West Kwaio unpaid labourers call for a full audit and police investigation into cattle project funding
ANGRY labourers owed $1.8 million in unpaid wages have called for a full investigation into the finances of the Gounokukufo Association, which manages the largest Government-funded cattle project in West Kwaio on Malaita.
Representatives of the labourers told Island Sun yesterday they have not been paid at various times since 2012, forcing them to down tools since last year.
“We are owed $1.8 million in wages,” spokesman Simon Folomori told Island Sun in an interview yesterday.
Mr Folomori said there are 170 individuals in the group who performed various tasks assigned to them to keep the farm, near Maoa, in good shape.
He said things were going well until a Mr John Niki, the man appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to manage the farm was forced by landowners to leave.
“The moment Mr Niki left, things started going from bad to worse. Of course it was the Association that took over the management role,” Mr Folomori said.
“Payment of our wages for example had become irregular and sometimes the Association would give us $1, 000 or so every two months, telling us this was an advance on our wages because the Government has yet to pay the Association.
“The problem is that we never got paid – it was advances all the time, which were well below the rate we agreed in our contracts,” he said.
Mr Folomori said in search of the truth, the labourers came over to Honiara.
“We want to establish whether or not the Association has been telling us the truth – that the government has not been paying the Association.
“What we discovered at the Treasury in Honiara astonished us. We found that the Government has in fact paid the Gounokukufo Association a total $4, 317, 500 (four million three hundred seventeen thousand five hundred dollars) since March 2013,” he said.
“This money must have obviously gone somewhere else. And that is what we want police to investigate as we have not been paid our dues. We call for an urgent investigation into the use of the funds which the government had provided for running the farm. These funds have apparently ended up someplace else,” Mr Folomori said.
He disputed claims by the Chairman of Gounokukufo Association, Genesis Lae, who said on radio on Wednesday night that all was well at the farm.
“Nothing is well at the farm, which is now covered in tall grasses as we have downed tools since last year. Only nine people are working. The cattle have broken the fences and are destroying our food gardens,” Mr Folomori said.
He said his group is seeking legal advice on its unpaid dues.
Some 438 heads of cattle are on the farm, initially imported from Vanuatu. They have since given birth to additional heads of cattle, making the farm perhaps the largest on Malaita.