By Emmanuel Narokobi*
In Mekere Morauta’s Contract in 2000 with Highlands Pacific, the National Governenment reserved the right to take up to 30% equity in the Ramu Nickel project once operational. However in 2006, Sir Michael Somare in his wisdom amended the agreement this time with the Chinese Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), to never take up that option so that we could stay with the whopping 6.3% equity.
In addition, Mekere’s contract had a two tier tax scheme to give an incentive for a developer. In 2000 the nickel price was suppressed – at about $7000 per tonne – the contract provided for a corporate tax rate of about 15% for the first 5% profit and then for all profit, after that tax would be at the normal rate of 30%.
Somare’s beautiful contract work removed that tax clause and replaced it with a 10 year tax holiday to kick in whenever MCC feels the need to be generous. On 2000 prices we could estimate that this masterstroke “amendment” cost PNG K162 Million but now that the nickel price is about US$23,000 per tonne, the mind boggles at how much was really given away.
Further more, there is a nice transfer pricing clause in the new contract, which was not even in Mekere’s – the new clause states that the parties recognise that MCC will sell nickel to related companies in the Chinese domestic market. Full stop. It doesn’t say “at international market price”. So if you are a buyer in new York who is willing to pay $23,000 per tonne and one of MCC’s brother or sister companies in China want to pay $7000 a tonne – MCC can just sell to the one in China and the parent company gets $23,000 worth of benefits per tonne for only $7000. Which all means that MCC would never have to declare a profit or tax for that matter, ever and for our measly 6.3% we will undoubtedly never get a declared dividend.
With all our new projects coming online in the next 10 years, have we or will we learn anything from the Ok Tedi experience? Why do you think Ramu Nico is having such a hard time with the landowners. Why do you think we lost Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL)?