Radio New Zealand
A Fiji chief says the government is pushing companies to mine in the country, with little regard for the environmental impacts on people’s land.
The Chinese company Aurum Exploration Limited recently completed mining at a site in Nawailevu, in the Bua province, and has commenced mining at two others sites in Fiji.
Bua chief Adi Filomena Tagivetaua was part of a team that undertook a survey in Nawailevu village in 2012 and says the Nawailevu Mining Project was a disaster.
“They usually fish prawns and eels from the nearby creeks near the village, they didn’t want to do that anymore because the eels had turned a different colour so they were afraid to feed their families and there were places where they [usually] got their vegetables that grew wildly, they were not allowed to pass points there. They had soldiers standing there to keep them away.”
Adi Filomena Tagivetaua says the government is doing nothing to protect people’s land from companies that come in with a lot of money and promises.
She says landowners were blinded by cash payouts.
A Fiji chief says she prays daily that the Nawailevu Mining Project is never repeated in any part of Fiji.
Bua chief Filomena Tagivetaua made the comments while launching Oxfam’s guide to Free, Prior and Informed Consent in Suva this week.
The Chinese company Aurum Exploration Limited recently completed mining at a site in Nawailevu, which produced almost 1 million tonnes of bauxite and has commenced mining at two others sites.
Adi Filomena was part of a team that undertook a scoping survey in Nawailevu village in 2012 and says the findings were heartbreaking.
She told Bridget Tunnicliffe the villagers knew nothing of the consequences.
ADI FILOMENA TAGIVETAUA: The villagers told me that they had agreed that the people mine bauxite but later they realised that they were cutting soil onto the boats that sailed to China. There was no machinery in Nawailevu to refine, to take away the bauxite from the soil so they took the whole soil, tonnes and tonnes.
BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: The villages, I think you were involved in a survey, did they feel like they had any say in this?
AFT: They had no say at all. The people that came to introduce the mining, they gathered them into their community hall and after a lot of discussions, at the end one of them told them ‘whether you like it or not the bauxite will be mined in your land’.
BT: Who said this?
AFT: The company came with some people from the military government and also people from the Lands Department, Ministry of Land, they were Fijians.
BT: And what kind of environmental impacts did it have at Nawailevu?
AFT: They usually fish prawns and eels from the nearby creeks near the village, they didn’t want to do that anymore because the eels had turned a different colour so they were afraid to feed their families with prawns and they thought something poisonous might be in the water. And the people had this eye infection that went on for weeks and weeks and the eye drops they get from the hospital could not heal it and then they had asthma from coughing developed to asthma. There were places where they [usually] got their vegetables; there were people there who guarded them not to go past those points where they got weaves, to weave their mats, they got vegetables like ferns that grew wildly, they were not allowed to pass points there. They had soldiers standing there to keep them away from the mining site. That’s where their forefathers fed their families, they were stopped from all that.
BT: Were they ever told that these could be some of the side effects of the bauxite mining?
AFT: They were never told anything, they were just given some money at the beginning and they blinded them with that money, I think $2000 dollars for each member of the family and that was it.
BT: And what about the government’s role in this, have they done enough?
AFT: No, it’s the government who are pushing the companies to do this and they don’t protect the people’s land from these miners who come in with a lot of money and bribe, you know and give money to the landowners so they just sign papers and do things. Even at Nawailevu when we came in the second year and we saw the destruction made we said ‘why can’t we stop this?’ and they said they couldn’t go back, everything was signed and there was nothing they could go back on. And that was a military government then before elections, and I think we still have military government now, no kind of democracy.