RIPEL Chairman Threatens Lawsuit Against Solomons Government

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Government claims lawsuit breaches 2011 legal agreements

By Douglas Marau

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, June 21, 2012) – Russell Islands Plantation Estate Limited (RIPEL) chairman Patrick Wong has threatened to sue the Solomon Islands government over what he termed as "unlawful strike action taken against RIPEL in 2004."

Mr. Wong claimed the strike action resulted in criminal acts against RIPEL because there was no law and order.

"Since Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo and his government decided to discard the old agreement; the compensation claim against the government would be brought back to the table," Mr. Wong told The Solomon Star.

The 2004 strike action eventually led to the closure of RIPEL operations in Yandina.

But the High Court later found the strike action illegal and ordered Solomon Islands National Union of Workers (SINUW) to pay SB$7 million [US$953,400] compensation to RIPEL.

The Solomon Star understands the proposed move by the RIPEL chairman will be in breach of clause 11.3 of the agreement signed last year.

It stated that "RIPEL and LSL undertake that it will not prior to, during or subsequent to the execution and completion of the Deed of Partial Discharge, Compromise or Settlement institute suit or action against SIG or any of its agents for loss of any kind arising from its ownership of the land, business and plantation on Russell islands conducted on the fixed term estates identified in the schedule to the said deed."

However, Mr. Wong said since Mr. Lilo opted to discard the previous agreement, RIPEL is free to sue the state under no legal impediments.

The RIPEL chairman said he is now waiting from advice from his Australian lawyers.

"Hopefully by July we will proceed with our case," he said.

If RIPEL proceeds with the case, it might cost the government SB$300 million [US$40.9 million] for the incurred damages on RIPEL.

In December last year, Attorney General Billy Titiulu told Parliament that the government risked becoming a liability if RIPEL take any action for not performing its functions.

"There was a problem with security then. The police cannot, in my view, do policing there, because there had been orders made to help evict the criminal workers but the police had not been able to do that and that exposes the government in terms of liability.

"The office of the Commissioner of Police and the Police Force are agents of the state, and if they cannot enforce the orders of the court, then of course that leaves it open for RIPEL to commence action against the government for not performing its function," the Attorney General told Parliament then.

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