Vanuatu daily news digest | 9 October 2014

Seabed mining has been a major concern during the week. Minister Ralph Regenvanu summed up the value of Vanuatu’s seabed minerals rather well at the Deep Sea Minerals Consultation. "Up to now," he said, "our minerals are like a Fixed-Term Deposit. They are not costing us anything, and indeed, are increasing in wealth all the while. The late Fr Walter Lini," he added, "pointed out that they are for us like a bank. If we start spending this wealth now, unfortunately there will be no renewal of it." Regenvanu was opening a consultation with Malvatumauri chiefs from all regions and representatives of women, youth, churches and NGOs.

In his opening address the Minister pointed out that there had never been a decision taken as regards this wealth by the Council of Ministers. That is why a committee was formed to look into all the related issues. It is the National Off-Shore Minerals Committee. It will spearhead the Deep Sea Minerals Policy document for Vanuatu which will, in turn, pave the way for alterations to the mining legislation which has simply let former ministers agree to issue prospecting licences to those mining interests requesting such. Over 150 have been issued. A great deal of work has gone into a proposal to amend the 1980 Minerals and Mining Act. The amendments were available to those attending the Consultation.

Who gets the royalties is a question the Consultation and provinces will need to decide. Whilst most attending were certain the wealth belongs to the people of Vanuatu there are a lot of considerations beginning with the extent of the asset. Much must be decided including whether prospecting should proceed. What minerals there are needs to be evaluated as Vanuatu’s position on the New Hebrides Trench, where the Australian and Pacific plates collide, makes this country unique and important. However, it is certain Vanuatu has massive sea-floor sulphides and these certainly have value, and it was equally sure those attending the Consultation felt Vanuatu should not quickly waste its wealth as Nauru once did.

The consultation now moves to the provinces … Matters to be decided start with ownership. Who exactly owns the deep sea minerals – like provinces or the state? Who decides what happens (if anything) with this wealth? And how can we be certain to enable a licence to be declined if appropriate? And then what about Umaeneag and Umaenupne (Hunter and Matthew) which are not as yet recognized as exclusively ni-Vanuatu?

The possibility of a likely damaging smelting operation at Big Bay Santo has taken rather a back seat in the mining discussions this week as Deep Sea Mining (from now on DSM) received all the attention.