-payment of copra from farmers is a result of decisions by the former board and management of the authority, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Moon Pin Kwan, revealed.

He said over the past few years they had spent SI$ 33 million (US$ 6,527,400) on three old ships, assisting Russell Islands Plantation Limited, RIPEL, build a tourist resort, and building a flashy office complex in Honiara.

Mr. Kwan said this was done at the expense of copra producers.

He said the SI$ 33 million was taken from the Domestic Price Stabilization Fund that the authority used to have at its disposal to buy copra from local producers.

Mr. Kwan expressed concern at the diversion of the funds, which he said belong to copra producers in the country.

For additional reports from the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation.

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