Category Archives: Solomon Islands

Solomon Islands: Minister should meet directly with local communities over mining concerns

Amnesty International | 9 December 2019

The Solomon Islands Minister of the Environment should conduct face-to-face consultations with local communities on Wagina Island to hear their concerns before deciding the fate of a proposed open-cast bauxite mine there, Amnesty International said today.

The Minister is expected to decide soon whether to uphold a March 2019 Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) decision that overturned the mining licence, after residents raised fears it could impact livelihoods on the island.

“The Solomon Islands government must ensure that all affected communities are genuinely and meaningfully consulted about this proposal,” said Richard Pearshouse, Head of Crisis and Environment at Amnesty International.

“The Minister should sit down with local communities on Wagina Island and hear their concerns.”

Wagina Island is a remote island of approximately 80 km2 in north-west Choiseul Province. Its residents are originally from Kiribati, having been relocated in the early 1960s by the British colonial administration. Estimated at around 2,000 people, they live by subsistence farming, fishing and seaweed farming.

In 2013, the Ministry of the Environment granted a Solomon Islands-registered company, Solomon Bauxite Limited (SBL), a permit to mine bauxite on Wagina Island. The following year, Wagina residents opposed the mine in the country’s High Court, which issued a stay of proceedings so that the case could be heard by the EAC.

In March 2019, the EAC overturned the Ministry of Environment’s consent for the mine. The EAC found that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed mine – which is required under national law – had insufficient information to assess the impacts of the proposed mine, and that the legislative procedures for public consultation and publication of the EIS were not followed.

SBL has appealed the EAC’s decision to the Minister of the Environment. In meetings and correspondence with Amnesty International, the company has stressed that it has always complied with the laws applicable to its operations and has acknowledged the importance of upholding human rights.

Amnesty International visited Wagina Island in July 2019 and interviewed a dozen islanders about their concerns, as well as 10 others familiar with the issue, including representatives of national and provincial governments, civil society organizations, journalists and lawyers. The organization also reviewed background documents, including meeting minutes and a copy of the 2012 EIS and its 2013 supplement.

“There is much apprehension about the potential environmental and social impacts of this mine and many community members told Amnesty International they did not feel sufficiently informed or consulted about it,” said Richard Pearshouse.

Some residents of Kukson and Nikamuroo villages and Benyamina islet told Amnesty International that they are concerned about the possible impacts from mining on fishing and sea-weed farming from mine run-off or disturbances to fresh groundwater discharges into the sea.

The EIS states that: “The [residents of Wagina] do not currently use either the mine or the processing facility sites for any productive purpose.” However, some residents told Amnesty International they use some of the land covered by the proposed mine for purposes including gardening and harvesting timber for housing.

“The government of the Solomon Islands needs to resolve the issues of land ownership and use on this part of Wagina. Taking away land that people occupy and use without following due legal process runs the risk of forced evictions,” said Richard Pearshouse.

According to the EIS, the development will include an open pit mine, a bulk carrier wharf and small boat wharf, airstrip, administration offices, a power station, fuel farm, and accommodation for about 150 employees (who with family members may reach 1,000 people). The proposed mining involves trucking approximately 150 truckloads of bauxite, each with a 35 to 50 tonne payload, for 16 hours each day. The proposed life of the mine is between 16 and 20 years.

A consultation meeting on the proposed mine was held in Kukson village in February 2013. Official government minutes from that meeting show only 23 villagers attended and that no-one attended from Nikamuroo (the village closest to the proposed mine). The EAC found deficiencies in the process of raising public awareness about this consultation meeting and the application for a licence.
Wagina residents told Amnesty International that four copies of the 2012 EIS were sent to the Island after the February 2013 consultation meeting. The 2012 EIS was supplemented by another EIS in June 2013, approximately four months after the meeting in Kukson. According to Amnesty International’s interviews with residents of Wagina, no consultation meetings took place to discuss this new information.

“The absence of full, accurate and timely information and the lack of any follow-up on questions raised by those who were able to attend the one consultation meeting, raises concerns about whether the engagement with affected communities can be considered genuine or meaningful,” said Richard Pearshouse.

The Minister’s review should include checking the date of any meetings with affected communities, where the meetings took place, whether all sections of the community – including women and those who cannot read – could participate effectively, what language meetings were held in, what advance notice and information was given, and what specific issues were discussed.

Governments have a duty to respect and protect human rights in the context of business activities. All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout their operations, independently of a state’s own human rights obligations. To meet this responsibility, companies should have in place an ongoing and proactive human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights. This may require going beyond the legal requirements in the country where they are operating.

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AXIOM STANDS BY CLAIMS 

Solomon Star | 5 December 2019

AUSTRALIAN mining firm Axiom Ltd has insisted the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Robson Djokovic attempted to solicit funds from them for his personal benefit.

“Around the time when Robson Djokovic became Chief of Staff, he approached Axiom’s Australia-based chairman,” a statement Axiom’s Community Affairs Manager Philemon Kesaka issued yesterday said.

“Upon their first meeting, Djokovic presented a document signed by Prime Minister Sogavare to confirm that Djokovic was on business for Sogavare,” the statement added.

“Djokovic was promoting his personal services to Axiom to deal with the Government including seeking money for himself.”

The statement said Honiara-based private legal practitioner Wilson Rano and a Fiji-based lawyer recommended that millions of dollars be paid to a company jointly controlled by Rano and Djokovic so that they could provide services to Axiom. 

“Rano and Djokovic were the directors of this company at the time, including from 2015 and also when Djokovic became Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister.

“Later in meetings in Fiji, with Rano, a Fijian lawyer, Axiom’s Australian barrister and Ryan Mount, Rano wanted to provide services to Axiom claiming he would work with Djokovic and also that he would manage all landowner issues because he claimed he is the only person the Isabel landowners will listen to.  

“Axiom refused to further engage any further with these parties because what they have proposed was not to Axiom’s ethical standards and nor did it satisfy Axiom’s legal and probity standards. 

“Axiom also did not want to engage with Djokovic because he was a government official and obviously as a mining company, Axiom could not engage with a convicted criminal. 

“In fact at the very start of the meeting, Axiom’s barrister made it very clear to Rano that Axiom could not engage him (Rano) because due diligence and investigations had revealed problems with his professional background, including allegations of forgery and his association with a convicted criminal Djokovic. 

“Understandably Rano was upset at being told this. 

“At no time has Rano ever represented Axiom.” 

The statement said despite this farce and the ongoing attempts by Djokovic and the government to deny the San Jorge landowners their benefits and slow Axiom’s progress, the company maintains that it will always abide by the laws and will never deviate from doing what is legally right and important for the benefit of the landowners which the company has partnered with.

“Axiom is determined that it will continue to move towards a sustainable nickel mining project on San Jorge from which landowners can benefit and moreover is free from environmental disasters and a project that all Solomon Islanders can benefit from and be proud of.”

Earlier Rano confirmed meeting with Ryan Mount, and Mr Stratton (a well-known Australian Lawyer) representing Axiom Mining Company Limited at Nadi, Fiji in 2016. 

“He said this was after Axiom KB Ltd was licking its wounds from the SMM v Axiom Case which the  Court of Appeal dismissed both Axiom’s Licence and SMM’s licence and found that the Commissioner of Lands with the help of Axiom KB Ltd and Ryan Mount illegally registered a lease over Takata/Kolosori tenement.

He claimed the meeting in Fiji was purposely to come up with a legislation in which they will try and push through Parliament to secure the San Jorge and Takata Tenements for Axiom Mining Co Ltd. 

“It is an idea which Mount was championing in light of his position that the Mines and Minerals Act simply failed to recognize investors like Axiom and how Axiom is the only company capable of properly mining San Jorge and Takata.

“As a professional, my position has always been that I would be willing to do all legal means possible to do the work in consultation with Mr. Stanton and Axiom if Axiom is prepared to put its money where its mouth is. 

“I drafted a consulting agreement between Axiom Mining Co Ltd and myself and stated that my consulting fees is AUD$700,000 and payable on installments upon achievement of each stage of the proposed legislation.

“Of course in doing so I would have needed the assistance of people I trust and who can help in pushing these agendas forward. 

“I remember discussing this with Djokovic who at the time was a freelance consultant and was not yet employed by Solomon Islands Government. 

“Because of his skills and connections, Djokovic would have been instrumental. 

“By the end of October 2016, Djokovic joined the Government as Chief of Staff and has advised that he could no longer be involved.

“Because Axiom could not afford this the matter we could not take the matter further. 

“It is not, however, because Mount discovered that Djokovic was a partner in Echelon Consulting Ltd,” Rano said.

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Axiom mining claims Solomon PM’s Chief of Staff sought $700,000

Axiom had its foreign investment licence cancelled by the Solomon Islands government in October this year and has been told that its expatriate workers were no longer able to stay in the country.

Solomon Times | 4 December 2019

The Australian newspaper reports that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff (prior to his appointment in October 2016) had sought payments from Axiom to smooth over problems with the government at the time.

Axiom mining chief Ryan Mount said Robson Djokovic, who is Mr Sogavare’s nephew and has a criminal record in Australia, had sought AUD$700,000 “consultancy” through a Fijian lawyer to allow the company to hold on to its Isabel Nickel project.

“When we looked at the company records, it was half-owned by Robson Djokovic,” Mr Mount said.

He said he refused to pay, and the ASX-listed company was being forced out of the country in favour of a Chinese company that caused the Solomon Islands biggest environmental disaster.

Mr Mount has pleaded for Australian government assistance, telling senior advisers to Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne that the company, which has 8000 shareholders, was being denied due process by the Solomon Islands government.

Amid moves to strengthen relations with Pacific governments, Mr Mount said he was told by a senior official at the Australian high commission in Honiara that it was “time to pack your bags” and leave the country.

Mr Djokovic, an Australian citizen, told The Australian via text message that the allegations against him were “a smear”.

He said his criminal convictions for burglary, fraud and drug offences “are no longer relevant but have been used for political convenience” by Mr Mount and others seeking to undermine him.

Wilson Rano, a well-known lawyer in Solomon Islands, posted on social media that he was in fact the person referred to in the article by The Australian.

“I recall having a meeting with Ryan Mount, and Mr Stratton (an Australian Lawyer) representing Axiom Mining Company Limited at Nadi, Fiji in 2016. This was after Axiom KB Ltd was licking its wounds from the SMM v Axiom Case which our Court of Appeal dismissed both Axiom’s Licence and SMM’s licence and found that the Commissioner of Lands with the help of Axiom KB Ltd and Ryan Mount illegally registered a lease over Takata/Kolosori tenement,” Rano explained.

He said that the meeting in Fiji was purposely to come up with a legislation that could give clarity to the whole mining process and help secure the San Jorge and Takata Tenements for Axiom Mining Co Ltd.

“It is an idea which Mr Mount was championing in light of his position that the Mines and Minerals Act simply failed to recognize investors like Axiom and how Axiom is the only company capable of properly mine San Jorge and Takata.

“As a professional, my position has always been that I would be willing to do all legal means possible to do the work in consultation with Mr Stanton and Axiom if Axiom is prepared to put its money where its mouth is. I drafted a consulting agreement between Axiom Mining Co Ltd and myself and stated that my consulting fees is AUD$700,000 and payable on instalments upon achievement of each stages of the proposed legislation.”

Rano says that having received instructions from Axiom he sought the assistance of Mr. Djokovic, at the time was a freelance consultant and was not yet employed by the Solomon Islands Government. Rano says that by the end of October 2016, Mr Djokovic joined the Government as Chief of Staff and advised that he could no longer be involved.

“Because Axiom could not afford to, we could not take the matter further. It is not however, because Mr Mount discovered that Mr Djokovic was a partner in Echelon Consulting Ltd. Echelon Consulting Ltd was a registered company I registered in 30 January 2015 and has nothing to do with Mr Djokovic,” said Mr. Rano.

“The only connection between Mr Djokovic and Echelon Consulting Ltd is me. It is no secret that Mr Djokovic and I have been business partners for many years which on his part has been disclosed in full to the Leadership Code Commission.”

Axiom had its foreign investment licence cancelled by the Solomon Islands government in October this year and has been told that its expatriate workers were no longer able to stay in the country.

Mr. Mount continues to argue that the country’s pro-China Minister for Mines, Bradley Tovosia — a key figure in the campaign to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan — was a leading figure in moves to deny the company an export permit.

The move — a month after the Solomons switched diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China — follows the denial of an export permit to Axiom and the assignment of one of its prospective tenements to the Hong Kong-based Bintan Mining.

Bintan sparked a massive Australian government-funded clean-up earlier this year when one of its bauxite ships spilled 80 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on an environmentally sensitive reef on Rennell Island, South of the Solomon Islands.

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Chinese redevelopment of Solomon Islands’ Gold Ridge mine dubbed ‘way over the top’

PHOTO: The Gold Ridge mine has a long and chequered history.

Key points:

  • The deal follows a month after the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing
  • The Solomon Islands will not own the new infrastructure
  • The former Australian-listed company that owned the mine sold it to local landowners for $100 in 2015

ABC News | 30 October 2019

Chinese companies will build and control power and port facilities, roads, rail and bridges on an island within the Solomon Islands, as part of an $825 million deal to revive an abandoned gold mine, according to new contract details.

The gold project agreement, described by Chinese ambassador Xue Bing as an “early harvest” of the new diplomatic tie-up between Beijing and Honiara, gives Chinese interests an increased foothold in the Pacific, long under the influence of the United States and its allies.

While locals initially expressed fears the Gold Ridge mine deal would saddle the island nation with debt, those attending a weekend ceremony at the mine site were told the Solomons would not pay for the project infrastructure.

Nor will the country own the infrastructure.

A company majority-owned by Hong Kong-listed Wanguo International Mining, which has the project rights, will retain ownership of any project related-infrastructure, according to the project terms presented to attendees.

Wanguo has contracted state-owned China State Railway Group $825 million to complete the works over several phases.

The previous owner, Australian-listed St. Barbara, sold the mine for a nominal $100 to a landowner group in 2015, and that group went on to secure interest from Australian-based Chinese company AXF Resources, and then Wanguo.

Those attending the ceremony at the mine site, located about 30km south of Honiara, were told the large contract would involve a significant infrastructure component beyond the immediate mine site.

“Only China, proceeding from the friendship and wellbeing of the local people, is ready to overcome all obstacles to undertake this project by planning to build roads, bridges mining facilities and a hydropower station,” Mr Xue said, according to the recording.

A separate announcement from China Rail in September also said the contract included port work.

The infrastructure will be built in and around Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal, a strategic Pacific location that saw fierce fighting in World War II.

While the Solomons government, China Rail and the project operators have denied any political involvement in the mining deal, it was presented at the project ceremony as an example of what the new relationship between China and Solomons can deliver.

The agreement was announced in mid-September, coinciding with a decision by the Solomons Government to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing, angering the United States in the process.

“This is not only a new beginning of the Gold Ridge mine, but also a very important early harvest of the friendly cooperation between China and Solomon Islands which established diplomatic relations just 35 days ago,” said Mr Xue, who is the Chinese ambassador to Papua New Guinea.

Solomons landowners and politicians, Chinese officials, and representatives of China Rail and Wanguo were at the ceremony, said a source who attended.

Solomon representatives were repeatedly reassured the Pacific nation would not be subjected to a “debt-trap”, an allegation used against China by the United States.

Wanguo did not immediately respond to questions. The Solomons Government, which did not immediately respond to questions on Wednesday, has previously said it was a private sector deal and was not privy to the commercial arrangements.

Solomons opposition lawmaker Peter Kenilorea said the Gold Ridge agreement was opaque and its terms needed to be better explained.

The size of the contract has perplexed mining analysts, given past private operators have struggled to make the mine profitable.

Independent Australian-based mining analyst Peter Strachan said the agreement was “way over the top” for a relatively low-grade gold project with modest reserves.

“There has to be some back story on this,” said Mr Strachan, who has visited the Guadalcanal mine site.

The troubled Gold Ridge mine last operated in 2014, before severe floods halted production.

At its peak it was the source of 30 per cent of GDP in the Solomons, which is largely reliant on timber exports. Solomons GDP was at $1.4 billion last year, according to World Bank data, making it one of the world’s smallest economies.

The project owners have not released an anticipated date the project will restart.

Walton Naezon, chairman of the Gold Ridge landowner group, said the Gold Ridge deal was a commercial arrangement with no political input.

He said the project’s two other equity owners, Wanguo and AXF Resources, were raising $275 million to pay China Rail to bring the mine back into production.

“The balance is the second phase to be approved, which includes things like underground work,” Mr Naezon said, referring to the remainder of the $825 million contract.

“China Rail will bring their own machines. They will employ 70 per cent local labour and the rest will be their own staff.”

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Troubled Gold Mine Sold to Local Landowner Company for A$100 Relaunched in Solomon Islands

Photo: Flickr/Jenny Scott

Sputnik News | 27 October 2019

The troubled Gold Ridge mine in the Solomon Islands changed ownership multiple times over the years and was shut down by its last owner in 2015 after severe flash flooding.

The Gold Ridge goldmine in the Solomon Islands was officially relaunched Sunday in Central Guadalcanal, reports Radio New Zealand.

The mine which is currently the property of a local landowning company, Gold Ridge Community Investment Limited, is less than an hour’s drive from Honiara across the Guadalcanal Plains and has stood dormant for the past three years.

It is now being redeveloped by the Chinese miner Wanguo International working in partnership with Chinese owned Australian developer AXF Group and local landowners in Central Guadalcanal.

Speaking to RNZ Pacific earlier in the week, a spokesperson for Gold Ridge, Allen Wang, applauded the new contract for the reconstruction of the mine by the China Railway International Group, emphasizing he believed China Railway “had the mining experience, construction expertise and Pacific experience to make a great contribution to the development of a world class mine in Solomon Islands”.

The contract signed by Honiara and China Railways involves two major phases.

The first phase includes an exterior mountain-stripping project followed by the installation of interior mining equipment and facilities.
The second phase includes the construction of roads, bridges, and a nearby reservoir along with dock facilities and a hydropower station.

The mine on central Guadalcanal, south-east of the capital Honiara, began operation in 1998, and at the height of its production in 2012 accounted for 20 percent of the country’s entire gross domestic product.

However, a succession of foreign owners and intermittent periods of closure due to civil unrest and environmental problems left a troubled legacy.

After Cyclone Ita and torrential rain damaged infrastructure and forced the mine to shut down 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.

Shortly after St Barbara sold the mine, the Solomon Islands Government declared it a disaster area when a tropical cyclone filled the dam to capacity.

On 12 September 2019, the mine signed a deal with China Railway Group Limited of China worth US$825 million to build and lease a railway system and mining service station.

China Railway International announced the deal on its website’s notice board on the date it was signed, with parent company China Railway Group announcing it on 16 September, the day the Solomon Islands and Taiwan officially broke ties.

The contract is to last until March 2034.

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Solomons’ gold mine to launch ‘world class’ redevelopment

Empty trucks at the Gold Ridge mine

Radio New Zealand | 23 October 2019 

A closed Solomon Islands’ gold mine is set to be officially relaunched this weekend.

The troubled Gold Ridge Mine, which has changed ownership multiple times over the years, has been closed since 2015.

It is now being redeveloped by the Chinese-owned Australian developer AXF Group in partnership with local landowners in Central Guadalcanal.

The full details of the reconstruction by the China Railway International Group is expected to be announced during a ground-breaking ceremony on Saturday, the Solomon Star reports.

Gold Ridge senior official, Allen Wang, said he believed China Railway had the mining experience, construction expertise and Pacific experience to make a great contribution to the development of a world class mine in Solomon Islands.

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Axiom sues Tovosia and Solomon Islands mining board 

Solomon Star | 3 October 2019

AXIOM Mining Limited (AML) says it has initiated legal proceedings at the High Court over the government’s handling of its export permit application.

General Manager Dr Phil Tagini said they’ve filed a claim for judicial review against the decision of the Minerals Board, as well as a misfeasance claim against the Minister of Mines Bradley Tovosia and Director of Mines Nicholas Biliki for failing to properly exercise their powers under Regulations 70 and 71 of the Mines and Minerals Regulations pertaining to the company’s export permit application. 

“Furthermore there are subsequent requests for materials by the Ministry of Mines which the law does not require for the consideration of an export permit,” Tagini explained.

He said the application has met the requirements of the Mines and Minerals (MM) regulations and thus the company should have been granted an export permit to ship out its nickel ore products to its United States-based buyer, Traxys.

However, Tagini said Minister Tovosia in a letter dated July 18 this year informed Axiom that the Minerals Board following its extra-ordinary meeting on July 5, had decided to reject the company’s export permit application on the basis that it did not possess a business licence from the Isabel Provincial Government (IPG). 

The Board had maintained that this is a requirement even though it is not required in the Act or Regulations. 

Tagini explained that Axiom’s non-possession of a business licence was not deliberate on its part but was rather due to failure of the Isabel Provincial Government to respond positively to its numerous applications and attempts to obtain a business licence.

He said Axiom has come to a stage where it could no longer tolerate the overreach of the Board and must bring the matter for an independent interpretation by the Courts.  

He added Axiom’s nickel mine project on San Jorge is projected to contribute up to 15 to 20 percent of Solomon Islands Gross Domestic Product (GDP) when in the full exportation phase. 

“We are surprised that with the current state of our economy that a company that has been granted a Mining Lease and has been mining for a year is being refused to export their ores for reasons that we believe are not according to law. 

“We have complied with all requirements under the law so it is very concerning to us that this situation is preventing more employment opportunities for Solomon Islanders and much needed tax revenues into our government coffers.   

“It is unfortunate that every citizen and the landowner and our loyal suppliers have to suffer for this poor governance. 

“Axiom is left with no other option but to have the matter rectified in the courts,” Tagini said.

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Solomon’s PM urged to impose duty on APID  

MV Solomon Trader oil spill on Rennell Island, Solomon Islands. Photo: The Australian High Commission Solomon Islands

MAKILI: TAX THE MINERS

Ian M. Kaukui | Solomon Star | 25 September 2019

PRIME Minister Manasseh Sogavare has been urged to revoke the 100% tax exemption duty granted to the bauxite miners on Rennell island, Renbel Province.

The bauxite mine is owned by Chinese logger APID Ltd, which had contracted Hong Kong-based company Bintan Mining, to carry out the operation.

Local activist Lawrence Makili said if the Government is looking for money to fill its coffers, Prime Minister Sogavare must remove the duty exemption the miner has been granted.

“There are lots of areas we can earn our own money as a country if we are led by responsible leaders,” Makili stated.

“These include using our own resources to stimulate economic developments and one of them is the imposing the right tax on foreign businesses operating here,” he added.

“Yet, we see a foreign investor coming in and get our resources freely out of the country.”

Makili said the resources belong to the country and it should be utilised for its economic benefits.

He said despite the call being made previously, the Government continues to allow the miner to enjoy the exemption, much to the loss of this country.

In his speech at the recent Australia-Solomon Islands Business Forum, Sogavare said the government through the Ministry of Finance and Treasury is now working on a tax policy review.

“The Government is opened to inputs and dialogue in this area and will bring to Parliament the Tax Administration Bill, Customs and Exercise Bill and Value Added Tax Bill,” he said.

He said this is not going to happen in this year’s meeting but in 2020 Parliament meeting.

Sogavare said he is also conscious of how tax regime is affecting the private sector especially after Solomon Islands Tobacco Company (SITCO) and Solomon Breweries Ltd (Solbrew) paid him a courtesy visit. 

“We had a very informative and fruitful discussion and it was really interesting to hear their views with regards to excise taxes, and how they can assist in working together with the Government to ensure a win-win situation for all. 

“After this discussion, I realised that our tax regime in this instance has resulted in the government losing out millions of dollars. I have since instructed my staff to work closely with other relevant ministries to address look at other options,” he added.

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Debt-trap diplomacy: China secures Gold Ridge Mine in Solomon Islands

Previous facilities constructed at Gold Ridge Mine (Photo from Concrete Evidence)

China Railways loans Honiara US$825 million to construct and lease gold mine facilities through 2034

Duncan DeAeth | Taiwan News | 20 September 2019

Following the break of diplomatic ties between the Solomon Islands and Taiwan on Sept. 16, it has come to light that China Railway Group Ltd. has signed a US$825 million dollar deal with Honiara to build and lease a railway system and mining service station.

The deal was signed on Sept. 12, and the contract is set to last until March 2034, according to reports. In line with China’s usual strategy of dollar diplomacy, the money for the contract will come in the form of loans and will contribute significantly to the Solomon Islands’ national debt over the next 15 years.

The deal was inked with China Railway International Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of China Railway Group. According to CNA, China Railway International announced the deal on its website’s notice board on the date it was signed, with parent company China Railway Group announcing it on the Sept. 16., the day the Solomon Islands and Taiwan officially broke ties.

The proposed infrastructure project will be constructed in the interior of Guadalcanal Island to serve the Gold Ridge Mine, which at the height of its production in 2012 accounted for 20 percent of the country’s entire gross domestic product. The mine has only been in operation since 1998, but over the past two decades, mining has been regularly stalled by social unrest, environmental disasters, and financial scandals involving former owners.

The mine, which is currently the property of a local landowning company, Gold Ridge Community Investment Limited, was considered a “disaster area” by Honiara after a damn collapsed in 2015. The contract and lease agreement between Honiara and Beijing reportedly only cost China Railways .78 percent of its total 2018 revenue.

According to CNA, the contract signed by Honiara and China Railways involves two major phases. The first phase includes an exterior mountain-stripping project followed by the installation of interior mining equipment and facilities. The second phase includes the construction of roads, bridges, and a nearby reservoir along with dock facilities and a hydropower station.

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No Export Permit Yet For SI Miner 

Solomon Star | 11 July 2019

TWO leading landowners of Axiom Mining Limited’s mining lease site on San Jorge in Isabel Province, Sam Pitu and Janet Voda, have questioned why the government keeps refusing to grant an export permit to the Australian mining company to ship out its nickel ore products to its United States-based buyer Traxys.

In a joint statement, Pitu and Voda said the repeated refusal by the Minerals Board has become more and more intolerable to landowners as it denies them their rights to enjoy benefits from the exportation of nickel ore extracted from their land,” Pitu said on Wednesday.

“The continued delays and denial of an export permit for Axiom by the Minerals Board also denies us of our rights to benefit from revenues that would have come from the exportation of nickel ore from our land,” he added

“The action by the Board is indeed mind-boggling because Axiom has fully complied with the relevant mining laws and regulations of the country in its operation on San Jorge and with good mining practices and yet its export permit application continues to be rejected whilst giving some unscrupulous Chinese companies the go-ahead to mine in the country and export their products.

“Just look at the case of the controversial Bintan mining company which continues to mine bauxite from Renell despite its perceived non-compliance with the country’s mining laws and regulations. 

“In February this year, the company caused an environmental disaster because of its reckless decision to allow its cargo carrier to load bauxite in cyclonic weather.

“And last week, just six months on from the oil spill, the company ran into another disaster when its bauxite carrier barge capsized during a loading operation releasing 5,000 tonnes of ore into the waters of Kangava Bay.”

Pitu added: “Bintan’s continued operation in Rennell despite the two environmental disasters it caused through reckless decisions brings into question why the government continues to entertain such companies in the country and denies genuine investors of the legislative support they need to carry on with their operations.”

Adding on to Pitu’s sentiments, Voda said the government needs to exercise fairness in its dealing with foreign investors and to deal with them within the bounds of Solomon Islands laws.

She said the bribery claims made against Bintan in the media should be matters of serious concern to Solomon Islanders because it somehow implies that the company could be bribing government officials to go ahead with its operation despite its non-compliance with the country’s mining and environmental laws and good mining practices.

Bintan yesterday issued a statement denying the bribery claim.

Voda said the government’s delay in granting an export permit to Axiom when it has granted the company with a mining lease is totally nonsensical because a mining company cannot extract minerals without having to export them.

She said the landowners need money to improve their welfare, Isabel Provincial Government needs money to provide services to the people of the province and Solomon Islands needs money to improve its economic base and yet the national government has deliberately ignored the millions of dollars stockpiled on San Jorge in the form of nickel ore awaiting a government permit to be exported.

Comments are being sought from the mining board.

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