By Alfred Sasako
UNTIL well after Lever Solomons Ltd (LSL) has acquired it, no one seemed to bother, let alone saw the potential value of Hell’s Point 76 years on. Located east of Henderson International Airport, Hell’s Point for many is merely a patch of dirt, which easily fits the description of a graveyard for unexploded bombs from World War II.
It is fair to suggest that more unexploded bombs or ordnance were buried here than elsewhere in Solomon Islands. For it is here and the nearby Bloody Ridge that the Allied Forces used to inflict heavy casualties on the Japanese during the War.
Today, apart from it being the site of the Government’s new regional bomb disposal training school, there is a different war being fought here.
And it is not soldiers that are firing the rounds in the latest battle over Hell’s Point. Rather, it is the lawyers who are threading blows in the courtroom. The issue is a $50 million compensation awarded LSL by the High Court of Solomon Islands in November last year.
Lever Solomon Ltd has so far won a $10 million payout for Bloody Ridge nearby. It is edging closer to collecting the remaining $50 million it is claiming for Hell’s Point over which it holds the Fixed Term Estate (FTE).
It took at least three valuations to arrive at the $50 million compo figure.
The initial valuation of Hell’s Point and nearby Bloody Ridge put the combined price tag for both sites at $186 million. A second valuation revised the price tag downward to $89 million. Negotiations led by former finance minister and Chairman of the Solomon Islands National Provident Fund (SINPF), Peter Boyers, brought down the price to $50 million, which High Court Judge, Justice Rex Foukana, has since validated.
Today, the government remains defiant over the initial Court Order issued by Justice Faukona on 2nd November 2017. No one knows how long before the government buckles.
Justice Faukona made four points in his Order.
Order 1, states that “Judgement be entered for the Claimant (LSL);
Order 2 that the Defendant (Government) “procure that all persons occupying the lands subject of these proceedings be removed permanently;
Order 3 that “The Defendant is to pay to the Plaintiff a sum of $50, 000, 000 (Fifty Million Solomon Islands Dollars) together with any sum not already paid to the Claimant by or on behalf of the Defendant in respect of the parcels of land known as Bloody Ridge and more specifically mentioned in the Schedule attached hereto; and
Order 4 that “Upon payment in full of the sums referred to in the foregoing order, the Claimant is to transfer the said lands to the Defendants forthwith.”
The High Court has also ordered that the government pays the claimant’s costs in the proceedings.
LSL has since obtained an Enforcement Order in pursuit of recovering the outstanding amount. Issued on May 23, 2018 the enforcement Order remains in force for 12 months.
Earlier, on 15 May this year, LSL, also obtained a Certificate of Orders, which Judge Faukona also signed. Only this time it included the Accountant General.
“The Accountant General shall, subject to hereinafter provided, pay to the Claimant the amount appearing by the Certificate to be due to the Claimant,” the order said.
Argument and counter-argument over the $50 million compensation claim also spilled over into the political arena. Just before it was thrown out of office, the then Sogavare government knocked on a few doors to borrow $50 million in order to meet the November 2017 deadline set by the High Court.
Solomon Islands Ports Authority (SIPA) was among statutory bodies approached for the money. Perhaps as a sweetener, government negotiators told the SIPA Board that six (6) per cent or $3 million of the proceeds would be paid to government. SIPA denied the request, on the basis it was not a lending institution.
The government did not stop there.
Following his fall from grace, Manasseh Sogavare reportedly struck a deal with in-coming Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela, who had by then made up his mind against paying the compensation.
The issue divided both men as Sogavare felt Hon Houenipwela reneged on his undertaking to address the debt. Despite official denials, the two men – Prime Minister and his Deputy – never spoke to each other even on text messages for months.
Today both men had become a lot closer than ever before, strengthening rumors that the $50 million payout which almost tore apart the new government was now acting as a bridge to bring the two men together.
Ministry of Finance and Treasury however confirmed that there was nothing in this year’s budget to pay the compensation.
“The only possible way out for the government is to include the payment in a supplementary budget. In this way, the government can vire money from less important projects to pay off the debt,” one official said.
“It’s gonna be tough but it is the only way out,” the official said.
Island Sun understands the SIDCCG is bringing down a supplementary budget this year, possibly at the Parliament’s session planned for next month.
There’s no doubt the LSL people may have started whispering in ears that matter. The election fever is certain to raise the premium for such a help.
When Island Sun contacted him, Patrick Wong declined discussing the issue except to say that “LSL continues to deal with SIG” in attempts to resolve the matter.
A lawyer spoken to told Island Sun that the issue for the government is whether it would continue to ignore a High Court Order.
“Will SIG just ignore a High Court Order? In other words, does SIG wish to be in contempt?”
The Houenipwela Government has until May 23, 2019 to answer that question. For now, all LSL can do is wait and see.