MAC: Mines and Communities

Idyll - Or Uproar?

Published by MAC on 2006-09-21
Source: http://n24.no/boers-og-finans/article146 ()

Idyll - or uproar?

http://n24.no/boers-og-finans/article1467021.ece

Published: 21st September 2006

Standing among smiling children on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines is a contented Jan A. Vestrum, managing director of mining company Crew. [NB - The photo was not from Mindoro, but Mindanao]

By Lars Magne Sunnanå

It is in this region that he, and Norwegian-owned mining company Crew Gold Corporation (CRU), aspire to exploit nickel, in a comprehensive project that is still far from a full-scale start up.

And Vestrum's conscience is clear. Children on the island have been given school buildings and a mobile phone mast has been put up at the mining site.

That is why Vestrum is up in arms after representatives of Mindoro's indigenous peoples visited Oslo this week to express their opposition to the project.

But the indigenous peoples' own pictures tell a different story: of thousands of demonstrators against the nickel plans, of a united band of mayors refusing to go along with Crew's ambitions, and despair over mining enthusiasts in central government in the capital Manila.

And the pictures tell of the peoples' fear of losing their environmental and cultural foundations.

Two worlds

Jan A. Vestrum has shares in Crew worth NOK 123 million and lives in London. Earlier this year he bought a detached house in Holmenveien in Oslo for NOK 23 million. The house is nearly 1000 m2.

Ramil Baldo, leader of the indigenous people on Mindoro, had to obtain funding from organisation Tebtebba in order to travel to Europe and put his people's case on the mining company's home ground. But Vestrum and Crew's management refused to meet Baldo and his travelling companions. In a letter to shareholders, they also called for a boycott of the meeting that Baldo wanted to hold with them in Oslo.

"Crew takes its social responsibility very seriously and does far more than Philippine law demands in respect of building schools, clinics, telecommunications, roads and other infrastructure", writes Vestrum in an e-mail to Næringsliv24.

"The group that is in Norway is a gathering of people who oppose mining on principle. They are in no way officially representative of local government bodies, the local population or the indigenous population. We are scarcely able to consider a loosely associated group that is to a large extent financed by international anti-mining activists," he continues.

"Colonialism"

Vestrum's cold shoulder has been met with dismay among the Norwegian indigenous population. The Norwegian Sami have also come into conflict with Crew.

Through their own network, the Sami are familiar with the situation in the Philippines.

Geir Tommy Pedersen is adviser to Sameting President Aili Keskitalo. He vouches for Crew's visiting opponents.

"They are representatives and enjoy full authority from the region. There is no doubt as to their representative status," says Pedersen to Næringsliv24.

He is shocked at the way Vestrum refers to the delegates from the Mangyan people.

"You would have thought that the time was past when indigenous peoples were treated like that. It's reminiscent of a type of colonialism that we thought belonged in another century."

"I would absolutely characterise their behaviour as scandalous."

Divide and rule

The Sami politician isn't impressed that Crew has built a school and put up a mobile phone mast in the area near the mine.

"Buying support is the usual way to proceed. Many mining companies go into these societies and operate a divide-and-rule policy, whereby they try to buy a section of the population, so that they can then claim that they have gained acceptance.

Will keep watch on the company

The Sami will now keep watch over Crew Gold Corporation with an eagle eye.

"We have a worldwide network of contacts. We will use them to bring this company under closer observation," says Pedersen.

"I call on them to enter into a dialogue with these groups, instead of behaving in this colonial fashion."

(Read Vestrum's reader's comment here [hyperlink]: "Incredibly patronising and insulting")

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