24 Jan 2020

Bougainville president steps up battle with Australian miner

3:49 pm on 24 January 2020

Bougainville President John Momis is stepping up his battle with Australian miner RTG - a company wanting to reopen the Panguna Mine.

Bougainville President John Momis

Bougainville President John Momis Photo: supplied

Mr Momis claims RTG misled the Australian Stock Exchange this week by saying its joint venture partner, the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association, (SMLOLA), are the customary landowners at Panguna.

Mr Momis said SMLOLA was established under a scheme controlled by former miner Bougainville Copper Ltd - a scheme he called a grave mistake.

He said his government had started a process to rectify that and all the current mine-affected landowner associations, including SMLOLA would be declared illegal, null and void.

The president said the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) would be ensuring there was proper social mapping to establish the new legal landowner associations and entities.

He also reiterated that bans on travelling to Bougainville remain on several senior executives from RTG.

SMLOLA responds

However, SMLOLA has released a statement saying the government had grossly misrepresented them.

The members of SMLOLA are customary landowners at the Panguna Mine, it said, not SMLOLA itself as the government had inferred.

SMLOLA said the government's claim that SMLOLA was a creation of the former Panguna miner, Bougainville Copper Ltd, was "wholly incorrect".

It said the ABG itself set up the landowner group and drafted the constitution.

Chairman Philip Miriori said his position and that of the other office holders had since been confirmed by the courts and through the Wardens Hearing in 2015.

Mr Mirori also said he was personally invited by the president, when the ABG announced its new Mining Act in 2015 with great fanfare.

Now, he said, the government, or more specifically the mining department, was trying to end that measure, and bring in its own developer, Caballus.

"The Mining Department's untruthful and incorrect attack on the SMLOLA and RTG is unprincipled and has no basis in fact or in law.

"It is simply designed to push Caballus and to gift Jeffrey McGlinn 40 percent of Panguna for free and upfront, based on a bunch of undeliverable promises," he said.

Lawrence Daveona, special advisor to SMLOLA, added there was "absolutely no proper basis" for the government's statement.

"There has not even been as much as a proposal or any consultation for the outrageous and sudden claim, somehow deeming all current mine affected landowner associations, including the SMLOLA illegal, null and void."

When contacted by RNZ Pacific, RTG chair Michael Garrick declined to comment.