2 Sep 2013

Banabans maintain calls for compensation

5:22 pm on 2 September 2013

A landowner from Banaba island in Kiribati says his people will keep fighting for compensation for the depletion of the island's phosphate resources.

Banabans have sought compensation from countries involved in stripping the island of phosphate since the mining wound up in the late 1970s.

While some payments have been made, Raobeia Ken Sigrah told Johnny Blades that he and other Banabans still feel they're owed a great deal but that they're essentially on their own.

RAOBEIA KEN SIGRAH: When the money was on we lived a good life. Since the money stopped everything went back another 10 years back. So now people, all their houses are falling apart, they cannot afford the maintenance of brick walls and roofing irons which are rotten because of salt water. It's a real struggle living back home now. Yes, of course people are still looking forward to having compensation because that is the right thing to do, to compensate our people after taking away our homeland. But in the big countries, like Australia, New Zealand and England, to them it's a dead case, but to us, no, it isn't, and that is why we're still trying to fight for the right thing. Even now we are trying to rehab our homeland. What we have now is about only 150 acres after the mining and that is the only piece of land that we have. And we have to be careful not to lose it anymore. We were given a bad deal in the first place, so we're not going for the second one now, for our next young generations to come in.

JOHNNY BLADES: You say that it should be the British, Australian and New Zealand governments paying compensation for the phosphate, the loss, the damages, but not the Kiribati government?

RKS: Well, at the end of the day, we can look at it... You might say England or whatever, but even Kiribati was actually involved in the destruction of the homeland. Look, it is the Kiribati labourers that came and worked the land, thousands of them. At the end of the day Kiribati was given 85% of the tax money, instead of 15%, and they give us 15%. Everything was changed around for the benefit of the Kiribati colony which England did not look after at that time. So we Banabans pay what the British government should have paid to keep us going at that time. So they're all involved in it together, whether Kiribati pays for it or the British government pay for it, we don't care as long as our people are compensated, and that's the end of the story.

JB: I assume their phosphate is gone, but is there any left?

RKS: That is what we've been trying to have now, because after the mining, I think it was nearly 40 million tonnes of land rock, aggregate. It's quite strange because now we've got the rock, global warming is actually hitting the Pacific region. And of course we know that Kiribati and other atoll islands will be affected with this global warming if it's happening. So what this country needs, they need rocks to build up sea walls, they need rocks to build around their wells to protect from salt water, to build their roads. Because they are all atolls, they are all sandy places. These rocks could be used for building materials. We have 40 million tonnes of that rock on the island, but that again belongs to the Banaban landowners. And this time we won't allow other companies to come in and rip off our people unless we get a fair deal.