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Napa challenges government over mining law changes

Thursday 6 December 2018 | Written by Jaimie Keay | Published in Politics


Napa challenges government over mining law changes
Demo MP Selina Napa has laid down a challenge for the government over its seabed mining strategy. 18120510

Opposition MP Selina Napa is challenging the government to tell the Cook Islands people exactly what law changes are being planned for the current Seabed Mining Act.

She says reported statements that people will be told what those legislative changes are when they are tabled in Parliament, “isn’t good enough.”

“We all want to know what the government is planning to change in the Seabed Mining Act that was drafted by the Commonwealth Secretariat legal division experts, and we want to know now, not later when it’s too late.”

Napa says requests to the Seabed Minerals Authority to see what the law changes are have been met with refusal and the comment that the draft is currently with the Crown Law Office. “We wanted to know what they are up to before it even reached Crown Law.”

She adds the lack of transparency does nothing to instil confidence that the law changes that the government plans to apply to the Seabed Mining Act are in the best interests of the Cook Islands people, the country and environment.

“It really worries me that they are tinkering around with this ground breaking, hugely important legislation that was drafted by experts in law of the sea and the blue economy (exploitation and preservation of the marine environment).

“I don’t think we have the expertise to be making any kind of changes that will affect the Seabed Mining Act in any way.”

Napa says a Commonwealth Secretarial legal and financial experts team was engaged by the then Democratic government in 2007 to work on drafting the first-ever seabed mining legislation of its kind.

“Now we know the government wants to fiddle around with this legislation, but they won’t tell the public what the intentions are, is it to make it easier for mining companies to obtain licenses to the detriment of environmental safeguards, are some of the restrictions being done away with? We can only guess because not one person in government has been forthcoming about this.”

She says it is also very concerning that mining companies with an interest in obtaining Cook Islands EEZ exploratory licenses are also said to be helping the government develop a plan towards achieving this activity.

Napa says the government must get nothing but the best negotiators, “experts and leaders in the field of law of the sea, blue economy and seabed mining legislation” to act on behalf of the Cook Islands people.

“We’ve already stuffed up the purse seining agreement with the European Union. We came away with nothing in our favour, those negotiations had just the former secretary of Marine Resources and one lawyer from Crown Law going toe-to-toe with a team of the biggest guns from the EU.

“So we ended up second best, got locked into an unfavourable agreement and today we are selling our fish for a pittance.”

“Personally, I prefer to leave whatever is on our seabed undisturbed, let it be. But since the government is hell bent on pursuing the exploitation of our seabed minerals, everyone in their right mind wants this to be done with the outmost caution and ensure that the best, most robust team does all of the negotiating on our behalf.

“This responsibility can’t be left to just our heads of agencies and lawyers with little or no relevant experience.

“The current team which seems to be meeting with interested mining companies really don’t have the required expertise to negotiate the best deal and protect the interests of our country.”

Napa says Seabed Minerals Authority minister Mark Brown should remove himself from any more public consultations as his presence makes people become more reserved and less likely to speak out in opposition to seabed mining.

“Plus every word that comes out of his mouth is related to money. How much we are going to make, and these are all the benefits we’re going to get. Every word said is about the Cook Islands being wealthy, the negatives are never mentioned.”

The Titikaveka MP believes that the country doesn’t have enough robust processes in place to be pursuing seabed mining.

“Every application coming through for an exploratory licence should undergo an independent EIA process, we don’t have the expertise to undertake that. I also question whether the team at BTIB also has the expertise to investigate each company under the Investment Code which is out of date and has loopholes. And BTIB has a tendency to break its own rules.”

Napa says the shareholding in every company that is pursuing a licence must be thoroughly examined as no government official should ever be a shareholder in any of the companies applying for seabed exploration and/or mining rights.

- Release/Democratic Party