At that time legislation to protect all ocean resources was being drafted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, an economics expert from the agency was also working on the financial regime structure, says Maoate.
“It should be finished by now, especially since a couple of exploratory licenses have been sold. The financial structure was clearly intended to protect the interests of our people and make sure that revenue couldn’t be siphoned off into wasteful projects, a good example being Te Mato Vai.”
He says there is a misconception that the seabed minerals legislation that was driven by the committee he headed only covers the rich deposits of manganese nodules lying on the seafloor in northern areas of the country’s EEZ.
“We wanted to make sure that our country didn’t make the same mistakes as some other Pacific countries. For instance, they legislated only for offshore oil and instead the exploratory companies found gas and so there were big losses to the country.”
Maoate, who is running as a Democratic Party candidate in the Aitutaki seat of Amuri Ureia in tomorrow’s general election, says the ground-breaking seabed minerals legislation has become the blueprint for other countries.
“It protects all our ocean resources and the marine environment. We made sure that it was really robust and the fines that can be imposed are hefty to safeguard the interests of our people for generations to come.”
Maoate says it’s disappointing to see that little has been achieved in the last eight years under the current administration.
“The sale of a couple of exploratory licenses isn’t really anything to crow about, that’s a couple of hundred thousand dollars and doesn’t even cover the Seabed Minerals Authority annual budget.”
The former associate minister says the SBMA is responsible for exploring ways to benefit from the country’s most valuable known resource, manganese nodules, but is underfunded and unable to properly market the “amazing potential we have.”
“I don’t have a doubt that the authority staff want to and try to do their best, but achieving big gains can’t be made on a miniscule budget.”
Maoate is emphatic that the SBMA has to be given the ability to market the potential of the seabed mineral resource and explore using the commodity as collateral for hedge funding.
“We’re only limited by our own restrictions.
“We’ve got really strong environmental protection legislation for our marine environment in terms of sea bed minerals, with the same strong financial regime in place, we can start generating some serious wealth for our people if we put our minds to it.”