Papua New Guinea’s new government has moved to quell concern about proposed changes to rules governing ownership of resources in the country.
Earlier this month, the new mining minister Byron Chan proposed legislation to hand control of resources below the six-feet underground mark from the state to customary landowners.
It has caused an outrcy within the extractive industries.
The Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, has since clarified that parliament is yet to fully discuss the changes.
Johnny Blades has more:
A senior figure in the recently ousted Somare government says a lot more work needs to be done before the new administration’s proposed changes could be considered valid.
Madang MP Sir Arnold Amet says present legislation has already enabled government and landowners in PNG to acquire equity and progressively greater participation in the developments. He says the proposed changes are risky and misinformed.
“They rushed into making a policy statement that hadn’t really been considered. It would change the goalposts fundamentally. And that is something that needs a lot of thought before you could even contemplate talking about it or even talking about it. It sends the wrong message to our investors, to the extractive industry.”
The Managing Director of PNG’s Investment Promotion Authority Ivan Pomaleu has reassured foreign companies and developers that the country is a good place to invest in.
He admits genealogical issues remain a key challenge to the resource extractive industry.
“Determining who the rightful owners of the land are, and sometimes that can be subjected to all kinds of disputes. Once those are cleared it’s a simple matter of getting investments through. We advocate a little bit of patience on the part of developers; (The) Papua New Guinean make-up is such that they will raise issues but the bottom line is they will support investment. They (landowners) just want to make sure like anyone else would in anywhere else in the world, they want to make sure that their own benefit streams are clearly defined.”
Whether one is directly enjoying benefits from resource development dictates how Papua New Guineans view the extractive industries, according to Southern Highlands NGO worker Isaac Bulube.
He’s unsure whether gaining benefits from developments like the LNG project is as important to PNG’s mainly rural-based population as preserving their traditional way of life for the future.
“People who don’t get any benefit from the project say we don’t like it but people who are benefitting like in terms of some employment or some payment for the land use or something like that, they say LNG is good. People are not really sure but people who are interested say we don’t know what will happen in the future, how this thing will develop our community and place, and how far it will bring development in terms of our livelihood change.”
However the issue of ownership runs deep with communities throughout PNG which is currently enjoying a resources boom.
But with many ordinary people yet to see any tangible benefits from the development rush or improvement in basic services, pressure for some change to the rules governing resources is likely to grow.