By Colin Filer
Might I humbly suggest that people commenting on this matter [proposed changes to the ownership of mineral rights in Papua New Guinea] should make themselves familiar with the wording and significance of the legal reforms being proposed here. They are the work of well-known Papua New Guinean lawyer, Peter Donigi, who has been pushing this wheelbarrow for many years, and who persuaded North Fly MP Boka Kondra to introduce them to Parliament as a set of Private Members’ bills a couple of years ago.
The proposals are presented and explained in Donigi’s (2010) book ‘Lifting the Veil That Shrouds Papua New Guinea’. The essential point in the proposed legislation is that it extends the scope of the so-called ‘lease-leaseback scheme’ (currently under investigation by a Commission of Inquiry) to cover mineral rights as well as land and timber rights.
What it would entail is a further empowerment of ‘landowner companies’ and an extension of the ‘private dealings’ regime from the forestry sector to the extractive industry sectors.
The private dealings regime in the forestry sector was the primary target of a previous Commission of Inquiry headed by Tos Barnett in the late 1980s. Barnett found that landowner companies could not be trusted to safeguard the interests of customary landowners at all, and the Forestry (Private Dealings) Act (the brainchild of Sir Julius Chan) was repealed when the new Forestry Act came into effect in 1992.
Unfortunately, we have recently seen a resurgence of the private dealings regime through abuse of the lease-leaseback scheme under the Land Act, in what I and others call a ‘land grab’ by logging companies disguised as agricultural developers. Hence the new Commission of Inquiry.
The best that can be said of Donigi’s amendments is that they might indeed have the (unintended) effect of reducing the level of foreign investment in new mining and petroleum projects, and therefore help to lift the ‘resource curse’ (if not exactly the ‘veil’) that is currently ‘shrouding’ PNG. On the other hand, they might just make it easier for Dodgy Brothers to do dodgy deals with landowner companies that are the puppets of greedy national politicians.
Donigi does say at one point in his book (p.51) that Asian investors (unlike Western investors) are ‘not interested in profit alone’, but ‘are interested in a long term relationship with the country’. My investigation of the recent land grab by dodgy Asian loggers in cahoots with dodgy landowner companies and national politicians suggests that they may be more interested in relationships which last around three years. How this sort of relationship might pan out in the extractive industry sectors is anyone’s guess.