Bougainville govt’s mining deal meets widespread opposition

Local residents hold banners and placards during a 2018
protest at the former Bougainville Copper Limited’s Panguna
mine. | Photo: Reuters

Radio New Zealand | 8 February 2019 

There’s been community outrage in Papua New Guinea’s
Bougainville region at the local government’s new mining
plan.

The autonomous government of Bougainville is planning to re-open
the long shut Panguna copper mine and operate it with a company
majority owned by Bougainville.

It is expected to pass amendments to the Mining Act to
accommodate the Australian investor who will jointly own
Bougainville Advance Mining.

Johnny Blades has been following the reaction to this
development in Bougainville.

JOHNNY BLADES: The plan comes after squabbling over who should
get the licence for the Panguna mine, which of course has been
mothballed for a long time.  There’s been a government
moratorium on any Panguna development because it’s all so
sensitive around this impending the referendum on independence
coming up this year. But the Bougainville President John Momis has
described this deal with the Australian investor as the best deal
for landowners, also saying that existing companies already mining
in Bougainville would not be affected by this new deal. But this
company, Caballus Mining, owned by West Australian businessman Jeff
McGlinn, has no public profile to speak of in the industry.

DG: So the president of the autonomous Bougainville government,
John Momis, he earlier told RNZ Pacific that PNG’s central
government is not stumping up with funding for the independence
referendum, and they in turn have been on the urgent look-out for
funds. Is he just turning to this investor or this deal to fund the
referendum?

JB: He seems to be saying that, that this is something they have
to take up because of this urgent need for money. But one of the
principal landowner groups in this area, the Osikaiyang Landowners
Association has said that Caballus has no assets but is demanding a
monopoly on all major large scale mining projects in Bougainville.
There are questions over the viability of finance for these mining
plans. They suspect this is a con job, that Momis and his
government are being taken for a ride here. Lawrence Daveona, one
of the association’s people, he said some of the ex-combatants on
Bougainville had met with this investor Jeff McGlinn and asked him
‘are you able to give the government money?’ and he reportedly
said to them no, he has no money. So it seems a bit fanciful to
think that the investor or this deal might fund the referendum.

DG: There was a public forum to dicscuss this issue in Arawa.
What was the general feedback?

JB: The community is upset that local parliamentarians seem to
be rushing changes to the Mining Act through without proper public
consultation. They says that you have to have proper public
consultation before any social license is granted, so to speak.
There’s a group called the Bougainville Hardliners Group. They
have warned that sort of foreign control of mining on Bougainville
is what caused the island’s civil war in the first place. So they
and others are certainly opposed to diving headlong into this deal
as Monmis and his government seem to be doing.

DG: Historically of course, Bougainville Copper Limited has been
behind the scenes of the Panguna mine, What’s been their reaction
to this?

JB: Unsurprisingly, BCL have come out very strongly against this
deal. They’ve got their own agenda to push, of course. Let’s
not forget that the moratorium on mining at Panguna was centrally
because landowners oppose the return of BCL. But in this case, both
landowners and community groups appear to agree with BCL that this
deal seems to be risky. There are constitutional and ethical
questions around it. And more widely, these bills are being
interpreted as both anti-competitive and anti-investment which BCL
and others are saying is the last thing Bougainville needs.

Source: FS – Mining B.
Bougainville govt’s mining deal meets widespread opposition



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