The mining sector has the potential to deliver positive development to Solomon Islands’ economy and improve the lives of people, says the World Bank.
“As one of the Solomon Islands Government’s priority sectors, mining, if managed well can improve livelihoods and help share wealth,” said the World Bank’s mining manager, Christopher Sheldon.
Speaking at a National Mining Forum in Honiara last week, Sheldon, said stakeholders need to work together to address concerns over environment damage, lack of shared benefits and policies.
“There needs to be dialogue and cooperation between landowners, companies and government. Policies need to be in place and regulated by government, companies need to abide by these policies and landowners need to have information to better negotiate with companies,” said Sheldon.
He pointed out that other countries have faced similar challenges. Botswana in Africa is now using its diamond resources to fund development, and Chile which is using its copper mining for national benefit.
At the national level, Sheldon said government needs to take the first step towards wider reform in the sector by finalizing the National Minerals Policy.
The World Bank, with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will provide some support to the Ministry of Mines Energy and Rural Electrification, through capacity development and advice.
“The impact of mining can be transformational for the people of Solomon Islands but we have to ensure that the prosperity from mining is shared. The communities that are most affected by mining activities must also be the ones to benefit from the sector.”
He said the National Mining Forum, organized by The Nature Conservancy was a good start to finding a way forward by getting landowners, civil society, investors and the government together.
“I was very impressed by the openness of discussions, the views expressed by landowners on the help they need to deal with mining companies, and the views of women over the distribution of benefits.”
He highlighted the mining opportunities in the Solomon Islands including the Gold Ridge Mine and nickel mining in Isabel.
“Gold Ridge could potentially be resuscitated if the new owners can find a credible investor with the financial and technical backing; while a court decision next year on mining in Isabel, will clarify the situation and can move mining in Isabel forward.”
As for the controversy over bauxite mining in Rennel, Sheldon said Solomon Islands can learn from the experience by ensuring that government policy and procedures are strictly followed. Companies need to abide by the rules but this can only be done if the regulations are actively enforced.
He added that work needs to be done at community level, so that civil society organizations and landowners continue to be informed about the sector.
“Landowners need technical, financial and legal advice to make good decisions. At the same time investors also need clarity on the legal and regulatory environment to invest in the Solomon Islands.”