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.