By Alfred Sasako
BUSINESSMAN Patrick Wong and his Board of Directors have done it again – this time paying in full the remaining dividends to the Lavukal people of Russell Islands.
The quiet but rich ceremony took place at Marulaon Village in West Russell last Friday. Some $1.455 million (about AUD249, 000) in dividends were paid out, fulfilling an undertaking Mr Wong made just three months earlier.
“The $1.50m is tied up and is directly linked to the court cases. Once these were completed, it would immediately be paid out,” the businessman reportedly told the crowd last August.
Since then a stunning Court of Appeal victory on October 1 has given Wong and his directors the cue to proceed full steam ahead: and they did; after their promise to pay out within two to three weeks.
True to his word, Wong and his Directors travelled down to Russell Islands by boat early on Friday morning and paid the dividend in full – all $1.455 million of it and more.
Some questioned why the payment was made so close to the National General Election. They wondered if there was another reason for this massive payment,
“As a matter of fact this particular dividend of $1.5m was declared back in September last year. If not for those very few who supported and filed the 344/2017 High Court Case in August – September last year, this money would have been paid last year,” Wong explained.
“This matter was further delayed when this same group, who was misled by John Whiteside, a former employee, filed an appeal to the Solomon Islands highest court; the Court of Appeal,” he said.
“During the 1st of October judgement hearing, it was revealed in a Sworn Statement that this same Whiteside was right in the middle of this issue. Mr Wilson Rano, lawyers for Lavukal told the three Court of Appeal Judges that, when the Court ordered Lavukal to pay security for cost, Mr Rano did not send this notice to his clients; the Lavukal entities, but instead sent the letter to John Whiteside,” Wong said.
“This has now prompted some Lavukal people, to ask why Mr Whiteside is allowed to continue to stay in the country, when he was terminated by the company in October – November last year. He is unemployed, yet he is allowed to cause such bitter division between the Lavukal tribes,” Wong said.
Some Lavukal people are reportedly asking where Mr Whiteside is now, after leaving Chief Samuel Kubu with a $ 500,000 bill he must pay.
“This is what Chief Kubu gets for supporting Whiteside and Van Vlymen, another former business associated. Chief Kubu is thrown to the curb side and on his own,” they said.
Wong also explained that the $1.50million payment is not a bonus, it is Lavukal 24.90 percent share, which Lavukal is rightfully entitled to. He urged them to work together.
“This is the time to come together. This is the time to work together for the betterment of the Lavukal people,” Mr Wong, the main architect of the settlement, reportedly told the crowd.
“The important thing is that the Lavukal people must make a decision. Any internal fight between me and any of my former business associates should not be allowed to stand in the way of any development the Lavukal people want to see on their land,” reportedly said.
The ceremony was attended by many dignitaries from Central Islands province, including its Premier Patrick Vasuni. Honourable Dickson Mua was also invited to attend, but had to send his apologies.
In Friday’s ceremony, a deed of settlement was formally signed between the Lavukal Company Investment Ltd (LCIL) on behalf of its people on one hand and the Russell Islands Plantation Estates Ltd (RIPEL), International Comtrade, Shipping Limited (ICSL) and Levers Solomons Ltd (LSL) on the other. The Deed formalised the acceptance of the return of their three million shares and in turn their entitlement to dividends.
“That deed of settlement simply nullifies past undertakings by Lavukal. In essence, Lavukal has now accepted that the purported MoU made in October 2015 is now null and void,” a source who attended the ceremony told Island Sun at the weekend.
“The deed of settlement has now set RIPEL on a new pedestal for investment and development. In other words, RIPEL, once described as the “jewel of the crown” in Solomon Islands’ economy, is finally free for development.
“The difference is that any new development will be on the terms of the owner, not anyone else’s.”
In August this year Mr Wong and his directors paid the first dividends of $498,000, which was shared equally amongst some 3, 768 Lavukal people including children from two years up.
“Each member of the tribe received $130 each. We did not stop sharing the money until Sunday,” Chairman Lavukal Trust Board, Oliver Salopuka said at the time.
Mr Wong flew out of the country yesterday.
When approached for a comment, he simply said he had none except “I am simply doing what the people of Lavukal want to see.” When Island Sun pressed one last question and asked if this is the last one, Wong said – “No, there’s more to come.”