Solwara 1: a done deal?

deep-sea-mining-protest-595x334Will the decision on whether this project will go ahead be for the greater good of the majority (those that have a real stake in the outcome) or will it only serve to enrich a disinterested and privileged minority far removed from the project’s impact and consequences?

By Tony Stone

Minister For Mining - Hon Byron Chan
Minister for Mining

Minister for Mining, Hon Byron Chan, recently declared in Parliament that the “government is still deliberating” on Solwara 1.

Confusingly, his words contradict his actions.

For, despite the negative public reaction to Nautilus Minerals’ Solwara 1 project, the Minister and his father, Sir Julius Chan, Governor of New Ireland, are conducting themselves in ways that compromise their respective offices – ways that call into question their judgement as regulators and State leaders.

Largesse

It’s all about perception.

It’s simply not politic for the Chans be seen receiving money and signing deals with Nautilus while a decision is still pending on the project.

Sir+Julius+ChanThe acceptance of $US100,000 donated by Nautilus in 2008 for a community centre in Minister Chan’s Namatanai electorate – or his father, Sir Julius, signing an MOU with Nautilus Minerals in July 2013 for a ‘Joint Working Committee’ arrangement is bound to lead to the belief that there will be no more resistance to this project from the Chans.  Yet there’s plenty from the PNG public – proportions of which the Chans represent.

By not maintaining a neutral regulatory position until all Solwara 1 due diligence studies are completed, Minister Chan and Governor Chan (and the provincial administrator Monovi Amani too) are seen to be giving tacit support for one of PNG’s most sensitive and controversial proposals. (At least, that is what Nautilus Country Manager Mel Togolo is proudly telling his bosses.)

Nautilus Cares?

Togolo, former MRDC boss and an Australian resident (who will retire to the comforts of Brisbane where his survival will not depend on the traditional lifestyle of his Bougainville birth place) is doing a fine job for the owners of Nautilus: the shareholders – who are mainly from the Middle East and Europe – a world apart from the simple, yet sustainable and environmentally-friendly village lifestyles of millions of Papua New Guineans who live around the Bismarck.

cares1 Togolo’s ‘Nautilus Cares’, campaign, which frames the story that ‘local people’ and leaders support Solwara 1, is yet to report on its consultation program with all of Solwara 1’s target publics.

Have the Chans or the PNG government ascertained if Nautilus has consulted every village community on the shores of the Bismarck Sea  – such as Sissano which got swept away by the 1998 Tsunami caused by a landslide on the seabed of the Bismarck, or Manam where the volcano is still active and Manus and Mortlock where climate change is slowly sinking the low lying islands?

If so, what were the findings?  Publish them in the ‘Nautilus Cares’ newsletter, Mr Togolo.

nautilus-father1It is only through studies such as these that the full effects of the project on the local people will become evident. It’s up to the Chans: Byron as Minister for Mining and Sir Julius as Governor of the Province (in whose waters the mining will take place) to ensure such studies are done. More than that: it is their mandated duty.

Will the decision on whether this project is approved end up being for the greater good of the majority who have a stake in the real outcome or will it only serve to enrich a disinterested and privileged minority far removed from the project’s impact and consequences?

Will the efforts of PNG GASEM and others who are fighting for the protection of Bismarck be in vain?  Are the Chans compromised?

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