SUVA, March 18 (Xinhua) -- A number of Pacific island countries have earned significantly more revenue through the extraction of natural resources like oil, gas and minerals and the expectations for future development in this area are also high, a meeting for Pacific islands to discuss managing resources from extractive industries to advance human development said Monday.
The three-day "Pacific Symposium on Managing Extractive Industries in Pacific Island States to Improve Human Development" that was held in the Fijian resort town and was attended by more than 60 participants was a follow up to an international meeting held in Mongolia in 2011 in which representatives from Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Timor Leste participated.
The symposium agenda featured some of the key issues that were discussed in Mongolia, such as, spending and investment policies; revenue management systems; conflict prevention; governance arrangements, environmental impacts; and managing the so-called Dutch Disease.
"What will be important is to see how these issues might be best addressed in a Pacific island context, a context where environmental sustainability, land ownership and community resilience often take on very personal meanings because of cultures and traditions and the relatively small size of some of the countries where extractive industry opportunities exist," said United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) deputy assistant administrator and deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific Nicholas Rosellini during the keynote address.
"The symposium is an opportunity for Pacific government officials and regional and international experts to learn from each other, to learn from both the successes and mistakes of the past and begin a process to design more effective policies and systems for the future," said Rosellini.
Inia Seruiratu, Fiji's Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests and Minister for Provincial Development and National Disaster Management, welcomed the participants.
"We all share a common vision regarding the extractive industries, that is to grow and generate more revenue for our countries and have its benefits trickle down to our grassroots people. Additionally, we must ensure that this shared vision encompasses good governance, sound management of revenues, safeguarding of landowners' interests and environment sustainability," said Seruiratu, adding he looked forward to the session on day two, on the theme "Land and natural resources in the Pacific."
"Many customary owners continue to believe that mineral found on their land is their property and not state-owned. Hence the strong belief that they are entitled to any monetary benefits derived from those minerals. Practically when this does not happen, they are disillusioned and that is causing a lot of tensions and violence in some of our Pacific island countries. Fiji is no exception. This is an opportune time for this symposium to work out the best approach to harmonize these misunderstandings in order to encourage further potential growth in the extractive industry," Seruiratu said.
Speaking at the symposium, the United Nations resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative Knut Ostby said the extraction of natural resources and practices, if not managed properly, could also be associated with the so called "resource curse," which has resulted in economic decline, environmental degradation, political instability, exploding inequalities and domestic conflict in certain countries and areas.
"While extractive industries progress globally on many fronts, it is important that extraction of minerals in the Pacific takes into account the special opportunities and vulnerabilities that exist in small island states. Experiences and technologies from other parts of the world are welcome and will help us move forward, but unless these are adjusted to Pacific and local realities, they risk in some cases to do harm rather than good," said Ostby.
The Pacific symposium was attended by senior government officials from Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Timor-Leste, Nauru, as well as by representatives from extractive industry firms already operating in the Pacific, regional agencies and non-government organizations.