THE Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) has expressed grave concern for the livelihood of the people of Rennell Island, Rennell and Bellona Province amidst the looming environmental disaster caused by oil spilling from the grounded MV Solomon Trader in early February.
Also, of concern is the fact that Rennell Island is the largest raised coral atoll in the world and includes a UNESCO World Heritage site which extends kilometres out to sea.
“The entire ecosystem on the island can change because of the chemical components and elements of the spilled oil that are toxic to the environment where people on the island rely on for their survival,” SICCI Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ms Atenasi Ata, said.
Around 80 tonnes of heavy fuel oil have already leaked into the sea, while more than 600 tonnes of the oil remain on the stricken 225-metre (740-foot) vessel.
MV Solomon Trader ran aground on February 5 while loading bauxite for Bintan Mining Solomon Islands (BMSI).
In light of current happenings in the mining sector, SICCI believes that the principles of good governance need to be adequately applied in the country’s mining sector with mechanisms that are sufficiently established.
“Government must ensure accountability and good governance practices are observed in the extractive industries especially Mining,” SICCI Board Chairman Jay Bartlett said.
“With good governance mining, forestry and fisheries will benefit all Solomon Islanders through tax revenue, through infrastructure development, through employment and through benefits to resource owners.
“These industries must bring a better standard of living for our people and not simply extract our resources with little return,” he added.
Meanwhile, SICCI CEO, Ms Ata said Solomon Islands as a country should seriously implement its national mining policy to provide an overarching guide for mineral development.
Ms Ata said the formal mining policy should provide a framework that points the mining industry in the direction the country chooses to proceed.
“Genuine mining companies and foreign investors can seek such guidance so that they can know clearly the boundaries encompassing the sector and can demonstrate that they adhere to official policy,” she said.
She said while mining offers opportunities for economic development, without adequate management, it also poses direct threats to livelihoods, culture, social well-being and our environment.
SICCI understands that the Solomon Islands Government launched its National Minerals Policy in 2017 that ensures resource owners have more say in development of their mineral resources.
Ms Ata said provincial governments should also have more of a role to play under the National Minerals Policy 2017-2021.
She said it is encouraging to note that the policy offers resource owners a direct voice in the industry, whereas previously they could only participate through signing of surface access agreements.
In the meantime, SICCI acknowledges the tremendous help from the Australian Government in dealing with the oil spill currently experienced in Rennell Island.
“This should be a lesson for Solomon Islands if and when a disaster of this magnitude occurs in the future as currently it is clear that we do not have the ability or the capacity to deal with such an environmental disaster,” SICCI CEO, Ms Ata, said.
SICCI, Mr Bartlett added: “All investors need to be considerate about how they conduct business in our country that is still aspiring to develop. There is an unwritten social licence to respect our democracy, our laws, our people and most importantly our land.”