Major Water Supply To Solomon Islands Capital Shut Off

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Kovi landowners claim tribe’s royalties unpaid for 20 years

By Daniel Namosuaia

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Jan. 7, 2014) – Landowners of Kovi customary land have closed the source of the water that supplied 60 percent of Honiara city in the Solomon Islands on 24th of December.

The action came following what the landowners claimed as failure by the government, Solomon Water and Kongulai land trustees to address the Kakau Valihelu tribe’s concerns over royalty payments which they have never been part of for the last twenty years.

The action was taken following a seven days’ notice being issued to the government, Solomon Water, Kongulai land trustees and other relevant authorities about the closure which lapsed on the Christmas Eve.

And following their non-response the landowners closed the water source.

Spokesman for the tribe, Bernard Supoua said the action was taken because they felt it is enough to be treated unfairly.

"We are the landowners of the water source of Kongulai (Kovi sinkhole) but we have never received any benefit from what we own. Despite our numerous efforts voicing our concerns to the government, Solomon Water and Kongulai land trustees, our concerns only fell on deaf ears. So we believe it is time we should act to let them know of our frustrations," Supoua said.

Kakau Valihelu tribe claimed they had been left out of millions of dollars paid out as royalty benefits since day one.

"We only receive one payment in 1998 for a month but before and after that year we do not receive anymore. This came following a verbal agreement we make with the trustees. But since then we have to ask them before we get any dollar. Otherwise we would have got nothing at all," Supoua stressed.

The spokesperson added it does not look right for someone who owns the water source got nothing while those who never owned the source (Kongulai land trusstess) are the beneficiaries for the past 20 years.

Legal advisor of Kakau Valihelu tribe said the tribe has genuine concerns that the government and relevant authorities must act on urgently.

The legal advisor who wished not to be named said this is a long standing issue that the government, Solomon Water and Kongulai land trustees had ignored for so long.

"It is the failure of these three parties that resulted in the closure which is now affecting more than 60% of the Honiara residents. If it was not for these parties’ negligence and ignorance of the landowners concerns, this situation would not have eventuated to affect innocent lives in the city," the legal advisor said.

The Solomon Star understands one of the contributing factors to close the water sources was the revelation of a SBD$9 million [US$1.2 million] payout the government will make to the Kongulai land trustees before Christmas.

Knowing if they don’t act, they will be losers despite their efforts to get certain percentage of the royalty payments and be recognised as the resource owner.

But the Solomon Star understands that payment has not been done last month for unknown reasons.

Until the end of the seven day’s notice on Christmas Eve, the landowners did not receive any response yet from the government, Solomon Water and Kongulai land trustees.

"The Kovi water sinkhole will close until our concerns are met and addressed accordingly. Because we believe there is no other way the government and relevant authorities could listen to our cries," Supoua added.

However Supoua said the door is open for negotiation.

He said they are willing to sit with the government and parties’ concern to negotiate over this issue.

Adding, as owners of the Kongulai water source, they want to see fair treatment and justice.

The landowners also want to see a new agreement drafted to include them as beneficiaries and get certain percentage of the royalty payment and be included in the board of trustees since they are the owners of the water source.

Meanwhile Supoua said while they felt sorry for the action they took, they said it happens because some people are not doing their job.

"This happens not by our own choice but of the choice of the government, Solomon Water and Kongulai land trustees. To deny innocent lives from access to clean water and risk to diseases," Supoua said.

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