Bougainville funding squabble with PNG again to the fore
Bougainville reiterates it will take legal action against the PNG government if it continues to be underfunded.
The autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville is close to legal action against the government in Port Moresby for its failure to fulfil funding commitments.
Bougainville's president John Momis says the region is owed at least US$33 million dollars from the recurrent unconditional grant and more than US$200 million under the Restoration and Development Grant set up by the Peace Agreement.
The money situation is so poor that the Bougainville government is struggling to meet day-to- day expenses.
Mr Momis spoke with Don Wiseman on several issues, beginning by saying he is prepared to follow through on a threat of legal action if Port Moresby doesn't fulfil its obligations.
JOHN MOMIS: We are having a meeting on the 15th and I have said if nothing positive comes out of that meeting we will have no choice but to take legal action.
DON WISEMAN: You now have the prime minister Peter O'Neill as the minister of Bougainville Affairs, is that a good or a bad move?
JM: For us, we don't mind it actually. Because the buck stops with him now, with the prime minister holding the Bougainville Affairs portfolio then he can't shift the blame.
DW: So you welcome the move for him to take the portfolio?
JM: Well I think he's so busy one would think he would give it to a performing minister. But I am not sure whether he is going to hold it permanently or whether he wants to give it to someone down the line. But for the time being the PM is holding the Bougainville Affairs portfolio.
DW: There have of course been calls for one of the Bougainville MPs to have been appointed.
JM: Well, (laughs), yeah, as you know my relations with the government MPs are not the best - they're all the same, they don't perform.
DW: This question over what happens with Panguna [the re-opening of the mine] - we were talking before Christmas, you said you had been holding talks with Rio Tinto. Have there been more talks?
JM: We will be holding talks with Rio Tinto probably very soon. We need to.
DW: It's got to be Rio Tinto first before you go to the next stage?
JM: We've given them the first right of refusal.
DW: What about the suggestions that have come out of Port Moresby that PNG wants to acquire a majority shareholding? Is that a concern or is that something you would support?
JM: No, we wouldn't support it. As far as we are concerned, if Rio Tinto wants to divest its shares it should come to us, free. Because Rio Tinto has made so much money from Bougainville.
DW: Yes. If Rio Tinto was to walk away, presumably Rio Tinto wouldn't then be making any form of retribution, any form of compensation - or would it?
JM: Well I think they should. If they want to walk away that is the first thing they should do. They should meet the legacy issues commitments. There is so much damage done - if they want to walk away smelling good they have a responsibility to pay for the damage they caused in Bougainville.
DW: In the discussions you have had so far with Rio Tinto, have they given you any indication on how they might move on this?
JM: We only met them once really, and they said they were still doing their assessment, even though they were talking with PNG they had not made up their mind what to do. I know they had been talking with PNG government so now in our next meeting we will present the same position to them and that is if they want to divest, they will give 53 percent to us because of the trillions they made out of Bougainville and the little coming back to Bougainville. And if they want to walk away then they should legacy issues commitment to clean up the place, pay compensation before they go. And then we would be happy to talk to other potential developers.
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