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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ABG Chief Secretary petitioned to vacate office

Eric Tamaan & Luke Lalu | NBC News via PNG Facts | 16 August 2017

The Chief Secretary of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, Joseph Nobetau has been given 48 hours by the North Bougainville Ex-Combatants, to resign and vacate the office.

This notice was given yesterday and was amongst their demands in a 3-page-signed-petition presented through an ABG official because Mr Nobetau was not present.

According to NBC News,  their protest was over the conduct of the ABG Chief Secretary, citing instability caused by biased decisions portraying nepotism and regionalism.

The ABG Chief Auditor, Peter Tsiperau, has also been given 48 hours to produce overdue audit reports on funds spent in the name of development projects, some of which have never got off the ground.

The ex-combatants are demanding that these audit reports be presented to the Ombudsman Commission, on Friday August 18.

ABG President, John Momis is aware of the move taken by the ex-combatants.

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Legal battle looms over seabed mining

Simon Hartley | Otago Daily Times | 16 August 2017

The gloves are coming off as mining interest groups and environmentalists prepare for a legal battle over consenting issues.

Similar legal challenges to Bathurst Resources’ coal mining consents on the West Coast dragged on for two years and the global coal price collapsed, forcing Bathurst to mothball much of its proposed operations.

Mining industry lobby group Straterra has applauded the granting of marine consents for Trans Tasman Resources to move towards ironsand extraction from Taranaki’s seabed.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) granted the consents last week, but environmental groups vowed to lodge appeals within the 15-day appeal period.

Submitting group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) had said it would appeal and yesterday said its lawyers were working on an appeal, spokeswoman Cindy Baxter said.

”Apart from the fact that we consider this decision very flawed, and that such a huge operation with potentially devastating consequences only got the go-ahead because the chair of the committee had two votes, we have to look at the precedent it sets,” she said in a statement.

Straterra chief executive Chris Baker said the EPA’s decision making committees’s decision sent a strong signal to extractive sector investors ”that New Zealand is open for business”.

”The [decision] committee had to satisfy itself, on best available information, that effects can be well managed,” Mr Baker said.

Ms Baxter said after Trans Tasman’s first application was refused in 2014, many of the companies with permits on North Island coasts subsequently dropped them.

She said Trans Tasman’s application failed on several fronts, saying there were no surveys or studies on any marine mammals, penguins, fairy prion petrels or bottom dwelling organisms, nor measurement of existing ambient noise; which was an issue for marine mammals.

”They made no effort to undertake any baseline monitoring of the seabed, despite the lack of it being one of the grounds the EPA refused their first application,” Ms Baxter said.

Mr Baker noted more than 100 conditions were imposed on Trans Tasman, including a two-year monitoring plan before mining could take place.

Trans Tasman’s two applications and ongoing research and development costs are now understood to have cost it a total about $86million.

Trans Tasman wants to suction dredge about 50million tonnes of sands from the seabed annually, to extract 5million tonnes of ironsands, for the next 35 years.

More than 13,000 people opposed the application. Much of the opposition centres on the effects from the ”plume” of sands when being returned to the seabed.

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PNG landowners threaten to shut down mine

Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Annell Husband

Radio New Zealand | 17 August 2017

Traditional landowners in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands province say they want to shut down operations at the K92 mine because a memorandum of understanding has not been adhered to.

Over the weekend 200 landowners agreed in principle to shut down operations at the Mt Kora mine as the company had failed to do things like awarding a contract to the landowner company, the Balimoia Development Corporation, or fund a variety of community projects.

The Post Courier reported the chair of the Balimoia Interim Landowner Association, Neneti Tesai, saying all parties would have to go back to the drawing board to revise the MOU and press the developer to meet its obligations.

Neneti Tesai said the landowners made it clear operations could continue at the mine after the MOU was modified and accepted by all parties.

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Catholic bishops praise ‘systematic and coordinated opposition to seabed mining’

Catholic Bishops: “Members of Parliament and local Governors and other civic authorities have a particular duty to promote long term economic and social development and to be vigilant in guarding against any attempts by international businesses to exploit our common resource”

Catholic Bishops Urge Care for Sea & People of West Papua

Federation of Catholic Bishops | Scoop NZ | 14 August 2017

The Executive Committee of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania (Australia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, New Zealand, CEPAC – the rest of the Pacific) is currently meeting in Auckland, New Zealand. We come from a multitude of island nation States spread throughout the Pacific Ocean.

We are delighted to be here in Aotearoa New Zealand and have enjoyed greatly the beauty of its nature and the hospitality of the people. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to De La Salle College in South Auckland, the highlight of which was Mass for the entire school community. The boys’ enthusiastic participation in the liturgy uplifted our hearts. A further highlight was our presence at the City Mission on Friday evening where we served meals to the homeless, the mentally unwell and those suffering economic deprivation. This was a humbling experience during which we felt deeply Christ’s call to sit and walk alongside those who struggle or find themselves on the margins of society.

As Bishops of the Pacific, the place of the sea in the lives of the peoples we serve was a central focus of our meeting. Our common ocean is teeming with life and goodness. For many of our peoples the sea is their treasured source of nutrition, sustenance and livelihood. In solidarity with them, Psalm 107 resonates in our hearts: “those that do business in the great waters, they behold the world of the Lord and his wonders in the deep.”

We are acutely aware of the impact of climate change on island nations and some of our number have been visiting communities and recording the destruction of shorelines affecting them. On a happier note, we are heartened to learn of the systematic and coordinated opposition to seabed mining which turns the ocean floor into a stage of exploitative destruction of ocean habitats.

Our interest in the “Blue Economy” is to uphold a model of development that respects the fundamental importance of sustainability that looks way beyond any perceived short term economic windfall. Members of Parliament and local Governors and other civic authorities have a particular duty to promote long term economic and social development and to be vigilant in guarding against any attempts by international businesses to exploit our common resource. We applaud government, community and private initiatives to develop water ecotourism and sustainable sea fishing. We are not “anti-development”. We look to the common good and thus advocate for an integrated approach to development where local customary practices are respected and communities are assisted to grow employment opportunities.

A further focus has been the livelihood and cultural integrity of the people of West Papua. We do not promote a view in regard to independence. Indeed we believe that where this question becomes a single focus, care to uphold and strengthen local institutions of democracy may be overlooked. We echo the call for quality education in Papua, for fair and transparent access to jobs, training programmes and employment, for respect of land titles, and for clear boundaries between the role of defence and police forces and the role of commerce. The large majority of indigenous people of Papua seek peace and the various dialogue groups, advocating and witnessing to peaceful co-existence, are a source of hope for all.

Let us conclude with reference to Pope Francis’s inspiring encyclical Laudato Si which he opens with the beautiful canticle of Saint Francis of Assisi who also reminds our generation that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.

We look forward to our Plenary Assembly in Port Moresby in April next year to which is invited all the bishops of Oceania. Our theme will be – ‘Care of our Common Home of Oceania: A sea of possibilities’.

  • Archbishop Sir John Cardinal Ribat MSC (President), Archbishop of Port Moresby, PNG.
  • Bishop Robert McGuckin (Deputy President) Bishop of Toowoomba, Australia.
  • Archbishop Michel Calvet SM, Archbishop of Noumea, New Caledonia.
  • Bishop Colin Campbell, Bishop of Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop of Palmerston North, New Zealand.
  • Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, Australia.

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Judgement reserved on Namibian marine mining halt

Michael Gaweseb

Werner Menges | The Namibian | 14 August 2017

THE minister of environment and tourism’s decision to set aside an environmental clearance certificate that gave the go-ahead for the start of marine phosphate mining in Namibian waters has come under attack in the Windhoek High Court.

The attack on a decision by the minister of environment and tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, to set aside an environmental clearance certificate issued to a company planning to start a controversial marine phosphate mining project off the Namibian coast came on Thursday last week, in oral arguments heard by judge Shafimana Ueitele in an appeal to have Shifeta’s decision reversed.

A fundamental breach of the company Namibian Marine Phosphate’s right to a fair hearing had taken place before Shifeta decided on 2 November last year to set aside the environmental clearance certificate that the environmental commissioner had granted to the company two months earlier, senior counsel Reinhard Tötemeyer, representing Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP), argued.

Tötemeyer charged that an appeal process against the granting of the environmental clearance certificate to NMP took place behind the company’s back after NMP was not notified that an appeal hearing was to take place, with the result that NMP was not present at such a hearing at the end of October last year.

Since NMP was not given a chance to be heard before the minister took his decision on an appeal against the granting of the certificate to the company, the appeal process was fundamentally flawed, Tötemeyer argued.

He added that Shifeta’s decision to set aside the environmental clearance certificate was mainly based on a finding that sufficient public consultations did not take place before the certificate was granted. However, had NMP been given a chance to be heard, the company would have informed the minister that extensive public consultations, in fact, did take place before it received the certificate, Tötemeyer also argued.

The environmental clearance certificate would have allowed NMP to proceed with mining seabed phosphate in a part of the Atlantic Ocean about 120 kilometres south-west of Walvis Bay.

The company’s plan to start the world’s first marine phosphate mining project in Namibian waters has drawn fierce opposition from environmentalists and the Namibian fishing industry, who fear that mining activities could cause serious and long-term harm to the country’s marine resources and endanger fishing activities.

Shifeta’s decision to set aside the certificate was taken after a public outcry and an appeal that a community activist, Michael Gaweseb, lodged against the granting of the certificate.

Senior counsel Vincent Maleka, representing the minister, argued that regulations issued in terms of the Environmental Management Act do not prescribe a procedure that Shifeta had to follow with an appeal against the granting of a certificate, and did not require that an appeal hearing had to take place or that affected parties had to be present at a hearing.

NMP and Gaweseb were not treated differently during the appeal process, Maleka also argued.

Gaweseb’s lawyer, Uno Katjipuka-Sibolile, argued that NMP was not excluded from the appeal process. The company was notified of the appeal and made submissions that the minister took into account before he made his decision, she said.

Since NMP was complaining of alleged procedural shortcomings in the appeal decided by Shifeta, it should have asked the High Court to review the minister’s decision, rather than appealing against the decision regarding the Environmental Management Act, Katjipuka-Sibolile also argued.

Judge Ueitele reserved his judgement after hearing the oral arguments. He said he would try to have his judgement ready by 15 December, or earlier if possible.

NMP is also involved in another pending High Court case about its marine phosphate mining plans. In the other matter, three Namibian fishing industry associations and a fishing company are asking the court to declare the mining licence that was issued to NMP in July 2011 as invalid.

That case was last week postponed to 12 September for a further case management hearing to take place.

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