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Keeping Cook Islands’ interests at its core in seabed minerals issues

Saturday 13 November 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion


Keeping Cook Islands’ interests at its core in seabed minerals issues
Seabed Minerals Authority deliberations, from right, Teara Henderson (Licensing and Compliance Officer), Alex Herman (Commissioner) and Derek Johnson (Licensing and Compliance Director). SUPPLIED/21111248

This week was a historic milestone for the Seabed Minerals Authority (Authority). We announced the three seabed minerals companies that met the qualification criteria in the Act, and would be proceeding to the next stage of the exploration licensing process, writes Seabed Minerals Commissioner Alex Herman.

When we received these applications for exploration licences many months ago, I don’t think we quite appreciated the amount of work that would go into assessing the applications and then undertaking the necessary checks and verifications so that we, the Authority, can be confident that these are suitable companies to carry out exploration research in our Cook Islands waters.

It has been a complex process, looking at each of the applicant’s finances, technical expertise and capability, compliance history, corporate structures, risk management and whether they are fit and proper persons to hold an exploration licence.

This has involved a lot of back-and-forth exchanges between the Authority and the applicants, the undertaking of searches in numerous overseas jurisdictions, the use of due diligence experts, and advice from many officials.

Our decisions were not made lightly. We needed to ensure that our decision-making was robust and in line with our laws. We were also, mindful that a lot of time, effort and resources went into these applications by the companies.

At the core of our decisions has been a singular question: Is this in the best interests of the Cook Islands?

Expanding on that further, this includes ensuring that these applicants, if they are granted a licence, will:

  • Provide meaningful benefits to our Cook Islands people and businesses;
  • Provide us with valuable exploration data and information so we can make informed decisions on whether or not to proceed to harvesting;
  • Place environmental best practices at the forefront; and
  • Importantly, share the values that we hold in relation to our sacred Marae Moana.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing. There have been moments of frustration when deadlines were not met, or searches did not provide the information we were expecting. That is life and why it is necessary to have patience and perserverance.

Looking ahead there is still a way to go in this licensing process before final decisions are made on whether to grant or decline exploration licenses. The next step is an important one: public notification.

This is the opportunity for the public to let us and the applicants know what they think. Public summaries on each of the applications are available in both English and Maori, as well as videos from the applicants. Although these were not a requirement under our laws, we wanted to ensure that our Cook Islands people understand what these applications are about, and what they mean in terms of potential future exploration activities and benefits to the Cook Islands.

Personally, I am excited to hear what people have to say about these applications. During our consultations throughout 2021, they have given their views on what they think future exploration activities should include, for example requiring observers on board. They have also shared their views on the longer-term development of this sector, in particular on incorporating SBM (seabed minerals) into our education curriculum. We have also received many valuable suggestions for how the Authority can better improve its engagement with communities, which I have taken on board. We are still continuing our consultations in Rarotonga, and I look forward to continuing discussions with our people.

Reflecting on the last couple of months, I am most grateful for my team that played a critical role in making these recent decisions. These are passionate Cook Islanders, including some who returned home from overseas to do their part in this sector. These are the experts who support our vision for this sector and have shared their wisdom with us. These are our families and friends who have supported us while we have spent long hours at the office reviewing documents, having international Zoom calls and the list goes on.

To my team, keep up the great work. To our people, know that we are doing our best to ensure we get it right for the benefit of present and future generations of Cook Islanders.

Let me end by sharing a verse that has helped me throughout this year and keep the Lord’s providence in mind: Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you," declares The Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Te Atua te Aroa.