New Caledonia's SMSP mining company, which is owned by the Northern Province, says the huge Koniambo nickel project is gradually providing the territory with more autonomy.
SMSP is the 51% partner in the US$5 billion project which began production in April.
SMSP's Director of Public Relations, Dominique Nacci, told Johnny Blades that the project is of great importance to the future of the territory's Melanesian people.
DOMINIQUE NACCI: It's very important, of course, for the people of New Caledonia, but for Kanaks in particular. Because for a long time they have been excluded from this sector of activity. But the SMSP is part of the history since the '80s. The Matignon and Oudinot Accords signed back in 1998 really restored peace in New Caledonia. However, after 150 years of colonisation, the Kanaki didn't have any modern economic models to rely on. There was no example of a truly operational Melanesian enterprise in this country. So indigenous people have very few trained managers to create and run businesses. 25 years ago, everything had to be built from scratch and from the political accords. And, for that matter, SMSP, which is a company sold to the pro-independent North Province back in 1990, was the first Kanak enterprise to get into mining.
JOHNNY BLADES: For the average person in the street, the average Melanesian in New Caledonia, what benefits are they getting out of nickel mining?
DN: First of all, jobs. It depends when, but probably you have heard about nickel representing about 20% of the jobs in the private sector. So it's very important, jobs, of course for the operation, but also for the construction phase. In the Koniambo, at one stage, we had nearly 7,000 people working on the site. So it's very important. That's a benefit. And also we have a lot of subcontractors working for the mines and working for the processing plant. Having 51% in each joint venture means that 51% of dividends of the joint venture goes to the provinces. So this is a benefit, a direct benefit for the population. Of course, we are just starting, so we expect to have the first dividend in a few years. And that will be, of course, important for the population. And, also, the Koniambo project, I think the people, particularly the Kanaks, are very proud of this project and have been fighting for 15 years to get there.
JB: So you're saying this is very much about empowerment of the Kanak people?
DN: It is, absolutely. And we are really aware of that. And this is part of the fibre of SMSP. We are a very political company, very politically aware.
JB: So do you face opposition from the pro-French segment?
DN: Of course, of course. We have been facing opposition since the beginning. Nickel is providing New Caledonia with more autonomy.