GOVERNMENT has lifted the immigration ban it imposed on Gold Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) expatriate workers, allowing the first 10 to return last week.
Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo initiated the ban after GRML closed its Gold Ridge operation in central Guadalcanal in the wake of the April 3 flash flood and sent all its expat workers home.
The decision infuriated Mr Lilo, who accused the company of failing to inform the government of its sudden departure.
Mr Lilo responded by instructing the police to man the mine site, and invited Australian police to assist in the security of the mine facilities.
He later imposed the ban to allow relevant government ministries to independently carry out an investigation at the mine site.
But following pressure from landowners and GRML, the government decided to lift the ban last week.
Tim Lehany, director of Melbourne-based St Barbara, which owned GRML, said the ban allowed his workers to return last week and carried out site assessment and a range of agreed site works to be undertaken.
Mr Lehany said senior executives from the company also recently participated in a cultural reconciliation process with Prime Minister Lilo.
“The government has established an Interim Working Group (IWG) comprising the Permanent Secretaries of key departments, representatives of landowner groups, senior government personnel and government advisors, to work directly with GRML to expedite government approvals and reporting processes,” he added.
“A preliminary review of the Gold Ridge site indicates that the key assets and infrastructure have been well secured by the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
“However, a large number of illegal miners have returned to the mining areas,” Mr Lehany said.
He said the company plans to conduct an agreed range of site works with a particular focus on lowering water levels in the tailings dam, which had risen significantly during torrential rainfall in early April.
“The company will also continue to reduce holding costs and assess strategic options for the Gold Ridge Operation.”
Meanwhile, company secretary Rowan Cole said most of the expatriate workers will return to Gold Ridge during the course of this month.