Govt consultations on experimental seabed mining have failed

resource roulette

Ropate Valemei | The Fiji Times | June 09, 2016

DESPITE Government’s claim that the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources had conducted wide consultations with key stakeholders to formulate a Draft Policy on Deep Sea Mining (DSM), the Government consultations have not included a broad cross section of Fijian civil society, the public, or indigenous and/or coastal communities.

This was revealed in a report by Blue Ocean Law and the Pacific Network on Globalisation on how deep sea mining and inadequate regulatory frameworks imperil the Pacific and its people, which was released early this week.

The report notes that Fiji’s Department of Environment (DOE) estimates that only about 40 per cent of educated people may be aware of DSM, and that coastal users and outlying communities are largely ignorant of what is happening with respect to DSM prospecting; the DOE reiterates the need for comprehensive consultations and awareness raising.

It further states that one commentator notes that the iTaukei Affairs Board, the TLTB, and the provincial and tikina councils — institutions mandated by statute to deliberate and make recommendations on developmental and other issues that impact the welfare, wellbeing, and good governance of the iTaukei or the indigenous peoples of Fiji — have not been seriously consulted regarding the development of a DSM framework.

With respect to the 2013 mining decree, it adds the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources reportedly organised a review of the law but did not include landowners or significant civil society organisations representation in its consultations and would have proceeded with finalising the law if not for an online petition protesting the lack of consultation.

Other consultations organised by the MRD in the past have been called off on short notice.

In a report staff at the Department of Mineral Resources recognises the need to both consult with and obtain consent from landowners and those communities located closest to potential DSM sites, but whether this will actually be done in the event of actual DSM remains to be seen.

“Awareness of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) throughout indigenous and local communities in Fiji is limited, and it appears that the government does not require FPIC from operators in its existing onshore mines.”

In existing cases involving terrestrial mining, it says there has been no FPIC, and even meaningful consultation is often lacking.

For instance, the mineral prospecting that has been going on in Namosi for more than 40 years, involving more than 15 companies, many landowners have repeatedly expressed opposition to mining, withholding their consent.

“Instead of heeding these clear expressions, mining companies have approached chiefs of local villages, who are not landowners, and paid them, or in some cases directly employed them, in order to gain their consent to mining on what, essentially, is not their land.”

In the case of the Bua bauxite mine, it states the agreement with the community was signed and negotiated by a third party hired by the Government, without any legal advice provided to the community; benefits from this mine are restricted to a small number of individual landowners, while the larger community receives nothing, a situation bound to create conflict as the whole community suffers the environmental impacts of the mine.

The report further note that the Tikina Namosi Landowner Committee (TNLC) notes that bribes occur at multiple stages of the process, from the local level up the ministerial chain; the putative “consent” obtained from individuals who have been paid by mining companies, in addition to being illegal under Fiji’s Constitution, does not equate to the FPIC of indigenous peoples or landowners.

In some cases, government officials have advised that 100 per cent of landowners surveyed expressed support for mining in Namosi; however, a survey conducted by the TNLC revealed that more than 90 per cent of the community (around 984 surveyed individuals and landowners) actually opposed prospecting.

Although the landowner system does necessitate more extensive consultation measures than other jurisdictions, the report notes that obtaining legitimate FPIC in Fiji is challenging.

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Filed under Fiji, Human rights

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