For the past four months, the Rhéébù Nùù Committee has politely observed a silent stance on the situation regarding the Goro Nickel project being implemented on our lateritic land in the South.
During Mrs. Dutilleul's visit* and again during the French President's visit, the committee issued a message addressing the need to review the relationship between INCO and the chiefs and clans of the South and ensure that it is properly based on the concept of sustainable development that, according to President Jacques Chirac (Johannesburg Declaration), must stand on the following four pillars:
- Environmental sustainability;
- Economic sustainability, meaning the protection of the immediate and long-term economic interests of local communities and the country as a whole;
- Viability, i.e. a project that is acceptable and equitable for society;
- Respect for cultural diversity, which, in the context of our country, means respect for the principles and values inherent in Kanak culture and civilisation.
The committee believes that Jacques Chirac's declarations on the French Government's support for the industrial projects in the South and North of our country require compliance with these four pillars, as espoused by France at the Johannesburg World Summit in 2002.
Concerning Mr Scott Hand's latest statements over Internet on 15th August, we take note of the progress that INCO's Board views as positive and the prospect that some road works may resume in October 2003. We would point out that New Caledonian and regional staff have been waiting since January 2003 and again since March 2003 for action to be taken on the promise to maintain employment and activities.
However, the Rhéébù Nùù Committee and the Chiefs of the South continue to wonder if INCO's project is really in compliance with the four sustainable development pillars referred to above. At the end of September they expect two reports ordered by the Committee from Goro Nickel containing a thorough environmental impact assessment, especially regarding heavy metal dumping in the Havannah channel, consideration in the project design of the seismic faults present in the far South, the bio-diversity inventory, heavy metal accumulation in the groundwater, revegetation on tailings, conservation of marine bio-diversity and protection of large marine mammals in the marine area of Prony, Goro and the Merlet marine protected area.
The committee and the population of Yaté also call for total transparency, respect and sincerity to prevail in the relations they are developing with Goro Nickel and the Southern Province administration. Such confidence no longer exists since the committee discovered deliberate oversights and omissions by INERIS and Goro Nickel, especially on the heavy metals disposal issue. In November 2002, the latter (INERIS and Goro Nickel) stated that there was absolutely no evidence of a public health risk with manganese disposal at a rate of 0.1 gram per litre of water, at an average rate of 2,000 cubic metres of water disposal per hour. Now, after some initial research on Internet, we know that, since 1976, abundant scientific literature on the impact of manganese on human health has been published and that a US standard has been applied (for the past 27 years), setting a limit of 0.1 milligram on such material to avoid endangering public health.
The committee expects the relevant reports by the end of September and by the beginning of October will state the position of the Chiefs of Goro and Yate on the future of the project.
At this stage, it must be clearly stated that the Goro Nickel-2004 new version of the project must be built on sound foundations, which are both sustainable and compliant with the four pillars of sustainable development, which cannot be dissociated from the precautionary principle that guides the Rhéébù Nùù Committee's action.
Finally, the chiefs and the committee intend to fully perform their role as guardians of the natural heritage in the exploitation of the mineral deposits of the South.
(Signed) Raphael Mapou,
Chairman, Rhéébù Nùù Committee
* Mrs. Dutilleul visited Kanaky-New Caledonia as French Government special envoy on the issue of the two mining projects. Mrs. Dutilleul is the CEO of ERAP, the French mining holding company.