By Alfred Sasako
A West Rennell landowner has described as “very insulting” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s letter to controversial mining concern, Bintang Mining (SI) Ltd.
“The letter is written by a man who chose to ignore the plight of the West Rennell landowners and its provincial government,” Jonathan Tohaika told Island Sun on the weekend.
In his letter dated 8th May this year, Mr Sogavare described Bintang Mining (SI) Ltd in glowing terms.
“I have been watching with keen interest the challenges that your operations in the country had to go through in the formative years of your operations and might I add continue to face in Rennell.
“I can only admire the cool and understanding manner in which you conducted yourself in dealing with these challenges within the bounds of our laws. You have demonstrated good corporate citizenship in this matter,” Prime Minister Sogavare said.
“For this, I thank you very much and would encourage you to keep up this responsible attitude which is worthy of emulation (copying) by other mining operations in this country.”
“I must also commend your commitment to implement an extensive community service engagement, fully acknowledging your social responsibility to the indigenous landowning group and provision of employment to Solomon Islanders. This is admirable given the high risks associated with mining operations which requires a careful balance between social responsibility and profit making.
‘You have managed this very well, which is a credit to the effective management and administration of the company,” Mr Sogavare said.
But Mr Tohaika said the Prime Minister’s letter is odd.
“He knew and knows today that Bintang Mining (SI) Ltd has never fulfilled its social and legal obligations in terms of the payment of royalties to landowners. Of the 40-plus landowners on whose land the company has been carrying out work since 2008, only two (2) received $50, 000 each, the rest received varying amounts from $1, 500.
“As well, you can’t even see a local landowner riding a bicycle in West Rennell today. There are no clinics or schools, nor are there any water supplies. For the Prime Minister to write admiring the company as he had done, is very insulting to the people of West Rennell,” he said.
Mr Tohaika said the Prime Minister must explain why he wrote such a letter to Bintang Mining (SI) Ltd in the first place.
“He did not write one to Sumitomo, the Japanese mining giant which has ploughed into the economy more than USD100 million into its social responsibility program, which included providing annual scholarships for Solomon Islands’ students.
“When you add what the Japanese government is doing in Solomon Islands in terms of infrastructure development to what Sumitomo has done, it runs into hundreds of millions more,” Mr Tohaika said.
“So what has Bintang Mining (SI) done for this country to deserve a letter from the Prime Minister? It is absolutely nothing when it is compared with Sumitomo’s and yet when Sumitomo left this country, the government and indeed this Prime Minister said nothing.
“It is a shame,” he said.
In closing his letter to Bintang Mining (SI) Ltd, Mr Sogavare said:
“On behalf of the government and people of Solomon Islands, I commend the good work you are doing in this country and assure you of our closer working relationship with you.”