BY GEORGINA KEKEA
THE General Secretary of the Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Advocacy Association (SIPHRAA) has called on Mr. Patrick Wong to pay former workers of ICSL RIPEL their legal entitlements of $99,000.
Mr Buddy Wickhams who was also an Agent for the former ICSL RIPEL workers in their high court cases says he is concerned in the way Patrick Wong and Oliver Salopuka dealt with the dividend of ICSL RIPEL.
In a letter to Island Sun, Wickhams say the public needs to be informed about the initial ICSL RIPEL Scheme of arrangement that was made sometime in 2001.
He said the scheme was passed and recognized by the High Court sometimes in October 2002 by respectable lawyers representing five different shareholding groups of RIPEL including workers and staff.
In this scheme, Solomon Islands Government, Central Islands Province and workers of RIPEL should get 20 percent dividend, while Lavukal Trust Board (LTB) should get 24.9 percent and ICSL 15.1 percent.
He said since Patrick Wong had paid the Lavukal Trust Board (LTB) their share he should also pay the non-striking workers their 20 percent share and other legal entitlements due to them as employees of ICSL RIPEL.
“So, why Patrick Wong paid the Lavukal Trust Board and its people their 24.9 percent share without paying the non-striking workers their 20 percent share of due dividends is a matter of concern that raises more questions than answers,” Wickhams said.
He said what Patrick Wong and his former general manager John Whiteside made with the leadership of the defunct SINUW to settle SINUW’s bill from the workers share can only be considered as daylight robbery of the faithful workers of ICSL RIPEL who stood with the company through hard and tough times during the striking period up until the court battle ended in the company’s favor.
He said how Patrick Wong dealt with the issue of RIPEL is a real political cover up.
“If Patrick Wong is truly concerned about RIPEL he should consider and work closely with all the former RIPEL workers first before any other group including the Lavukal Trust Board (LTB),” said Wickhams.
At the same time, Wickhams deplore the manner in which Wong and Salopuka dished out the monies to the people of Russel islands.
“In fact I consider the displaying of hard cash by Wong and Salopuka as cheap and shallow political bait for this coming general election because Oliver Salopuka is amongst the intending candidates for Russell and Savo constituency. How, is this not campaigning outside of time as stipulated in the electoral act? Wickhams questions.
He went onto say that in the last general election of 2014 Oliver Salopuka uses ICSL RIPEL through their General Manager Mr John Whiteside.
“According to Mr. John Whiteside, Oliver Salopuka uses up around $2.5million that belongs to Lavukal people, but yet to retire how the money was used,” Wickhams say.
Furthermore, Wickhams alleged that Salopuka was a pain in the neck to the terminated ICSL RIPEL General Manager, John Whiteside. He said how he convinced Patrick Wong to provide him support would be interesting to find out. He said this new friendship was made after Patrick Wong terminated John Whiteside.
With Wickhams tirade on Salopuka, Island Sun brought to Salopuka’s attention all that was said about him by Wickhams. However, he declined to make a comment, saying everyone is entitled to their opinion.
But to respond to Wickhams, former RIPEL employee spokesperson, Fisher Lulu says the former workers have moved on.
He said they have tried to solve the issue for more than a decade already and have decided that it is time they work together with Mr. Patrick Wong.
“We want to come back and work with Mr. Patrick Wong for any development for us in the future,” Lulu said.
Lulu verified that they have worked with Wickhams, through SIPHRAA in the court issues and have raised a lot of funds but gained nothing from it.
He said from this, the workers decided to organise themselves and do things their own way.
“We think that to resolve this issue is more important and we are supporting what Patrick Wong is doing for us,” Lulu said.
He said through legal process, the workers do not have a share in RIPEL. Only the Lavukal people has shares, Lulu said.
He said if this is the way forward for the workers of RIPEL then they are quite happy to work with Wong to revitalise RIPEL.
He said Russel is their home now as most of the workers in RIPEL are second to third generation Russel islanders whose parents and grandparents have left their home of origin from another province many years ago.
“So we look at Russel as our home too. This is why we are so pleased when the Company and the Lavukal people agreed for us to stay until everything is sorted out so that we can continue with our work,” Lulu said.
SIPHRAA meanwhile is adamant that Patrick Wong pays the workers what is due to them, under the 7th defendants of HCCC No.114 of 2009, and also pay the non-striking workers their legal entitlements as employees of ICSL RIPEL and the dividend of their 20 percent share.