Category Archives: Solomon Islands

Gold Ridge slams cyanide claims

The Gold ridge tailings dam.

Solomon Star | 07 February 2018

GOLD Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) has dismissed findings of a research that claims high levels of cyanide were found in sediments downstream of its central Guadalcanal mine.

Researcher Dickson Boboria, a Solomon Islander studying for his doctoral degree, claims the situation has put the livelihoods of the Metapona communities at risk.

But Gold Ridge last night refuted Mr Boboria’s findings.

The company said the findings are in direct contradiction to the cyanide sampling results obtained from Gold Ridge Mine and accredited independent environmental consultants.

“Gold Ridge Mine in collaboration with an Independent Environmental Auditor and community monitors has in place a robust environmental monitoring protocol to monitor cyanide levels in the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) and downstream,” the company said in a statement.

“TSF monitoring has been in place from the inception of the mine in 1996,” it added.

“The results of monitoring from December 2017 show that cyanide is not present in the top five metres of the surface water of the TSF.

“Gold Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) took sediment samples prior to and during the 2016 spill over event including locations downstream of the dewatering discharge pipe into the Tinahulu River and downstream of the spill over into the Kuara stream.

“All samples taken from rivers and stream were below detection levels of cyanide – less than 1 milligram per kilogram.

“GRML undertakes sampling of the TSF and downstream to robust good practice standards with the results analysed at an internationally accredited laboratory, Australian Laboratory Services.

“GRML is transparent in its approach.”

The statement said relevant ministries and government officers receive a weekly report on the TSF, which includes results of sampling as soon as they are received.

“In addition, two independent sampling regimes complement the company’s approach.

“The National Public Health Laboratory carries out a sampling regime and The University of Queensland (UQ) on behalf of the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) have collected samples since 2014 and analysed them at internationally accredited laboratories.

“Sediment samples taken by UQ and SIG in 2016, started from the Chovohio River, all the way down to Metapono including Kwara and the Tinahulu rivers.

“The UQ/SIG research sampled sediment at a total of 19 sites, with the majority around or downstream of the TSF.

“ sampling included four sites along the Matepono River including one at the river mouth.

“At all sites, no cyanide was detected within the sediments sampled meaning that cyanide levels were below detection level (less than 1 milligram per kilogram (<1mg/kg)).

“Cyanide has only been found in sediment taken from deep core sediment samples at an approximate depth of half a metre into the sediment layer of the dam.”

The company said in January 2018, UQ and SIG undertook another program of comprehensive TSF and downstream sampling commissioned by the United Nations Development Program with the results to soon be released.

“I am surprised that the institution where Dickson Boboria studies allowed him to publicly report data that is factually incorrect and misleading especially on a matter that has the potential to create uncertainty and emotion for downstream communities,” Walton Naezon, Director of GRML, said yesterday.

Henry Tobani, the Independent Environmental Auditor for the tailings dam and downstream communities, expressed concern that Mr Boboria may not have potentially exercised his duty of care as a researcher in the manner in which he has presented his findings.

“We understand that the media can sensationalise reports, especially when presented verbally, but there is no excuse for what could possibly be blatant misinformation,” Mr Tobani said.

“It is usual for researchers to have a research method and protocol and to request permission to access and use data,” he added.

Dr Fiona Martin, Gold Ridge Mine’s General Manager Community and Government Relations, said:

“It is my understanding that Mr Boboria did not obtain informed consent from the designated Gold Ridge Mine representative to access site, so we are unsure where and how he got his data.”

Dr Martin said she believed that this situation could possibly mean that Mr Boboria may have breached his university data collation protocols.

She expressed concern that the usual ethical and research methodological standards expected from a doctoral research student from a university of standing may not be in place for this project, which calls into question the research.

Dr Martin requested Mr Boboria to contact the Gold Ridge Mine environmental team to share and discuss his results.

“We are transparent in how we share our data and are happy to provide Mr Boboria access to our data to assist with his research.

“We expect researchers to extend the same courtesy and to discuss their research methods and preliminary findings from Gold Ridge Mine data with us prior to public release.”

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Landowners to rescue Solomon Islands mine – and perhaps more

The Gold Ridge gold mine in Solomon Islands has had a chequered history.

Catherine Wilson | The Interpreter | 21 December 2017

The dusty streets of Honiara are bustling. Once ravaged by militia fighting, 14 years of peacekeeping by the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands now sees men, women and children at markets, schools and shops, confident and free.

But the future of the vast archipelago of rainforest-covered islands to Australia’s northeast is still work in progress. Long term peace and stability after the ‘Tensions’ (1998-2003) depends on addressing the causes and grievances of the conflict, and making headway on equitable development for urban and rural islanders. According to the Pacific Islands Forum, hardship and unemployment remain high in the country and ‘strong resource-led growth is failing to trickle down to the disadvantaged’. 

Landowner grievances, compromised governance and acrimonious competition for land and resources were key triggers of the violence that erupted in Guadalcanal Province in the late 1990s. So tackling land disputes, corruption and management of the country’s natural resource wealth is at the core of ensuring sustainable peace.

Western province, Solomon Islands (Photo: Catherine Wilson)

Natural resource management will be in the spotlight after the government in Honiara recently identified the exploitation of mineral resources – still relatively under-developed in Solomon Islands – as one avenue to boosting post-conflict economic recovery. At the same time, plans are underway to reopen the Gold Ridge mine by the end of 2018.

The mine, a drive of less than an hour from Honiara across the flat, sun-baked Guadalcanal Plains, through farming villages and miles of oil palm plantations, has stood dormant for the past three years. The extraction of gold began here in 1998, but a succession of foreign owners and intermittent periods of closure due to civil unrest and environmental problems has left a troubled legacy.

In nearby villages there are diverse views on the mine’s future, but predominantly people want to see greater local ownership.

‘It [the mine] may open, but it needs to involve more people than before,’ said Stanley Holmes Vutiande. He lives in Navola village, just two kilometres from the mine. ‘More people need to raise their voices and their concerns be taken care of … we need to have the young people and the women come in to participate in deciding the future because the future belongs to them.’

The next phase of the mine’s life offers a window of potential. After Cyclone Ita and torrential rain damaged infrastructure and forced the mine to shutdown in 2014, its Australian owner, Santa Barbara, sold the venture and its legal liability a year later to Gold Ridge Community Investment Ltd, a local landowner company for AU$100.

Walton Naezon, chairman of the what is now a landowner-led joint venture, Gold Ridge Mining Ltd, is adamant that a more inclusive and visionary corporate structure is in the making. The aim is to embrace corporate responsibility through increased operational and environmental transparency. This will allow local participation in decisions and better relations and communication with stakeholders, especially communities.

Local landowners hold a 30% stake in the company, Naezon said, and representatives of communities surrounding the mine, where up to 5,000 people live, conduct environmental monitoring. Water samples are taken in nearby rivers and community monitors oversee the results. The representatives have participated in key company decisions, including the agreement outlining the benefits communities will receive from the mine. They have also joined in the appointment of an independent environmental consultant. Local students are invited to visit the tailings dam to learn about the water treatment process and witness the release of treated water.

Yet the story of the dramatic decline of the nation’s logging industry, which at one time accounted for 60% of export earnings, stands as a warning of the obstacles ahead. Half a century of rampant timber extraction saw in excess of four times the sustainable rate of 250,000 cubic metres per year. Transparency Solomon Islands has claimed it ‘regularly hears stories of politicians using their power to protect loggers, influencing police and giving tax exemptions to foreign businesses, in return loggers fund politicians’.

Logging on Kolombangara island, Solomons. (Photo: Catherine Wilson)

The reopening of the Gold Ridge mine is important for economic growth, said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification. A significant drop in national revenue followed the closure in 2014 and the start of two bauxite mines in West Rennell province the following year.

But the risks remain. Graham Baines pointed out in a paper published by the Australian National University that ‘should mining be forced while governance of the mineral sector remains weak and uncertain, corruption is rife and villagers are ill-informed and uncertain, the rural population could become a potent source of dissent and obstruction’. This was especially a danger in Melanesia, Baines said, where violence and mining seem to be partners.

Yet conflict is not the inevitable consequences of natural resource development in fragile settings. A recent report by Chatham House in London claims the outcomes depend on behaviour – by politicians, bureaucrats, companies and community representatives.

The Solomon Islands government has recently launched the National Minerals Policy (2017-2021), providing a legal framework for improving regulatory authority, industry scrutiny and revenue accountability. It also requires landowners and communities are party to consultations and can access legal advice. Awareness training is especially critical for those landowners who lack substantial understanding of the mining industry, their legal rights or the consequences of their decisions.

It is still early days. The government, working with the World Bank, is only beginning to implement the new policy. But the Gold Ridge mine will be a case to watch as not only Solomon Islands, but the Pacific islands region, grapples with how to take natural resource extraction out of the hands of elites and avoid the trap of conflict.

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Can the Solomon Islands’ Gold Ridge Mine serve as a new model for resource extraction in the South Pacific?

The coastline view near the capital, Honiara. Photo by Paul Hilton/Greenpeace.

Catherine Wilson | Mongabay | 15 November 2017

  • After 17 years of foreign ownership and a checkered environmental history, the Solomon Islands’ Gold Ridge mine is now being led by a local landowner-driven joint venture.
  • The company saw its first major test in April 2016, when rainfall triggered a spillover from the mine’s tailing dam. However, independent tests found the water quality downstream remained safe.
  • Though concerns still remain, the new ownership structure could be a model for mining operations elsewhere in the region.

In April 2016, thousands of villagers living in the vicinity of the Gold Ridge Mine in the southwest Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands braced themselves for a major disaster as torrential rainfall triggered a spillover of thousands of cubic meters of untreated water from the mine’s tailings dam.

The Ministry of Health issued instructions to people to cease using water from the nearby Kwara, Tinahula and Matepono rivers for drinking, washing or fishing, due to possible risk of chemical contamination.

The gold mine is situated on the country’s main island of Guadalcanal, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the capital, Honiara.

Stanley Holmes Vutiande, who lives in Navola village, located along the Gold Ridge Road leading to the mine and 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the dam, remembered when it happened.

“We fled because there was water overflowing from the dam and we thought it might burst, so people just panicked and took off,” he recounted. “There was general information to look for safety, for higher ground, but no specific instructions as to what to do.”

Joe Horokou, the environment and conservation director at the Ministry of Environment, said the incident “was bad because it took us by surprise,” even though the company had been given approval to discharge tailings from the dam. “The approval was given with conditions like before it is discharged the water has to be treated to acceptable standards.”

Despite the dire warning, the expected disaster didn’t materialize. The dam held, and stakeholders, including Gold Ridge Mining and the ministries of environment and health, commissioned numerous independent tests of nearby rivers and streams.

“Based on the findings of those analyses we were able to determine that, even if the water was discharged untreated at the time, it caused no immediate harm to the downstream communities … the water quality was safe within the dam,” Horokou said.

Vutiande also said that, at the time, he noticed nothing of concern in the water quality of the Tinahula River near Navola.

A palm oil plantation in the Solomon Islands. The land used to be grassland and bush. Photo by Lorette Dorreboom/Greenpeace.

The incident was the first major test for the new landowner-led company, Gold Ridge Community Investment, which had taken ownership of the mine only the year before. After 17 years of foreign ownership and a checkered environmental history, the Gold Ridge mine is now being led by a local landowner-driven joint venture that is emerging as a potential new mine management model in the Pacific Islands region.

In 2015, Gold Ridge was sold for 100 million Australian dollars ($73.8 million at the time) to Gold Ridge Community Investment (now Gold Ridge Mining), by its Australian owner, St. Barbara. The company decided to abandon the mine, which contains an estimated 3.18 million ounces of gold, in the wake of extensive damage caused by Cyclone Ita and flooding the previous year.

The mine hasn’t been operational since, but following the signing of an agreement with Australia-based AXF Resources, which will provide the majority of investment, plans are now in place to resume extraction by the end of next year.

Walton Naezon, chairman of the landowner-led Gold Ridge Mining, said he is now keen to both reduce any risk the tailings facility poses to the surrounding environment and communities, and to increase public transparency of the company’s environmental processes. The top priority, he said, is dewatering, or emptying out the dam to ease pressure on its wall and decrease the chance of any further overflows.

Naezon spoke to Mongabay about implementing his vision of an extractive project where local communities are part of the corporate structure. About 3,000 to 5,000 people live in villages surrounding the mine, and traditional landowners own 30 percent of the company. They have already participated in making key decisions, such as the selection of an independent environmental consultant. They also observe operations at the tailings dam and take part in the company’s environmental testing and monitoring of nearby rivers and streams.

Larger than life in a blue Pacific print shirt, Naezon is bullish in his drive and optimism about the enterprise when we meet in a Honiara hotel. But he also comes across as astute, widely informed about the industry and its issues, and attuned to the sensibility and needs of his own people. No doubt this is a product of his previous career in politics, as well as skills and grasp of the cultural context as a traditional leader. He was minister of mining and energy from 1997 to 2001, minister for state government until 2003, and minister for commerce for another two years.

Naezon is visibly relaxed about the attention given the mining industry worldwide by what he refers to as the “greens” movement, commenting that it “makes the developer and company stronger.”

The revived Gold Ridge venture, at this stage, comes across as more than ticking the right boxes in order to be assessed a responsible corporate citizen. There is evidence of an attitudinal shift, a genuine motivation to alter the structure of power, participation and accountability.

The Gold Ridge Mine tailings dam in Guadalcanal Province, Solomon Islands. Photo by Catherine Wilson for Mongabay.

Community Involvement

As I stood in the water treatment plant at the edge of the vast blue expanse of the dam, reflecting the brilliant tropical sun, Gaheris Porowai, the supervisor, readily answered questions. He said that we were looking at 1 million to 2 million cubic meters (264 million to 528 million gallons) of water, with the water level currently 1.5 meters (5 feet) below the spillway. Treated water was being discharged, as permitted, at 500 cubic meters (132,086 gallons) per hour or 12,000 cubic meters (3.17 million gallons) per day, with water testing conducted twice weekly.

This will be done persistently, Naezon said, until the dam is empty.

“There should be no water there. In the next two years, no water, we don’t want to see water there,” Naezon said emphatically, adding that Golder Associates, the company responsible for the dam’s construction has also been reengaged to review its current state and potential future.

Phil Fairweather, Gold Ridge’s general manager, said that he and many other people had been attracted to the venture by the vision of building an enterprise on greater transparency, community inclusion and social and environmental sustainability.

“Any dewatering that is happening at the moment, for example, involves the communities,” Fairweather said. “It actually involves unqualified community people coming and observing the testing, coming and being involved in community awareness prior to any discharge and during.”

Local village chiefs, landowners and students are all invited to visit the tailings dam to learn about the water treatment process and witness its discharge.

“We want to see the mine open, but the health and safety and environmental responsibility is an utmost priority to us,” said Robert Rafaniello, the company’s deputy CEO. “And that is why as we lower the water, we will do more investigations into the stability of the dam, assess it. Does it need any strengthening to future-proof it for any other unknown event? Do we use the tailings dam in its current form, do we look at alternatives?”

Tropical forest, Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands. Forests cover more than three quarters of the country’s land area, but illegal logging remains a serious problem. Photo by Lorette Dorreboom/Greenpeace.

In hindsight, the lack of continuity in the mine’s foreign corporate ownership since the late 1990s — and intermittent periods of closure resulting in inconsistent environmental practices — can be seen as factors in the problems being experienced today.

The start of mining in 1998, by the Australian company Ross Mining, coincided with the stirrings of civil unrest. The mine was forced to close a mere two years later when the violence escalated. While a peace agreement was achieved in 2003, Gold Ridge didn’t reopen until 2010 after acquisition by Allied Gold. The venture changed hands again in 2012, this time to St. Barbara. Then, in April 2014, calamity struck when a cyclone and torrential rain caused massive flooding that damaged mine infrastructure, raising concerns about the stability of the tailings dam and forcing a second shutdown. Losses and damages at the mine amounted to $27.7 million, 26 percent of the total economic impact of the disaster on the country.

Soon after, St. Barbara decided to exit the country, selling the mine and its legal liability to Gold Ridge Community Investment the following year, while the Solomon Islands government declared the site a disaster zone.

A model for the region?

The Solomon Islands is not the only Pacific Island state to experience environmental problems in the mining industry.

Natural and mineral resource extraction has, over decades, generated major revenues in a number of other countries in the region, such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru, while many more are now considering the lucrative potential of deep-sea mineral extraction. But in both island states the extractive industries have been plagued by environmental disasters. Both have failed to achieve environmental sustainability, and the economic windfalls have not led to substantial improvements in human development.

Glaring examples include the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, where the fallout from the destruction of land and waterways nearly 30 years ago remains unaddressed; as well as the OK Tedi copper and gold mine in the country’s Western Province, where massive discharge of mine waste into local river systems since the mid-1980s decimated fish and animal species and contaminated water sources and farmland. In the tiny state of Nauru, aggressive phosphate extraction has ravaged 80 percent of the country’s landscape.

In the Solomon Islands, the government is looking to mining as the next big revenue earner as it faces the challenges of post-conflict economic recovery and the exhaustion of commercial forestry after decades of unsustainable logging. The country is known to have significant mineral resources, including gold, silver, nickel and lead.

“The Gold Ridge mine reopening is very important for the government and Solomon Islands as it contributes significantly to the economy,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification told Mongabay.

Nevertheless, the economic, social and environmental success of mining ventures over the next generation depends on not repeating the problems of the past.

A 2013 UNDP symposium on managing extractive industries in Pacific Island states highlighted some of the steps needed to overcome the hurdles. These include conducting better consultations with stakeholders and communities, developing a more complex understanding of customary land tenure, improving the transparency of political processes and revenue management, and achieving greater commitment to environmental protection, over and above the basic requirement of developers producing environmental impact assessments.

Expert observers have also expressed concerns about the influence of corruption and limited capacity of the government to manage the demands of regulating and overseeing mining activities.

Logging road in a deforested area in Vangunu Island. Photo by Paul Hilton/Greenpeace.

“Too close an identification of political leaders with resource extraction companies has not served Solomon Islands well,” Graham Baines of the Bergen Pacific Studies Research Group has written (pdf). “The chance to build an economy based on sustainable timber production has been lost. And just as government institutions have been shown to be ineffective in controlling logging abuses, so, too, their role in guiding and controlling mining is weak and compromised.”

Recently the government has tried to address some of these issues with the launch of a new National Minerals Policy (2017-2021). It aims to guide reformed financial practices, industry oversight, and procedures for tailings management, corporate environmental audits, biodiversity management and the mitigation of deforestation and soil erosion.

“With the policy now launched, the ministry is working closely with the World Bank to begin implementing the policy, and this process is already under way, focusing mainly on the regulatory framework,” the Ministry of Mines spokesperson confirmed. This includes reviewing resource and manpower capacity and rolling out public outreach and awareness of the new policy.

Progress in these areas is vital to turning around the suspension of the Solomon Islands by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which in March of this year sanctioned the country due to assessed deficiencies in areas including licensing procedures, monitoring and control of production, and revenue distribution.

The revival of the Gold Ridge mine will bear witness to how much progress the government has been able to make in the short term.

In May, the government and company began consultations with landowners about the mine’s proposed reopening next year, seeking to address issues such as royalties and environmental impact.

There is evidence, though, that not everyone is satisfied and local environmental concerns persist.

Vutiande said that in Navola, “the water system was always a long-term concern since the opening [of the mine] by the previous companies. The water issue is an ongoing issue. There were a few times when there were people who found things that have died in the river, such as fish and frogs.”

Despite the company’s stated commitment to transparency, Gold Ridge Mining remains tight-lipped while it considers the range of options for dealing with mine waste. The decision as to whether the dam will continue to be used is still to be made, and the government is still awaiting the environmental management plan.

The contents of these will be the first step in translating the new Gold Ridge vision into reality and establishing, or debunking, its standing as a model for the rest of the region.

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Solomon Islands PM hails mining company

PM Sogavare’s letter to the controversial Bintan Mining (Solomon Islands) Limited.

His office defends ‘acknowledgement’ letter

Teddy Kafo | Solomon Star | 13 October 2017

PRIME Minister Manasseh Sogavare appears to have an “intimate relationship” with the controversial Bintan Mining (Solomon Islands) Limited, an overseas miner extracting bauxite deposits on Rennell island, Renbel Province.

This intimate relationship is further evidenced by a recently leaked letter, which the Prime Minister wrote to the general manager of the company.

In the letter dated 8th May 2017, the Prime Minister stated the following:

“I have been watching with keen interest the challenges that your mining operation had to go through in the formative period of your operations and might I add continue to face in Rennell.
“I can only admire the cool and understanding manner in which you conducted yourself in dealing with these challenges within the bounds of our laws.
“You have demonstrated good corporate citizenship in this matter.
“For this I thank you very much and would encourage you to keep up this responsible attitude which is worthy of emulation by other mining operations in the country.
“I must also commend your commitment to implement an extensive community service engagement, fully acknowledging your social responsibility to the indigenous landowning group and provision of employment to Solomon Islanders.
“This is admirable given the high risks with mining operations which require a careful balance between social responsibility and profit-making.
“You have managed this very well, which is a credit to the effective management and administration of the company.
“I believe your company has great future in Solomon Islands in the development of the mineral sector, judging from the noble aims and objectives of the company which augers well with the development objectives of the Solomon Islands Government in the mining industry.
“On behalf of the government and people of Solomon Islands, I commend the good work you are doing in this country and assure you of our closer working relationship with you.”

In a statement issued last night, the Office of the Prime Minister said it is a usual practice by the Prime Minister to issue a letter of acknowledgment to investors within the country upon receiving positive feedback from various stakeholders including landowners.

This leaked letter followed the meeting between the former Minister of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification David Dei Pacha and the Chairman of the Asia Pacific Investment Limited (APID) Ray Set Fah Chu in the carpark of the Heritage Park Hotel at 10:40pm on 21st April this year.

Bintan is contracted by APID to mine bauxite on Rennell.

Mr Pacha, who is now the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, was removed for what the Prime Minister described as “under-performance” after a video footage of the secret meeting was leaked.

The video footage attracted bitter sentiments for the removal of the minister.

Two months earlier (January 2017), leaked text messages between Prime Minister Sogavare and an official of Bintan were exposed by the Solomon Star.

The text messages went viral on social media..

The texts dated 15th and 16th November 2016 show the Prime Minister reassuring a Bintan official that cabinet was preparing to remove all tax exports on bauxite and back-dating it.

The reassurance was made in response to a first text by the Bintan official who asked if there was any good news from cabinet on the matter.

The Prime Minister added that:

“The minister (of Finance and Treasury) and all of us (Caucus) are still tied up in dealing with the current political situation coursed (caused) by the President of the UDP and had Caucus whole day.

“We are still solid as a group. I want to assure you that the matter will definitely come to cabinet this week.”

The response from the Bintan official was swift.

“Dear Prime Minister. Thank you for your information. I hope the current political situation can be solved by your leadership. Good luck and God bless.”

Four weeks later on the 13th of December 2016, the Minister of Finance and Treasury issued a gazette validating duty exemption for bauxite exports and this was backdated to 1st August 2016.

Last night, the Prime Minister’s Office replied to concerns about the letter.

It said:

  1. It is a usual practice by the Prime Minister to issue a letter of acknowledgment to investors within the country upon receiving positive feedback from various stakeholders including landowners.
  2. The intention of the letter was to give motivation and boost confidence of investors who are providing services in the country and in the case of Bintan Mining, for their commitment demonstrated so by investing into the local community and towards improving the minimum standard of mining operations.An example of this is the 6.5% royalty payment made by Bintan Ltd to resource owners and both the national and provincial governments, which is more than double the legislated requirement of 3%.
  3. The letter has no intention to provide any depictions of preferential treatment towards certain investor(s) in this case Bintan Mining (SI) Limited.
  4. The letter carries the intention to encourage investors to ensure they comply to the law of the country.
  5. It is also the intention of the letter to encourage engagement between the investor and the people in community service obligations.
  6. Bintan Mining (SI) Limited operates under a valid mining lease held by APID.
  7. Further such a letter holds the company accountable for their actions should they fail to meet the required standard and does not indemnify the company from being held liable for non-compliance but rather raises the bar to ensure requirements are met in accordance with the acknowledgement by the Prime Minister.

“Important also to note that this is not the first time a Prime Minister has written to acknowledge the efforts of genuine Investors and moving forward neither will it be the last, as the DCCG aims to encourage genuine and legitimate investments within the country to support the development of our national economy.”

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Miner’s withdrawal from Sols prompts call for better regulation

Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand | 17 August 2017 

The Solomon Islands’ Chamber of Commerce has expressed regret over the withdrawal of the Japanese mining giant Sumitomo.

The miner announced its departure from the country earlier this month, citing the slumping nickel price and the loss of a legal battle over mining rights.

Sumitomo began exploring in the Solomons in 2005, but became embroiled in a six-year dispute with Australia’s Axiom Mining.

The battle ended this year with neither company being granted the right to a nickel deposit in Isabel province.

The chief executive of the Chamber, Dennis Meone, told Koroi Hawkins it’s unfortunate that a major international investor has departed having spent most of its time and resources in the courts.

DENNIS MEONE: I think it is a pity that as a country we could not take advantage of what Sumitomo could offer. It is a huge loss for the country and I think we are missing out big time. You know imagine how many Solomon Islanders would have been employed by they company. You know the spin-offs in the economy. Service providers that benefit. And of course the resource owners benefiting from it. So I think we have missed out big time. You know Koroi to put things into perspective our economic base in the Solomon Islands is very narrow and our growth our economic growth is mainly driven by a single industry which is mainly the logging sector. So there is the need to broaden our economic base by exploring and venturing into other areas or sources of growth and the mining sector is a good example of a sector that could sustain growth and provide the needed jobs and spin-offs for the economy. So I think with Sumitomo’s withdrawal I think we are losing big time. I think if you also look at our population growth you know one of the highest in the region if not the world. But by 2015 our population growth would double to around 2.1 million. And I guess providing that employment opportunity for our growing population is important but that can only happen if we encourage foreign direct investment flowing into the country. So I guess we have missed out an opportunity to really get the huge investment such as Sumitomo to get going.

KOROI HAWKINS: Yes and it has left under a bit of a cloud hasn’t it? It has cited the price of nickel continuing to plummet but also it has been embroiled in a lengthy court battle which resolved this year but without any really conclusions in terms of either according it the mining rights or the prospecting rights for the  nickel deposit on Isabel or its competitor Axiom.

DM: You know I think for foreign companies that are coming here and to spend so much time in court case and all this it is a waste of resources and I think this is something that we as a country and stakeholders the government the business sector, the private sector can actually learn from and ensure that I think within our internal processes within government we just have to make sure that we actually encourage growth and we do not you know with all our regulatory systems [they] are transparent and robust so that we do not actually go through this case again because it is actually. Everyone is losing out. They are losing out but also I think as a country we are losing out on this opportunity to actually get something happening in the economy.

KH: It is not the first company to come into strife in Solomon Islands. You have the Gold Ridge gold mine which has had issues in the same sector.

DM: Yes, yes.

KH: You have got RIPEL plantations in Yandina that is a long running industrial dispute. Is there an issue with Solomon Islands in terms of accommodating foreign investment?

DM: No I think it is basically down to us as a country and I say this generally, you know the government needs to be working closely with the private sector and I think there is the need to actually, we have always advocated for the private sector advocate for a conducive business environment and I think that is where government can really make a difference by shaping policies and frameworks that could encourage growth and investment. So I think there is the need but also the genuineness for us to actually get together it is just we haven’t. And this is something the government and us the private sector needs to sit down and talk through some of these issues because if we want to encourage growth in the economy we also have to understand that you know these companies are actually putting in resources into it and it is an investment for them. So at the end of the day we also have to make sure that all our systems or we actually, all our systems are transparent and ensure that we are doing the right thing to provide a conducive business environment you know to encourage investment in growth and innovation.

KH: Is there any reassurance you can give to foreign investors out there given, in the light of Sumitomo’s withdrawal?

DM: Yes, Solomon Islands is a good place to do business, things do come up, and with the case of Sumitomo it is something that I wont comment on because it is something that was before the courts. But there are so many opportunities in the Solomon Islands and one of the things that the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce is doing is talking to governments on police issues that are affecting the private sector. And we have just recently signed our memorandum of understanding with the Solomon Islands government which would provide a formal platform for us to engage on policy dialogue with governments. So I guess that in itself is a platform that we can build on and so yes there are business opportunities in the Solomons and you just need to pick which areas investment can happen in.

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More mining companies interested in Solomon Islands

Photo supplied. Caption: Mining exploration in Solomon Islands.

Charles Kadamana | Loop Pacific | August 17, 2017

More mining companies have shown their interest in nickel exploration after the Japanese firm Sumitomo Metal Mining (SMM) announced it is withdrawing from Solomon Islands.

One of them is Sunshine Minerals while two others are yet to confirm.

Sunshine Minerals has been granted a letter of intent by the Solomon Islands Ministry of Mines for its application for a prospecting licence over the Jejevo deposit in Isabel province and a prospecting licence is expected to be issued in due course.

The current mining company which still has interest is Axiom, despite not being granted the rights over the International Tender Areas after a legal battle with SMM.

Government Minister and Member of Parliament for Gao/Bugotu constituency, Samuel Maneto’ali, who has the political leadership over the area, said more mining companies are trying to come in after SMM withdrew.

He said he was not aware of SMM’s withdrawal until last week so he is not sure the reason behind the company’s decision to pull out.

“We missed the best mining company,” he said.

Maneto’ali said the country has lost one of the best mining companies because it has 400 years of mining experience and they have all the expertise and experience to carry out mining.

“They have good standing in environment assessments because they have the technology. There we missed the best mining company,” he said.

He said since they have withdrawn the only thing is to find other interested companies. He said since Solomon Islands lost one of the best mining companies the landowners must comprise.

“They must organise themselves and agree to the best company not to lose any more interested investors like Sumitomo,” he said.

Sumitomo Metal Mining (SMM) has withdrawn its nickel exploration in Solomon Islands because of slumping nickel prices and the loss of a legal dispute over mining rights.

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Sumitomo Metal Mining exits Solomon Islands nickel exploration project

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Solomon Islands coat of arms on Parliament buildings in Honiara Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

Yuka Obayashi | Reuters | 9 August 2017

Japan’s Sumitomo Metal Mining Co Ltd. said on Tuesday it will exit from a nickel exploration project in the Solomon Islands because of slumping nickel prices and the loss of a legal dispute over mining rights in the country.

Sumitomo Metal Mining, which began exploring in the Solomon Islands in 2005, has been caught up in a six-year legal battle with Australia’s Axiom Mining, which ended this year with neither company being granted the rights over a nickel deposit in Isabel province, it said.

“As a result of our comprehensive review of business circumstances, the final judgment in the legal proceedings and other factors, we have concluded that it is difficult for us to implement the project,” Sumitomo Metal said in a statement.

“We will pull out from all of the pending applications for mining leases,” a company spokesman said, adding the withdrawal will be completed by the end of December.

The Japanese miner declined to disclose its exploration costs and the cost of the legal battle, but said the exit will have a minor impact on its earnings for the current financial year to March 2018.

“During the legal proceedings, nickel prices have plunged. But even if the market picks up, it would be difficult to conduct the project as the social and legal system has not been developed in the Solomon Islands,” the spokesman said.

Sumitomo Metal has said it aims to increase its nickel output from its mine holdings to 150,000 tonnes a year in 2021 from the current 100,000 tonnes.

“We’ll continue to seek new nickel assets through projects in the Philippines and Indonesia, among others,” he said.

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