Below we publish the reflections of Fiji Opposition Parliamentarian and Lawyer Mr Niko Nawaikula following a tour to mine affected communities. He found that multi million dollar mining and forestry projects are not really improving the livelihood of the Resource Owners of the Nawailevu. The people are still poor, although Bauxite Mining by Chinese company Xinfa Aurium continues. But if there is something that this project can be guaranteed to bring it is a degraded environment…
A multi million dollar stockpile of bauxite exported and the land, on this side of Bua, stocked with miles and miles of ready to harvest pine but NawaNiko village struggles with basic living.
The equation simply does not add up. Something must be wrong somewhere. Someone has taken and used up all that money but it’s certainly not the landowner. The village looks the same as before the government and Xinfa entered to mine the bauxite.
According to the villagers the biggest amount they saw is the one written on a big cheque that now hangs prominently in the Turaga ni Yavusas home. The sum written is $ 577,000.00.
“It is big alright but did you actually receive that money in your hands”, I asked. They said no. They said the money is sent to their trustees who are some people they do not know. Some money has been brought and distributed, not much they said.
By any standard, if the bauxite extracted from their land is worth millions and if the million dollar operation of pine chips at Wairiki include pine from their land, then surely they must be well off? We assessed their wealth by looking at the way they live and living standard. There is absolutely nothing there. The old wood and tin houses that were there before the project are still here.
With all those millions one would expect Nawailevu village to be looking like a five star resort with nicely planned and designer houses on landscaped settings. But no. The standard of living has not increased one bit. Today in his tin and iron house, the Turaga NI Yavusa, elderly and half deaf, sits patiently with his family over a simple meal of fish and Tavioka.
Come and eat he called out to us and we replied, ” thank you we have had lunch.” Then looking around and seeing no sign of change , I jokingly asked him, ” so where’s all the money gone?”. He looked down with eyes closed with both hands up shaking his head and both hands signalling, I don’t know.
In true iTaukei style , as we were about to leave, he looked around him for the best gift he has to offer us. And opening a chest he pulled out 4 nicely riped mangoes that we accepted with much thanks.
The fate of the villages of Nawailevu is no different from those at Nawaca, Nagadoa or any native fijian village . Everybody else wins and makes their money except the poor land and resource owner.
We need to rethink the way we do things. I tend to agree with a thought by J Baba that we need to empower them to take control of their own land and resource… Otherwise the new highway will be a means to take them quickly out of the villages to elsewhere where they can find meaning.