In a stringing public attack, Bougainville President John Momis has been accused of colluding with mining giant Rio Tinto to bulldoze into law a new Mining Act that would pave the way for the re-opening of the Panguna mine.
Twenty five years ago the environmental damage caused by the mine led to a civil war in which as many as fifteen thousand people lost their lives. Rio Tinto has never apologized or paid any compensation for the pollution or the terrible human costs of its mine.
Bougainville leader Sam Kauona has today published a two page article in the national press presenting his stinging criticism of Momis and Rio Tinto – The Regan/BCL political assault on Bougainville emerges from the shadows.
Kauona says Momis has acted unconstitutionally in trying to bulldoze a new mining law, drafted by Rio Tinto subsidiary Bougainville Copper and Australian academic Anthony Regan, through the Bougainville Parliament without public consultation.
This is the third draft of the Mining law. Two earlier versions were rejected by the public because they gave too much control of mineral rights and mining decisions to Momis and the politicians.
Kauona says there is now a tidal wave of public opposition on Bougainville to the reopening of the Panguna mine and Momis, Rio Tinto and Regan are desperately trying to swim against the current by seizing control of decision making.
Kauona says many Bougainvillians are puzzled as to why the man they elected President and “who for 40 years jumped up and down and led the opposition to the Bougainville Copper Act” is now the “key sponsor, apologist, supporter and cheerleader for BCL”.
Kauona says the latest draft of the Mining law allows Rio Tinto through BCL to retain its lease over Panguna “as if nothing happened”.
“Nothing happened? Bougainville knows that a war happened and up to 15,000 people died including PNG Defence Force Members. The Bougainville Copper Act was a direct cause of the war”.
Kauona asks what rewards Momis and Regan might have been promised in the future for their assistance to Rio Tinto over the new law? As a possible answer, he points a finger at the way BHP has provided for ex-PNG Prime Minister Mekere Morauta since he left office after providing the company with immunity for the environmental damage its Ok Tedi mine caused in Western Province. Some murky links between Regan, ANU, AusAID and Rio Tinto have already been revealed.
The first draft Mining law was rejected by the public after it was exposed that Momis’s claims the law was a world first in the rights it gave to local people to decide whether to allow mining on their land were untrue and the law vested final decision making powers with the government.
However promises that the law would be redrafted to take account of the public views have proved to be false and, says Kauona, the latest draft law (which has not been made public) is just a reiteration of the first draft – which is why it has been brought in to Parliament via the back door.
Kauona says the new draft, which has been written by “rich white lawyers” would drag Bougainville back to the Colonial era by denying landowners any rights in relation to mining, effectively stealing the ground out from under their feet.
Kauona’s article comes on the same day an Australian think-tank has warned the Australian government it could have to provide a new military intervention on Bougainville in a few years as the island could again descend into violence.