15 Mar 2018

Tensions rise in Temotu as expiry of Australian miner's licences loom

4:46 pm on 15 March 2018

Tensions are rising in Temotu as an Australian miner's licences to prospect and operate in the Solomon Islands' province approach their expiry date.

NASA picture of Nende, known also as Santa Cruz, in Solomon Islands' Temotu province.

NASA picture of Nende, known also as Santa Cruz, in Solomon Islands' Temotu province. Photo: NASA

Pacific Bauxite secured a prospecting license in 2016 with the support of some local landowners and obtained a provincial business licence, after a change in the local government, to begin working on Nende Island.

But it has met with stiff opposition from other landowning groups who accused the company of operating illegally and are trying to take it to court.

At the heart of the local protests against Pacific Bauxite is the fact that the area it's hoping to mine is among the most fertile farming land on the island of Nende.

A member of the Temotu Provincial Assembly, Nelson Omar, said he told the miners as much in 2016 when he was the premier and his administration rejected their application for a provincial business licence.

"You came without gun. Better you go back and you bring a gun, you shoot every people on the island and then you do your mining," Mr Omar told the miners.

"Because it is in no way different from what will happen thereafter after you mine this place."

Temotu locals want to protect their land against devastation from mining activities.

Temotu locals want to protect their land against devastation from mining activities. Photo: Facebook

After a change of provincial government, Pacific Bauxite was swiftly granted a provincial business license.

That licence expires on the first of April.

Just last week the latest protest by those opposing Pacific Bauxite took place at the office of the current provincial premier, David Maina, urging him not to renew the licence.

Mr Maina said he listened to the protesters' views but condemned their actions as illegal.

"They didn't follow the protocol they gave their letter less than 24 hours but by the law of this country any protest [notice] should be [given] 14 days through the police," David Maina said.

Mr Maina said he is also considering pursuing legal action because he and his family also received death threats from anti-mining groups

"We have to weigh these things properly, because already they have threatened where I come from the Reef Islands with threats and then my family itself. They used some words that are not fit or pleased to be heard. Like blood shed like this. So now I will try to find and file a court case for this," said David Maina.

Nelson Omar said Mr Maina would do well to heed the groundswell of opposition to mining and reject any application to renew Pacific Bauxite's licence.

"Once the premier doesn't listen to them. And he will grant a, renew the licence again then there will be bigger protests for him to resign his seat as a sitting premier of the province," warned Mr Omar.

Ngadeli village in Temotu Province, Solomon Islands, is threatened by sea level rise.

A village in Temotu. Photo: Britt Basel

One of the leaders of the main group of landowners opposing Pacific Bauxite, Ruddy Oti, said having the provincial business licence declined would be a small victory.

Mr Oti said the real battle was trying to raise enough funds to challenge the legality of the miner's prospecting licence in court.

He said his group had found a lawyer willing to take up their cause and raised $US1936 of the $US6,455 Solomon dollars needed to open a case.

"We are looking at filing two cases. First one is injunction case. While we stop any prospecting activities we ask court to review the process in which the licence was obtained and that will be the second case," explained Ruddy Oti.

Honiara High Court

Honiara High Court Photo: RNZ Koroi Hawkins

Pacific Bauxite's prospecting licence expires in December.

But Mr Oti said company officials are meeting with pro-mining landowners in the capital Honiara this week to discuss applying for an actual mining licence.

For the Temotu premier David Maina this would be a positive step.

He said as one of the most remote provinces in Solomon Islands, Temotu could not afford to be picky with economic opportunity.

Mr Maina said he wanted to mediate between those for and against mining Nende.

"It will be fair if both parties come together and find a neutral zone that will take you together to discuss their issues. Because the government only caught in between the system," said David Maina.

But Ruddy Oti said consultation should have been done before the company was granted a prospecting licence.

"So that you have all these things in place before you have prospecting licence. As it is now the prospecting licence is now granted and so the whole process was flawed," said Ruddy Oti.

"There is too much corruption in it. So what we want to do is just to stuff up the whole thing."

Vanikoro, Temotu Province, Solomon Islands.
Vanikoro is part of the Santa Cruz group

An island in Temotu Province. Photo: Supplied

Ruddy Oti said his group had appealed to the wider international community for assistance to help them meet their legal costs.

He said time was of the essence because Pacific Bauxite could submit an application for a mining licence before September.

If it does and it is granted there are fears tensions could boil over in Temotu.