18 June 2013
SUVA, Fiji — Pacific leaders should follow the example of Vanuatu Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu and introduce legislation which will protect communities from the ravages of extractive industry.
The Pacific Conference of Churches General Secretary, Reverend Francois Pihaatae, said Monday that Regenvanu’s bid to ensure that the principal of free informed consent was used in land dealings should be commended.
At a workshop in Vanuatu Regenvanu said governments must be accountable and responsible to the people whom they represented and the constituents who paid representatives’ salaries through taxes.
Rev Pihaatae said it was encouraging to note that Vanuatu’s Council of Ministers had also just agreed to amend the Constitution to make it mandatory for the National Council of Chiefs to be consulted on all bills relating to land and natural resources before they go to parliament.
“The PCC is also encouraged by Mr Regenvanu’s call for the involvement of the people in discussions on issues such as land, fisheries and mining,” Rev Pihaatae said.
“In order for justice to prevail, the people must speak. Recently the PCC General Assembly agreed that there be a moratorium on mining and governments have a duty to listen to this valid and concerned voice of the region.”
The PCC believes there is insufficient scientific evidence that seabed mining is safe. Until there is irrefutable evidence, the PCC believes a moratorium should exist to protect the environment and the Pacific people.
Rev Pihaatae said Regenvanu typified the leaders needed in the Pacific – people concerned about the people and the environment and willing to make a principled stand.
Last month the PCC Moderator, Reverend Doctor Tevita Havea said that while development aspirations were not contested, the pursuit of it must necessarily involve all parties to the covenant of citizenship in all Pacific communities.
“Churches, government and communities must ensure that we remain true to our collective responsibility for the most vulnerable among us and for the protection and conservation of the environment for future generations,” he said.
Regenvanu said the government of the Northern Territory in Australia had established a moratorium on allowing exploration for minerals or mining activities to be undertaken within coastal waters until a review of actual or potential impacts of seabed mining had been undertaken.
“They are waiting, in fact, to see what happens in the Pacific. I see this as an example of a government correctly applying the precautionary principle, and it is an approach Pacific Island states which have not yet issued licences for seabed mineral exploration would be wise to follow,” Mr Regenvanu said.
In Vanuatu Regenvanu is overseeing a process of a reform to our land laws to ensure that that the principal of “Free Prior Informed Consent” to land dealings by land-holding clans becomes enshrined in law.
This means a majority of the members of a land-owning clan are required to agree to any dealing with their land.
Regenvanu told the Pacific ACP States Regional Training Workshop on Social Impacts of Deep Sea Mining Activities that the legislation should be passed by Vanuatu’s Parliament in November.
“I ask you as government officials to listen to these voices, the voices of our people, voices like that of the Vanuatu Council of Women and other NGOs, voices like that of the churches. Listen, consider, and do your best to accommodate their views and represent them faithfully in your policy and decision-making.”