Million-dollar ore stockpile remains idle on San Jorge

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Nickel ores at San Jorge Island. Photo by Axiom Mining Solomon Islands.
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By EDDIE OSIFELO

MORE than 70,000 metric tonnes of nickel ores that cost around $171 million (US$20 million) to $256 million (US$30m) in the markets are lying idle on San Jorge, Isabel province.

Axiom Mining Limited (AML) which has a lease on the tenement could not export the minerals since September last year after the government refused to grant an export permit.

The Mines and Mineral Board rejected Axiom Mining Ltd’s application for an export permit citing the company does not have a Provincial Business licence from Isabel Government.

Axiom has already filed a judicial review in the High Court against the decision of the Minerals Board, as well as a misfeasance claim against the Minister of Mines Bradley Tovosia and Director of Mines Nicholas Biliki.

The reason was they are failing to properly exercise their powers under Regulations 70 and 71 of the Mines and Minerals Regulations pertaining to the company’s export permit application.

Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification, Christopher Vehe said nothing can be done about the mineral because there is a judicial review case before the court.

Vehe said unless a decision is made by court before any action can be taken.

Director of Mines, Nicholas Biliki said the minerals are still the property of Axiom because they have the lease over the tenement.

Biliki said government cannot interfere when the issue is before the court and Axiom owns the lease as well.

However, one mineral expert said the delay to export the minerals is causing environmental degradation to the environment and sea bed.

The expert said when it rains, the minerals can flow down to the sea and cause problems to the habitats in the sea.

Island Sun contacted the Director of Environment but could not get a reply.

General Manager of Axiom, Dr Phil Tagini last year said regarding the export permit application, there are subsequent requests for materials by the Ministry of Mines which the law does not require for the consideration of an export permit.

Dr Tagini said the application has met the requirements of the Mines and Minerals (MM) regulations and thus the company should have been granted an export permit to ship out its nickel ore products to its United States-based buyer, Traxys.

However, Tagini said Minister Tovosia in a letter dated July 18 this year informed Axiom that the Minerals Board following its extra-ordinary meeting on July 5, had decided to reject the company’s export permit application on the basis that it did not possess a business licence from the Isabel Provincial Government (IPG).

The Board had maintained that this is a requirement even though it is not required in the Act or Regulations.

Tagini explained that Axiom’s non-possession of a business licence was not deliberate on its part but was rather due to failure of the Isabel Provincial Government to respond positively to its numerous applications and attempts to obtain a business licence.

He said Axiom has come to a stage where it could no longer tolerate the overreach of the Board and must bring the matter for an independent interpretation by the Courts. 

He added Axiom’s nickel mine project on San Jorge is projected to contribute up to 15 to 20 percent of Solomon Islands Gross Domestic Product (GDP) when in the full exportation phase.

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