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Mixed feelings on minerals project

Nanise Loanakadavu
Tuesday, December 04, 2012

LAND is very precious for those who own it, especially a vast area of it.

While some prefer to keep it for their future generations, others opt to lease it out or sell it for business ventures which rake in a substantial amount of money.

One group of landowners, who want to uphold the sacred promises handed down by their forefathers through their bloodlines, is against any copper and gold extraction from their land.

They are the people of tikina Namosi and reports suggest they do not want to give up their land for any mineral extraction project.

Extraction, the tikina Namosi people claim, is killing their food sources in the river, farm land, resources and clouding the vision set out for the future of their young people.

In an exclusive interview landowners spoke of their worry and fear over plans to set up a gold and copper mine on their land in the Namosi highlands.

Today, we look into why the majority of Namosi landowners, who will be directly impacted by any mining venture there, appear to be against the proposed Namosi Joint Venture project.

Like every other landowner's quest to protect his or her land, 98 per cent of the landowners in the tikina Namosi apparently do not want their land to be developed by the Namosi Joint Venture.

Talks have been echoing from village to village about the environmental impact on their land, rivers and resources.

Following a survey carried out by the Tikina Namosi Landowners Committee (TNLC), 98 per cent of the villagers from the Namosi, Navunibau, Navuniyasitu, Narukunibua, Waivaka, Naduruyasi do not wish for their land to be developed because of problems they face, they say.

The problems include the experiencing of hot water springs in some of their farms where drilling had taken place, the orange staining of the creek bed as a result of the drill pad that was abandoned and the loss of resources in their streams such as prawns, freshwater clams, eels and freshwater fish.

But the government says it is ready to have an independent evaluator if there is a need once the environment impact assessment for the proposed Namosi gold and copper mine is completed.

Permanent secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, Colonel Pio Tikoduadua confirmed this while commenting on the Namosi Joint Venture project.

Col. Tikoduadua said what people needed to understand was that the EIA and SPL were fully in effect and work had been carried out.

The EIA is being carried out by the Institute of Applied Science of the University of the South Pacific (USP) funded by Newcrest, which is the majority shareholder in NJV.

"Right now we are not looking at the mining project as we are still in the exploration and the EIA process," said Col. Tikoduadua.

"We have already made ourselves clear that if landowners wished for an independent EIA, we will assist," he said.

The survey report viewed by this newspaper shows that from the oldest member of the village to as young as four-years-old have a clear understanding on the plans, which raise a lot of questions on their livelihood.

They are deeply concerned about the repercussion of mining to those villagers living downstream in the provinces of Naitasiri, Tailevu and Rewa.

Questions on what resources would be left after 40 years for their children, what other source of income would be available after the land is developed and the environmental impact on six villages including Delailasekau, Naitasiri and Rewa were asked by the Namosi villagers.

Roko tui Rewa, Timoci Kanavesi said while Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa had made it clear that they do not support the project because of the overflow to the Rewa River, they were yet to receive any complaints from the people of Rewa.

The landowners of tikina Namosi claim the Special Prospecting License (SPL1420) was issued to NJV without their knowledge and consent.

However, that did not stop the tikina Namosi from setting up a 30-member monitoring team consisting of representatives from all the mataqali (landowning unit) in September last year, which has been keeping a close watch on the exploration work.

Agarito Koroinanono, a landowner who is also a member of the monitoring team, said the team was merely to ensure NJV's work remained in the boundary of the Special Prospective License (SPL).

Not only does the monitoring team watch the work of NJV but it is also actively involved in the rehabilitation process.

Mr Koroinanono claimed misinformation was a common strategy used not only to mislead the landowners but the people of Fiji also.

Kanito Naivalu, another member of the monitoring team said their only hope now was for government to provide an independent institution to carry out the Environmental Impact Assessment which will determine whether the project would go ahead or not.

He said it was their land and landowners were very much capable of thinking and speaking for themselves.

"We the landowners are very much responsible for our actions and the company should be bold enough to face us and our grievances rather than diverting attention from the real issue," Mr Naivalu said.

In fact, he said, they had requested for more than two years that there be awareness on the environmental impacts of mining as there were only views stated on its benefits. However, Mr Koroinanono said after taking their grievances to the Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama early this year, they were reassured that if the project did not favour the landowners, then NJV could look for other economical activity as long as there was no disturbance to the land.

"This is what keeps us fighting," he said.

"If they venture into any other economical activity other than mining, we will give our full support," he added.

But Tui Namosi, Ratu Suliano Matanitobua remains steadfast to his statement during the Namosi Provincial Council meeting in June this year that they need to consider the employment opportunity, educational assistance and other benefits provided by NJV once the project commences.

He said at the same time they would monitor the impact it had on their land.

While there is no dispute that the mining project would create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in revenue, its fate rests on the outcome of the EIA and the whole-hearted approval of the landowners.

Should the proposed Namosi mining project get the nod, about 2000 construction jobs and 1000 operational jobs with flow-on increase in spending are expected to be generated.

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