6 Feb 2019

Bougainville mining plan meets with outrage

6:20 pm on 6 February 2019

Landowners near the Panguna mine in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville region have voiced outrage at the local government's new mining plan.

A lake in the pit of the long defunct Panguna mine in Bougainville.

A lake in the pit of the long defunct Panguna mine in Bougainville. Photo: www.travelinspired.co.nz

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.

The plan comes after squabbling over who should get the licence for the Panguna mine, followed by a government moratorium on any Panguna development because it could undermine the referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea, planned for June of this year.

Describing the deal as the best for landowners, Bougainville President John Momis said existing companies already mining in Bougainville doing were "not affected by this new deal".

He explained that with PNG's central government failing to fund Bougainville ahead of the referendum, the government decided to take urgent action to find money.

Caballus Mining, owned by West Australian businessman Jeff McGlinn, has no public profile in the industry.

This is of concern to the Osikaiyang Landowners Association, whose chairman, Philip Miriori, raised questions over the viability of finance for Caballus' plans.

"Caballus has no assets, and yet is demanding a monopoly on all major large scale mining projects in Bougainville.

"McGlinn is demanding an initial 40% percent interest, which will increase further over time, without any upfront cash and only a shallow promise of future money if he is granted those rights first.

"This is just a con job," Mr Miriori said, adding that Mr McGlinn's track record with indigenous people, and stand on customary rights, made him ill-equipped to gain a social license for his Bougainville plans.

The Association's Lawrence Daveona said people consultations were paramount to any move to make changes to the Mining Act, and that the president had always spoken of the veto power that landowners across Bougainville have.

"So now suddenly to attend to a foreign investor who has got no track record to try and fast-track amendments to the Mining Act is totally ridiculous and is just madness," Mr Daveona explained.

He was also sceptical that the investor was going to help fund Bougainville's impending referendum preparations.

"Under these arrangements, they'll never, never, never get a cent," Mr Daveona claimed.

"In fact the ex-combatants met with this Jeff McGlinn and they asked him the same question, 'are you able to give our government, ABG, one or two million kina?' And he said 'no, I have no money'."

The CEO of PNG Power, Carolyn Blacklock, with Bougainville's President, John Momis

Bougainville's President, John Momis Photo: supplied

Public disapproval

The new plan has thrown a cat amongst the pigeons in Bougainville public discourse in this important year.

A public forum to discuss the issue washeld in Arawa on Sunday highlighted general community outrage over a move to change Bougainville's laws in order to expedite the new mining development.

The Bougainville Advance Mining Holdings Trust Authorisation Bill, the Bougainville Advance Mining Holdings Limited Authorisation Bill, and a Bill to amend the Bougainville Mining Act 2015, have all gone through first reading.

At the forum, the Chairman of the Bougainville Hardliners Group which is opposed to any form of large scale mining, called on the Bougainville government and general public to fund the referendum from their own pockets by donating twenty kina each meet referendum expenses.

"Lets show Papua New Guinea that we are independent by funding our referendum", he said.

At the end of the meeting a resolution was passed to lobby to block the bills from being finally passed in by the government.

Former mine operator worried

In a statement, Bougainville Copper Limited said the new developments raised "very legitimate legal, constitutional and ethical questions".

"Not only by BCL and its shareholders, but also by landowners in Bougainville and others in the community. More widely these bills could also be interpreted as both anti-competitive and anti-investment which is the last thing Bougainville needs."

BCL ran Panguna until the outbreak of civil war in 1989 in which grievances caused by the mine were central to the 10 year conflict that cost over 20,000 lives

Mr Momis had placed an indefinite moratorium on mining at Panguna after landowners opposed the return of BCL.

The landowners said BCL would not take responsibility for the environmental and social impacts of its previous operation.

However BCL said the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 did not need to be modified.

"Bougainville introduced good laws and regulations in 2015 designed to rebalance Bougainville's mineral rights after a long period of consultation with all stakeholders. Now those rights are being undermined in haste by these proposed changes. Any genuine investor worth its mettle should be able to work within the existing laws."

The bills are to be further read by the local parliament on 12 February.