Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources, Ashneel Sudhakar says the photos that are now circulating from Sigatoka are not from the actual exploration site at the Sigatoka River Mouth but from somewhere else, and he also claims that some landowners have told them that they were told to sign on blank paper, not knowing it was a petition for SODELPA.
While speaking on the exploration works for magnetite by Magma Mines near the Sigatoka River Mouth, Sudhakar stresses that consultations were done with the villagers before exploration works began.
He says the 7 villages who have signed the petition were also part of the consultation on several occasions and maintains that they had no objections.
Sudhakar says the license is only given when 60% or more of the landowners are in agreement.
Sudhakar also says that some villagers have approached them with claims that they were asked to sign on blank paper and had no idea that they were signing a petition.
Sudhakar says that tests are done by his team every 3 months to ensure that the water and fish around the exploration site are safe and there have been no issues so far.
He says landowners can only oppose the license when consultations are done and the license can then only be cancelled by the Ministry when the company breaches the contract.
Sudhakar says landowners cannot just turn up to them all of a sudden and ask for the license to be cancelled.
He says the company also has to pay a bond to the Ministry, which is paid to the landowners as compensation if any damage is done to the ground.
Exploration Works At The Sigatoka River Mouth
The Lands and Mineral Resources Minister, Ashneel Sudhakar says Magma Mines which is carrying out exploration works for magnetite at the Sigatoka River Mouth since 2007 has complied with its exploration Environment Management Plan and has also obtained relevant landowners support within their exploration footprint area, which is predominantly the Tikina o Nasigatoka.
In a brief to the Prime Minister yesterday, Sudhakar also says that only during the mining lease application stage, is when the landowners’ approval is required for the issuance of a surface lease over a particular area that is targeted for mining. He confirms that this is an intensive consultative and multi-stakeholder engagement process as landowners’ approval for the award of a surface lease forfeits their right to land area for the lease term.
It has been confirmed that Magma Mines has only received an exploration license, and no mining lease has been issued to the company.
The Lands Minister says Magma is currently undertaking exploration and has not yet determined the discovery of a mineable resource.
He says iron sand mining on the riverbed is similar to the all familiar river dredging.
Sudhakar also says Magma Mines, since it began exploration in Sigatoka, has held numerous landowner/community consultations in terms of the nature of its exploration works with the support of the Nadroga Provincial Office.
The Minister says there is also some misconception in associating Magma Mines exploration activities with the recent dredging of the Sigatoka River for flood mitigation, which was done in 2017. Sudhakar says Magma Mines has its own exploration techniques to obtain mineral samples for scientific analysis thus, the assumption in the petition that Magma Mines was dependent on the 2017 river dredging activity to extract mineral samples is baseless.
He says any company with a valid exploration license operating in Fiji is permitted to extract and send mineral samples overseas for scientific analysis rather than monetary gain.
Sudhakar says the Department issues mineral export permits for mineral sample export and as such, this is undertaken in a controlled and well-regulated environment.
However he says Magma Mines had proposed to the Ministry to undertake mineral extraction (dredging) once the company identifies a mineable resource for mining.
Sudhakar says given the necessity of flood mitigation dredging which is of national interest, the 2017 dredging of the Sigatoka River was prioritized.
The Minister says in his brief that there was no collusion between Magma Mines and China Railway which was the company tasked with the 2017 river dredging; given the differing nature of the two projects.
Sudhakar says China Railway was engaged by the then Land and Water Resources Management Department which is now embedded within the Ministry of Waterways and Environment. They say this was for flood mitigation purposes.
He says while the Ministry of Lands is not in a position to comment on China Railway’s dredging activities, he can confirm that Magma Mines was not involved whatsoever in China Railway’s operations.
China Railway’s flood mitigation dredging works was a government-funded project whereas mineral exploration is undertaken and self-funded by private entities.
Sudhakar says Magma Mines commissioned a preliminary Environment Impact Assessment study in 2016 as part of its mining pre-feasibility study with six public consultations undertaken in 2017 in Sigatoka.
The Lands Minister says approved EIA consultants registered with the Ministry of Environment carried out the preliminary EIA study and public consultations were held incorporating discussions between the company, communities and government departments such as Department of Environment, Mineral Resources Department and Fisheries.
Sudhakar also says when the project advances to a full feasibility study stage, Magma will be required to undertake a full EIA study as part of permitting requirements.
He also says that under Section 11 of the Mining Act 1965, there are certain areas closed to prospecting, no matter the extent of projected mineral prospectivity of the tenement. Such areas are namely are iTaukei Village, burial grounds, villages or residential areas, farms and any land within town boundaries and reserved land for infrastructural development, water supply sources and reserved forest etc.
Sudhakar says the Department of Mines also undertakes periodic consultations with all landowners on whose land mineral exploration is being undertaken to carry out awareness on the law (Mining Act) that govern mineral exploration and mining as well as landowner rights and company rights pertaining to mineral exploration and mining.
In terms of concerns for future generations, Sudhakar says government is focused on sustainable mineral exploration and mining practices that will ensure that any project achieves environmental, social and economic balance.
He says there were also claims of health problems caused by mineral dust. Sudhakar says any environmental issues which may give rise to health concerns will be addressed via the Environmental Impact Assessment process if Magma Mines applies for a mining lease.
The Lands Minister says it is imperative that landowners and communities actively participate in the EIA process, including public consultations, to raise any concerns with relevant agencies involved in the EIA process.
Sudhakar says Fiji and the Prime Minister’s active involvement in the Conference of Parties (COP) clearly articulate the current government’s intention to promote and harness sustainable development. He says this sentiment is embraced by the Ministry in its efforts to ensure sustainable mineral exploration and mining practices.
People that have signed SODLEPA MP, Viliame Gavoka’s petition to parliament are from the villages of Nayawa, Laselase, Yavulo, Sigatoka, Nasama, Vunavutu, Volivoli and Kulukulu.
They are calling for effective and not just in-name consultations to be held before any decision is made on the mining lease by the Minister for Lands.
However Sudhakar says several consultation sessions have been held with the landowners from 2012.
Gavoka says these communities are deeply concerned for their future welfare not to mention the environmental impact of the mine. He says some may be forced to leave their homes.
Gavoka says this will negatively affect their livelihoods and deprive them of ancestral fishing grounds as a result of the destruction of the environment.
The petition was not allowed by the Speaker of Parliament as he said that parliament does not have the jurisdiction to look into the issue.
We will get comments from Environment Minister, Doctor Mahendra Reddy later today.
Stay tuned for the latest news on our radio stations