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LOCK-UP SHOP ROW: Ex-tenants hit out at councillor for allegedly demanding money & ruining their business

The shop in dispute to the left at the Central Market. Lock Up shop tenders always attract controversy.
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Two tenants who were kicked out from a lock up shop in just a span of a year are hitting back at the Councillor for Vura Ward Reginald Ngati – accusing him of frequently demanding money which they claimed had led to the downfall of their business.

And one of them even alleged that she was obliged to give money to the councillor well before she entered the shop just to secure the space.

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They also claimed that Ngati had not been honest about their rentals after he assured them that the charge was part of his discretion. However, they are now faced with a $17, 500 rental bill.

Cr. Ngati says the claims are not true.

But Ngati exclusively told SBMOnline that those accusations were baseless and untrue.

He said the lock-up shop is owned by his ward (Vura) and is independently run by a committee not him.

Details of the story

At the beginning of last year around March/April period, a couple from South Malaita, James Wereka and his wife Philstus had shown interest in running one of the lock-up shops at the Central Market and this was when they knew that lock-up shop 13 was available.

Philstus Mamuhui, the wife of Wereka, told SBMOnline that even before they were given the shop, the councillor was already demanding that they pay upfront to him.

She said at first, he demanded $500 then followed by $2,000 and the next day he wanted a further $1,000.

“The shop had not opened yet at that time. He then demanded another $4,000 to acquire a freezer for the shop,” she recalled.

Philistus and James had also claimed that every Sunday they would go to the councillor’s house to pay money to him, which was also termed as a ‘serving’.

These amounts of money ranged from a thousand to three thousand dollars.

“We were told that this money was our saving and we would be entitled to get our share at the end of the year,” Philstus told SBMOnline.

“The reality was we were struggling to keep up with the pace of demand from the councillor. We barely saved any money,” she said.

When asked were they were aware of the $2,500 monthly rate, Philistus replied: “We were told by the councillor that he would meet the rental under his discretion.”

She said by the end of the year (2022) they could not cope with the regular demands from the councillor and as result they were forced to vacate the shop by Ngati.

She further claimed when she had approached the councillor for part of their savings contributions she was told there was no money left.

As Philistus and her husband departed, another tenant moved in. He was Hudson Waroi.

Waroi got the chance to enter the shop because the previous occupants had owed his $10,000 to stock up their cargo. However, the couple claimed that they were unable to refund him because the shop was not making profits, as the councillor had demanded money from them on regular basis.

With the approval of the Vura Ward committee and blessing from Ngati, Waroi was given the opportunity to run the shop as of December last year to recover his money.

Waroi also experienced the same problem with the councillor requesting money on a routine basis.

He claimed he regularly gave money to the councillor and according to his record it added up to $18,200. He recalled that he started with $500, $1,000, $2000 and a $5,000 plus the weekly savings to the councillor.

Like the previous tenant, Waroi was struggling to survive and he found it extremely difficult to make money given the demand by Ngati.

He said the councillor’s sweet talk had ended in him paying him more than $18,000. Waroi claimed that he even told them not to pay for the rent of the space and his electric bill as they came under his discretion.

By April this year, his struggles came to the fore and his $25,000 worth of cargo would soon be decimated just like the previous occupants.

 Waroi claimed that Ngati then intervened and told him to vacate the room barely four months into his stay there.

Ngati Hits Back

In responding to the allegations, Ngati denied all the claims and said the lock up shop belongs to Vura Ward and not him.

He said the business license is Vura Ward and there is also a bank account linked to the shop.

Ngati confirmed that both were engaged via verbal agreements not signed agreements.

He said the understanding was for them to go in and put money into the Vura Ward account.

“I didn’t give them any figures but I told them that they must put money into the account. But they never did it,” he said.

The councillor also claimed that he had told them to pay rental to HCC and not to him as they claimed.

On the claims that he demanded money for the tenants, the councillor said: “Not a single time I went in there to ask for money based on the agreement that they should deposit money into the ward account.”

He said on a few times he requested money when they had programmes like Easter or Mother’s Day.

The councillor claimed he also helped the couple with a $40,000 start up when they opened the shop.

On the couple’s ousting from the shop, Ngati said towards end of December he started seeing them having problems and that why his committee decided to remove them.

Ngati confirmed that when they move out, Waroi entered.

The councillor worked with his advisory committee at Vura so they allowed Waroi in to refund his $10,000 borrowed by the previous tenants.

“When he went there I noticed that inside two weeks he was able to give $11,000 to Vura Ward. So restocked and I waited for him to come back but he never returned. So I gave him further three weeks before I locked up the shop,” said the councillor.

But Waroi said he gave him $18, 200 not $11,000 as he stated.

On the rental, HCC records showed that the Vura Ward lock up shop had owed HCC $17,500 of rental.

Ngati said his office will be paying the rental but he would still pursue legal suit for the two previous occupants to refund the rental, as it is money belonging to his ward and people.

He accused Waroi and the couple for giving a false report about him because in reality he was the one who really helped them.

Meanwhile as the ousted occupants of lock up shop 13 shove their anger against the councillor, there are new tenants now already running the shop.


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