See below my letter on behalf of FAMOC for publication.
Dear editor, please allow me space to put forward my view in response to The General Manager for Sumitomo Metal Mining Solomon Limited on 29th March 2013. Mr Toshiaki Maeda claimed that, “some of the information they (FAMOC) presented were not accurate”.
During one of FAMOC’s educational awareness trip in Choiseul in February 2013, it came to our attention and knowledge that that there was not enough information on whether or not mining was an economic and sustainable choice for the rural populace living within and around the proposed mining tenement area by Sumitomo Metal Mining Solomon Ltd (SMMS). In order for Land Owners to make informed decisions on whether or not to allow their resources to be logged or mined, it would be ideal and appropriate that cost benefit analysis considerations are taken into account for land owners so as to ensure whether or not the resources forgone whether logged or mined are worth the benefits to resource owners. The fact that such a simple exercise has not been discussed prior to logging or mining operations is a cause of concern as landowners and the rural populace in general need to have some information whether or not the resources that they signed off to logging and mining companies and their affiliates is worth the returns or benefits resource owners receive and or the various development infrastructures that these companies promise to put in place.
To begin with, I would like put to put forward some questions worth considering in light of the ongoing discussions on mining via the media:
1. Why should land owners say yes to mining given that they do not own any mineral except owned by the government and the people of Solomon Islands according to the Mines and Minerals Act (Laws of Solomon Islands)?
2. Has the cost benefit outcome for land owners on the proposed Nickel mining by SMMS in Choiseul ever been compared or assessed with any other alternative development options such as conservation or eco-tourism?
3. Will the land owners be better-off or worse off during and after Sumitomo Mines the nickel? Should the rural populace value mining development or should they value their long term survival?
4. Is the proposed nickel mining by Sumitomo to be in the interest of land owners or in the interest of SIG-government and the proposed mining lease holder-SMMS?
5. Is there any discussion and evaluation with regards to direct and indirect benefits, direct and indirect benefits, who will benefit and who will bear the short and long term costs of the proposed nickel mining on Choiseul?
The above are just some questions that have crossed my mind but I am sure that many more questions need to be looked at, discussed and answered in the process of decision making of whether or not it is worth the cost for resource landowners to sign off their resources. Unfortunately, in the case of the nickel mining processes on Choiseul for the last seven years, there was lack of in-depth consultation and discussion on the “value of Costs and Benefits” from the perspective of the resource owners.
FAMOC would like to put across full and complete information about both the negative and positive impacts of the proposed nickel mining in Choiseul. Therefore in responding to Mr Maeda’s Comments that “some of our information is not accurate”, I would say that all the information we present in our forums and awareness are all relevant and accurate to guide decision making. During our forum awareness, discussions and interviews with the communities surrounding the tenement areas in February 2013, FAMOC discovered that SMMS had failed to provide complete information about the Costs and Benefits of the Proposed Nickel Mining to Choiseul Land Owners because it appeared that there was conflict of interest. During the course of our interviews and discussions the FAMOC team asked the rural people whether Sumitomo Metal Mining and SIG discussed with them in detail the Costs and Benefits of mining? Villages responded that they had learned nothing about the proposed nickel mining project and there was lack of information from the past consultations by SMMS. The villagers were told by SMMS that there was no threat to their rivers, seas and also the surrounding environment because everything would be recycled and also heavy duty technologies would be used in the operation and therefore would not harm the environment in the form. While SMMS may have the technology to contain its wastes, there is no guarantee by SMMS to ensure that the safety and the survival and livelihood of our people would be taken care of by SMM after its ceases mining operation.
Land Owners should protect their land and sea from any mining and pursue alternative developments. FAMOC understands that land owners were not given any opportunity to choose alternative developments apart from mining. Our rural populace are rich in resources and they have all the right to choose whatever development option that suits them but they are not given the opportunity to make a better choice. The proposed nickel mining project on Choiseul has been imposed on them. The truth of the matter as discussed with us by our rural people is that what actually happened was that SMMS negotiators would go around looking for only the innocent Chiefs and Trustees of the 12 tribes included in the proposed mining tenement area and would influence them to sign off the access right over the past seven years of prospecting. Our rural people are very innocent when negotiating Macro-projects such as mining. The rural populace cannot even rise up to raise the right economic questions. FAMOC understands that when it comes to macro-projects such as mining, commercial considerations will outweigh consideration for the survival of our people and the impact on the environment as well as the social and health implications. FAMOC is worried that the pro-mining attitude of the government shows that SIG policy on macro-projects such as mining, considers local people and the local environment as the least important of their concerns.
Clearly, the land owners would not be better off should Sumitomo Metal Mining operate in our lands. FAMOC understands that the benefits such as school fees (scholarships) and employment that have been provided by SMMS are temporary and definitely unsustainable. Let’s take a moment and look at a big picture and think outside the box regarding the school fee scheme by SMMS and as so boasted by some chiefs who are pro-mining. Do all the land owners really need school fees? The answer is no. While our dependency ratio is high, we have our traditional social mechanisms and network based on our traditional values and principles of taking care of each other when in time of need. I view the school fee scheme different as it tells me that land owners do not have money to make payments for school fees. Of course SMM has the financial means and capacity to dish out money for school fees so obviously they will “provide money for school fees”. But clearly, SMM also wants something in return and that is to rip off the land and obtain the resources that are beneath to maximise its gains, profits and increase shareholders values.
Let’s take another moment to look at another fact regarding the proposed mining tax policy of the SI- government which shows that the royalty rate for all minerals consolidated of export duty to be paid at 3% of the gross sale or 3 cents of a dollar. Out of that 3%, 1.5% will go to SI-Government, 1.2% for distribution to Landowners (9-12 tribes of the tenement area) subject to 10% withholding tax and then 0.3% is for the provincial government. The mining lease holder (Company) will then be comfortable with 97% of the gross sale to cover its expenditures and then make supernormal profits. The government will also be comfortable with all forms of taxes to be paid by mining companies. For the last seven years SMMS did not generate revenues which meant that its loses would be carry forward in the next 5 to 7 years. After the mining operation has ceased and Sumitomo have left our island, there will be no more revenue generated, no more mass employment opportunity, no expenditure to monitor slower long term destruction to our environment and people would get poorer and worse-off than today because the land and sea which have sustained them for many many years would have been permanently destroyed.
Now if we were to talk about development and the standard of living that we assume to have been derived from mining operations, a classical reality in the Solomon Islands is the Gold ridge mining operating in Guadalcanal where the Matepona river is gone, there is no major development, land owners are tired of complaining in the media about the unexpected negative impacts of mining and the expected standard of living is yet to be realized and felt. Though the mining operation on Guadalcanal has been around for more than 10 years, I have not witnessed any form of improved development nor improved lifestyle. The re-located villages still do not have access to quality water supply; filled fresh water tanks are still being transported and delivered from Honiara to those villages around the relocated villages but who will be responsible to maintain such deliveries of the water tanks once mining operation ceases? Let’s not compromise the basic right to survival for our people now and in the future. Millions and billions of dollars will never buy the services the environments provide for free to our rural populace. Economic measurement fails to put value on these free services because of the fact that there is no active market for it. However there is always value for the environment to our rural populace who are closely attached to the land and the environment and we have as resource owners have enjoyed these non-monetary values over many many years. Land in the Solomon Islands is not a commodity it belongs to the future. Landowners will always be worse off whether it be in social, health, environment and economics should mining operates in Choiseul.
It would be the land owners who would eventually be affected by extractive developments and therefore would bear the direct cost imposed on them. If landowners signed off and gave their land away, they would be the losers as they would get the least benefit from macro-projects like mining. Land owners should seriously think of developments that do not harm the environment and the survival of our people. We must make sure that we derive sustainable economic benefits for the current generation and also for the future.
FAMOC understands that there is a team from SMMS currently doing awareness talks in Choiseul regarding the proposed mining. Sources from Choiseul reveal that the turnouts in some major villages are low since most of the rural people who had previously signed the petition do not want mining and therefore decided not to attend the awareness talks conducted by the SMMS team. Most of those whom had attended are expressing their opposition to the mine and highlighted that their voice and concern is on the two petitions which had been submitted to the SI-Government through the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
FAMOC would like to urge all the land owners from the Proposed Nickel Mining on Choiseul to be serious about the long term survival of our future generation and must say 'NO' to the proposed nickel mining by SMMS Ltd. We can argue Costs and Benefits to prove that mining is not an option for development in our beautiful Island of Choiseul . Land Owners should now re-think about the proposed nickel mining and consider alternative development options on our land. FAMOC urge the Government of Solomon Islands to listen to the voice of the silent majority of Choiseul who had signed two petitions submitted to the ministry of mines and energy not to grant mining lease to SMMS Ltd to start operations in Choiseul.
Further Information can be obtained from
Rocklive Poloso on phone +6777408909 or Neil Poloso on +6777476438
P.O.Box 1600, Honiara, Solomon Islands
MINING: NOT AN ECONOMIC CHOICE FOR CHOISEUL LAND OWNERS
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Rocklive Poloso and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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