January 16, 2012

Papua New Guinea Mine Watch Blog: Fijian villagers continue to say no to Newcrest Mining

In another unprecedented meeting that took place yesterday in Waivaka Village, Namosi, government officials led by the head of Mineral Resources Department (Malakai Finau), got gob-smacked by very clear, strong and bold Namosi landowners.

Having prepared for the meeting by putting their daily chores on hold, the entire Waivaka village of some 200+ waited patiently for the arrival of the MRD delegation to start the meeting at 10am (time set by the visitors – who arrived after 11.45am). Present at the meeting were – MRD (Malakai Finau), Lands, Fiji Police Force, Provincial Council, PWD Engineers and the Villagers of Waivaka. The visitors were met by the community protest banners flying proud and high in their village – ‘NO MINING’, ‘SAVE OUR PARADISE’.
The agenda was set by MRD on the behest of global mining giant Newcrest under Namosi Joint Venture – the issue: the blocking of access to NJV by the landowners pending grievances that have not been resolved over the past 12 months. The community hall was packed to capacity with men, women and youth (and children) ready to hear from MRD With regards to the lifting of the ban, and why it is important for landowners to play ball – by letting NJV continue access for their work. What happened was nothing short of awesome and inspiring on the part of the non-formally educated landowners who took the delegation to task from the word go – literally.
In a tag-team effort, the landowners intercepted the agenda, hijacked it and left the delegation looking askance and uncomfortable – again.
First off, the spokesman, demanded to know why the delegation was late. That as villagers, there is a lot to do in a day rather then sitting around waiting for a delegation who set the meeting time and they were told that if they say 10am then be there at that time and have some respect for the villagers.
From the response of the engineer who was there (the bridge that they crossed needed surveying) the agenda was thrown out the window and the landowners had a field day dictating the direction of the meeting. Not happy with the response from the engineer, the spokesman then turned to the Provincial rep berating him for jumping to NJV’s whining while it is them who have the real greviances. The Provincial rep was asked ‘who do you work for?’ to which he of course, hung his head in shame. At this point, the Hall began emptying with villagers not wanting to waste anymore time listening to flimsy excuses and further lies from those who are now seen to be doing NJVs’ bidding.
In an attempt to salvage their meeting agenda and one supposes, their collective pride, the delegation then handed over the meeting to the police rep (who hid his badge number) for him to bring out the main gun – lift the ban or be taken to jail. It was noted that the police rep spoke strongly about the illegality of the ban put in place by the landowners. But he was speaking strongly to a steadily emptying community Hall.
The final comment of the day came from the Turaga-ni-Mataqali or the clan headman, an old catechist with a lot of passion and growing confidence who straightened himself up to sitting position, looked coldly at the police officer and said to him ‘I am the landowner, are you threatening me? If you want to remove the ban, then you remove it. But hear me today – we are not going to remove the ban and allow access, not today not ever. You want to take us to jail, go ahead and take all of us. You say that what we are doing is illegal – what about what NJV is doing to us – their lies, their illegal activities that has breached our agreement; is that legal? Why are you not arresting them, why do you come here to us?’.
After this statement to which he needed no response, the old man stood up and left the meeting Hall to go and have lunch.
And here is the kicker – in a Fijian village, the visitor is hailed and feted and if they are from Government, the more effort is put in. Yesterday, Malakai Finau, Head of MRD in Fiji was made to look a fool with his Government friends. At the end of the meeting, all that was left in the previously filled Hall were the Government delegation and two school-boys who were kind enough to stay and taki their kava. The rest of the villagers – having waited and heard nothing but threats and more NJV strong-arming, went back to their homes and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.
Overheard by one villager was the NJV rep asking the police rep, on their way out, about the success of the delegation in getting the Company access again. The villager overheard the police rep saying ‘no, not now’.
The war rages on.

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