Monthly Archives: January 2014

Reading between the lines on PM O’Neill’s ‘Historic’ Bougainville visit


Police await the PMs arrival at Panguna (Photo: New Dawn)

Police await the PMs arrival at Panguna (Photo: New Dawn)

Many would not have seen it among the ceremony and pomp that has accompanied Prime Minister O’Neill’s historic visit to Bougainville – it was the big ‘for sale’ sign O’Neill and Momis have just dangled around the island.

This is partly because O’Neill’s visit has been portrayed by a pliable media contingent as a historic act of reconciliation between PNG and Bougainville; the breaking of arrows. ‘Why here’, ‘why now’, are not words any one dares utter. But utter they should.

For the past three years the ABG has made its development strategy clear – the sell-off of Bougainville’s marine, timber and mineral resources to foreign investors. As a result President Momis has been busy in the Philippines and China enjoying five star treatment, while Asian investors eye Bougainville’s riches, along with the old-hand Rio Tinto.

But there is one problem niggling at the President, ‘stability’. If foreign investors are to be wooed, they need to be able to convince creditors that they are not about to park their funds in a black hole. As BCL’s Chairman recently told the Murdoch press in Australia:

When I need to raise the money for this mine, by going to banks and investors, wanting to raise billions of dollars, they’re going to say: “Tell me about Bougainville.” If Bougainville is the world’s newest nation, with no track record of managing projects, as opposed to PNG which has a long track record, it’s going to be easier to raise the money if Bougainville doesn’t go down the independence route. I wouldn’t even go to the market at this stage, because I can’t tell the market what they’re investing in.

Enter Prime Minister O’Neill. With concerns being increasingly raised about Bougainville’s stability as it approaches its independence referendum, O’Neill and Momis have entered a pact of convenience.

It needs to be said O’Neill is not hell bent on keeping Bougainville – he will respect the referendum decision – however, the PM certainly does not want an independent or autonomous Bougainville being a financial albatross around PNG’s neck for years to come.

On the other hand, Momis has had something of an economic conversion since becoming President, and believes only a fire sale of Bougainville’s natural resources to foreign investors will save his land from ruin.

Momis and O’Neill might not like each other (!!), but they know they need each other. If PNG is to be rid of the financial albatross, O’Neill believes he must assure the international community that whatever the outcome of the referendum, PNG will act as a mature friend of Bougainville. On the other hand, Momis has bought the AusAid mantra and thinks that only the wide-scale sell off of Bougainville’s resources will establish an economic future for his island, so Momis needs O’Neill to act as a mature guarantor foreign investors can believe in.

These are not necessarily well thought out or well supported strategies, indeed they may be the quickest route to wrack and ruin; but it explains the recent odd behaviour of Momis and O’Neill, who are what the kids call these days, ‘frenemies’.


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Papua New Guinea PM Peter O’Neill visits Bougainville as countries seek reconciliation following civil war

Liam Cochrane | ABC news

Peter O'Neill meets a relative of the Bougainville revolutionary Francis Ona. (ABC News: Liam Cochrane)

Peter O’Neill meets a relative of the Bougainville revolutionary Francis Ona. (ABC News: Liam Cochrane)

The prime minister of Papa New Guinea’s visit to the autonomous island of Bougainville this week – the first trip by a sitting PM since the end of the civil war in 1997 – has been warmly received by locals and ex-combatants.

Heavy rain washed away bridges during the three-day trip, but using convoys of helicopters the Goodwill Visit reached Buka, Buin, Arawa and the controversial Panguna mine.

The PNG delegation included minister for mining Byron Chan and minister for state enterprises Ben Micah.

Thousands of people gathered at each event to hear the prime minister’s words of apology and reconciliation.

“Along the way we lost focus, we made many mistakes,” Peter O’Neill said in the northern town of Buka.

“The government of Papua New Guinea and the people of Papua New Guinea have not forgotten Bougainville.”

Across the island, ceremonies were heavy in symbolism.

At one event the leaders of Bougainville and PNG both broke a bow and arrow across their knee to reaffirm the end of hostilities.

“It is time that we stood together and accepted the responsibility to correct the wrongs as we perceive them,” Bougainville president John Momis said.

“We must remember the purpose of the peace agreement otherwise there will always be a grave risk [that] violent conflict will begin again,” Mr Momis said.

Locals pleased as PM visits conflict epicentre

PNG and Bougainville fought a civil [the ABC refuses to acknowldge the war was against the Australian mining company Rio Tinto and the PNG govt was backed by the Australian govt] war in the 1990s, sparked by environmental damage and compensation claims flowing from the Australian-run Panguna mine.

The war morphed into a struggle for independence and Bougainville became an autonomous region under a peace agreement in 2001.

The most delicate part of Mr O’Neill’s three-day trip was a visit to the epicentre of the fighting, the Panguna Mine.

The area is still a no-go zone, with a roadblock controlled by the hardline Merkamui faction.

As the prime minister’s helicopter touched down at Panguna, ex-combatants worked with police to manage security and 20 Merkamui fighters stood by in uniform but unarmed.

Hundreds of locals gathered to glimpse the leader of PNG, taking up vantage points amongst ruined buildings remaining from the conflict.

“I’m happy, really happy because this is the first time he’s come since the crisis,” Lawrence, a Panguna man who was part of the welcoming cultural group, said.

Mr O’Neill played down the significance of the giant gold and copper mine in the immediate future of Bougainville.

“We are not interested in Panguna mine and some of the mining issues that are being discussed, ” Mr O’Neill said.

“We are interested in bringing development to Bougainville as a whole.”

PNG development aid continues ahead of independence vote

Since the fighting stopped, little has been done to rebuild Bougainville.

Mr O’Neill jokingly acknowledged the tendency of the main government district of Waigani to hold on to state money and promised to spend $2.4 billion on Bougainville’s development in the next five years.

“This Government has already started the irrigation process of Waigani swamp,” Mr O’Neill said.

He awarded a $1.45 million contract to a local firm to reseal roads in Buka and pledged to award more contracts for the Buka ring road and the Buka-Arawa road in February.

The issuing of contracts to PNG and foreign companies is a sensitive issue among many Bougainvillians, with particular hostility towards Chinese businesspeople.

At some point between 2015 and 2020 Bougainville will hold a referendum to decide whether to become an independent country or remain an autonomous region of PNG.

However, an education program to explain the full implications of the referendum, autonomy and independence to Bougainvillians was only launched this week.


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Ok Tedi court order on dumping waste still to be served

ABC Radio Australia

The court order instructing the giant OK Tedi mining complex to stop dumping waste into Papua New Guinea’s Fly River system has still to be served. One of the lawyers acting for community leaders, Samson Jubi, says he’s being given the runaround.

Listen to the audio: Ok Tedi court order on dumping waste still to be served (Credit: ABC)

Meanwhile the government is pressing ahead with plans to appeal against the court’s decision.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill insists the issue of dumping is being addressed, that plans to build a tailings dam are in train, and he’s warning landowners that their actions could be counter productive with horrendous consequences.

But for the Fly River people, Mr Jubi says the situation is already horrendous, and has been for decades.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Lawyer Samson Jubi, representing Fly River community leaders against mining giant OK Tedi

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Plaintiff blasts O’Neill

The National aka The Loggers Times

PRINCIPAL plaintiff  Pr Steven Bagari has described Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s response on the Ok Tedi court ruling as “totally false and misleading”.

The National Court last Friday ruled in favour of the case by Bagari and six other plaintiffs and issued orders, among others, for Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) to refrain from dumping mine waste and tailings into the Ok Tedi and Fly River system pending hearing of the substantive matter next month.

“We have been fooled for 30 years and will not be fooled anymore and not by Peter O’Neill,” Bagari said in a statement yesterday.

“I want to ask why has the prime minister expropriated all our assets and funds in the PNG Sustainable Development Program takeover and placed himself as the sole authority who decides who will receive compensation and by how much and when and where.

“That is clearly the only effect of the Mining (Ok Tedi Tenth Supplemental) Act he introduced and passed in Parliament in September 2013.

“If the prime minister was honestly attending to the environmental issues why is he allowing the Ok Tedi mine to continue discharging toxic mine waste and tailings into the Ok Tedi- Fly River system after 30 years?

“He should have shut it,  then address the genuine issues such as cleaning up the Fly River and attend to the serious health ,nutritional and water contamination issues the over 100,000 people face every day.”

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Mine leaders protest order

The National aka The Loggers Times

LEADERS of the Community Mine Continuation Agreement (CMCA) communities and mine villages in Ok Tedi are protesting against the National Court orders issued last Friday.

And they have congregated in the mining township of Tabubil, Western, to prevent lawyers Samson Jubi and Allan Bainyamai from presenting the court orders to Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML).

Among the orders issued by Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika is one that requires the Government to deposit K45 million into the trust account of the lawyers who represented the seven plaintiffs from the South Fly area.

The funds are to pay for an extensive research into the extent of environmental pollution in the Fly River and its social, health and economic impact on the people. Some of the funds will be used to offset fees for the lawyers.

The court ordered OTML to refrain from dumping mine waste and tailings into the Ok Tedi and Fly River systems pending the hearing of the substantive matter on Feb 12.

The Government is also required to provide details and records of how it spent the dividends it received from OTML from 2001 to 2013.

The 36 CMCA leaders, who represent 157 villages and 120,000 people, gathered at the Tabubil airport on Tuesday to await the arrival of a chartered aircraft supposedly bringing the lawyers to serve the court orders on OTML.

They said in a statement yesterday they were infuriated for not being consulted or informed of the court application by principal plaintiff Pastor Steven Bagari and six others.

“That’s our money, not their money,” Raymond Pivini of Middle Fly said.

“If they didn’t consult us then they’re not going to come here.”

Middle Fly leader Richard Zumoi added: “That decision of the court has caused lot of pain. There’s enough suffering already, there’s enough pain that is faced by the people.

“We are supposed to be looking at good things happening and we are supposed to be discussing the benefits, we are supposed to be discussing the bigger issues of getting into ownership.

“We are calling on the people of Papua New Guinea,  our impacted people, the rest of Western province, our leaders, elected leaders and the Prime Minister to take a special interest to get this stopped.”

Spokesman for the Mine villages Joel Dankim said:

“If it means that we will stay here a week waiting for them lawyers bringing the court order, this is our place and we will do anything to block this person from coming here.

“This is our interest and our people’s interest.

Alice Kwause, a women’s representative from Kiwaba village, said:

“Most of the women and children affected are in our area.

“This (lawyer) Samson Jubi, he has not done anything there, not even a good thing.

“We are not here to welcome them.

“We are here to turn them back.”


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O’Neill gives green light for repeal of Bougainville Copper Agreement act

Romulus Masiu | Post Courier

THE people of Panguna have called on Peter O’Neill to start the process of repealing the Bougainville Copper Agreement Act 1967 immediately.

Chairman of the Panguna Landowners Association, Law-rence Daveona, made the call in Panguna during the Prime Minister’s visit.

“We appeal to you as the Prime Minister that you start the process of repealing this Act,” Mr Daveona said.

“Our technical team stand prepared to assist with drafting any National Executive Council submission to get the process happening.

“This is the best that the O’Neill-Dion Government can do for the people of Panguna and Bougainville. We want to know your thoughts on this. You, as our Prime Minister, can provide some hope and relief for us, as your former party leader, then Prime Minister Bill Skate, did for the people of Bougainville by brokering the peace agreement.

“If the Act can be repealed through parliament, we can start the process of re-opening the Panguna mine.”

Mr Daveona said the landowners were better organised then when the 1967 deal was signed between the then Rio Tinto or CRA, and the then colonial administrative government of PNG through the House of Assembly.

“At present we are organised into nine associations; the SML which I represent, the Upper Tailings, Middle Tailings, Lower Tailings, Port Mine Access Road, Siokate Lease and the Uruawa Lease. This structured arrangement was never in place in the lead up to the signing of the 1967 Agreement,” Mr Daveona pointed out.

He said landowners of Panguna mine and the surrounding leases were united for the re-opening of the mine.

“But we wish to put forward certain conditions, one of the key ones being the repeal of the 1967 Act so that we can commence negotiations and discussions under a total new agreement,” he said.

Mr O’Neill supported the call by Mr Daveona and the landowners saying that the 1967 Act will be repealed and a new one put in place.

He also emphasised that the process of restoration to provide government services to Panguna has started and will continue.

He said he was very happy for the landowners and Me’ekamui’s desire and commitment to work with the ABG and the national Government for the betterment and progress of Bougainville.

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PM leaves Panguna mine decision to landowners

Romulus Masiu | Post Courier

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill officially announced to the people of Bougainville that his visit to the region is not to talk about the re-opening of Panguna mine or politics.

“I am not here either to talk about Bougainville Peace Agreement or to talk about re-structuring of the autonomy government. All these things are already in place and fixed by our past leaders and there is no time for the Government to talk about them,” Prime Minister O’Neill told the people of Panguna yesterday.

“I came here to Panguna purposely to say sorry, to say sorry for the many lives that were lost during the war – many lives from Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. I came here to say sorry for the action of our leaders who may have not performed their duties well in solving these outstanding issues leading to this conflict.”

Mr O’Neill said for too long our people have suffered in Bougainville, especially when the governments and leaders of Bougainville did not work together.

He outlined that many parts of Papua New Guinea were changing while Bougainville was still lagging behind in terms of infrastructural developments.

“The Government has a responsibility to make sure the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the autonomy power we give to Bougainville must work and progress well,” he said.

“As I’ve mentioned, we have made many big mistakes but this is not the time to rewind and count our mistakes. It is time to work so that our kids, our future generation, can live happily after – their future we can guarantee.”

“The Peace Agreement has many outstanding challenges which we all need to take ownership of and work together to address. ABG alone cannot do it or Me’ekamui alone cannot do it.

“ABG and the Government are working in partnership to maintain and sort out the restoration of Bougainville.

“The PNG Government has chipped in more than K500 million to do restoration work on Bougainville, K200 million is already parked in the trust account and we must start to rollout projects such as the road sealing from Kokopau to Buin.

“Also there is an outstanding issue on the K15 million grants for ABG government that will be sorted.

“I’m calling on the ABG and all the leaders of Bougainville to work together and put away your differences and speak in one voice for the good of the people and progress of the region.

“We must be man enough to sit down and iron out our differences. I am appealing to the leadership of Me’ekamui and the leadership of ABG to work together for the benefit of the people of Bougainville because the national Government is ready to work with you.

“Like I mentioned earlier, the issue and green light to re-open the Panguna Mine is in the hands of the landowners, the ABG and the Me’ekamui government. There is no government in this country who will force the opening of any mine or establishment of any projects without the consent of the landowners first.

“Negotiation to start off the mine is in your capable hands, like I said earlier, I am not interested to kick-start the re-opening of the mine. If the landowners give the green light, then we can find some way forward into the issue.

“My interest is to bring government services into Bougainville. I know a referendum will come, my interest is to open Aropa Airport, Arawa Hospital, seal the Kokopau to Buin Highway and all feeder roads in Bougainville.

“These are the projects that I want to sit down with the leaders of Bougainville and finalise, we are not short of money, and money is already here. The problem is we are not kicking off these projects.”

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Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi copper mine operating normally

James Regan | Reuters

The Ok Tedi copper mine in Papua New Guinea was operating normally on Wednesday, amid legal attempts to shut it down over waste disposal practices, a spokeswoman for the mine said.

Papua New Guinea’s National Court on Friday ordered the operating company Ok Tedi Mining to stop discharging rock waste into a river system – effectively forcing the mine to halt operations, according to media reports, which also said the papers would be served on Tuesday.

“We still have not been served any papers ordering the operations to stop, so for us it is business as normal,” Ok Tedi Mining spokeswoman Estella Cheung said.

Government and court officials could not be reached.

Prime Minister Paul O’Neill, who has said closure of the mine would have “horrendous” economic consequences for the country, was traveling and unavailable for comment.

The mine, which has produced 4.5 million tonnes of copper in concentrate since 1987, ships the material by a pipeline and barges more than 1,000 km (600 miles) to silo vessels in the Gulf of Papua, before it is loaded on to freighters and sent for smelting in Asia and Europe.

Papua New Guinea’s government took control of the mine last year and counts on its revenue to help support the national economy, is reportedly attempting to have the court order reversed.

O’Neill in September announced Papua New Guinea would take over full ownership of the mine after hastily enacting new laws in parliament.

The laws also quashed a 12-year-old decree providing former operator BHP Billiton immunity from prosecution for environmental damage stemming from the mine in the 1990s.

Ok Tedi has accounted for as much as 10 percent of Papua New Guinea’s gross domestic product in past year, though its economic importance is diminishing as the mine’s reserves are dug out.

Annual production peaked at 212,000 tonnes in 1995. Output in 2013 was 105,523 tonnes, the lowest since 1988.


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PNG PM apologises to Bougainville locals for deadly civil war

The verdant view from Arawa, Bougainville. (SBS)

The verdant view from Arawa, Bougainville. (SBS)

AAP | SBS news

Papua New Guinea and Bougainville have moved closer to reconciliation after the Pacific island nation’s prime minister made an historic visit.

Mr O’Neill also performed a reconciliation ceremony with the autonomous region’s president, John Momis, and visited the site of the Panguna Copper mine which sparked the civil war.

“Following custom, I’d like to say we are truly sorry for all the bad things that happened in your communities in Bougainville and our country Papua New Guinea,” the Port Moresby based The Post Courier reported Mr O’Neill as saying on Tuesday.

Mr O’Neill made the comments at Bel Isi Park in Buka, where he and Mr Momis broke an arrow in a symbolic gesture of peace.

Mr Momis told a crowd of hundreds Mr O’Neill’s visit meant a new beginning for PNG and Bougainville.

“This means a new beginning and cooperation and collaboration to continue the work for development,” he said.

Mr O’Neill unveiled Kina 1.5 million ($A720,000) in development funds for Bougainville.

His visit marks the second by a PNG prime minister since Bill Skate in 1998, when both sides of the conflict brokered a peace deal.

Mr O’Neill brought with him the PNG Government’s chief secretary, Public Enterprises Minister Ben Micah and Mining Minister Byron Chan.

Mr Chan is the son of civil war prime minister Sir Julius Chan, who along with Mr Momis is considered one of PNG’s founding fathers.

Bougainville is due to hold a referendum to decide if it will become an independent country between 2015 and 2020.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Karl Claxton said there is a wide expectation Bougainville will vote to become independent.

“(Mr O’Neill’s) visit is definitely a welcome increase in focus and it’s exactly what’s needed, dialogue between the national government and the ABG (Autonomous Bougainville Government).

“I would call it a very significant step indeed.”

Mr O’Neill on Wednesday is expected to visit the site of the Panguna Copper mine near Bougainville’s capital, Arawa.

At the time of its closure due to the civil war in 1989 the mine was the largest open cut copper mine in the world.

The reopening of the mine is still a hot issue in Bougainville, with landowners living around it opposed to its reopening.

However some argue it is a vital potential revenue stream for an independent Bougainville.

Mr Claxton said there is room for Mr Momis to stretch out the independence vote until 2020.

“To build consensus,” he said.

“There is very little understanding of what autonomy means and how much is needed to make either of those things (autonomy or staying with PNG) work.

“Independence will need a big income stream.”

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Court’s interference puts Ok Tedi’s future at stake

The National aka The Loggers Times

THE eminent persons’ discussion (EPD) on the future of the Ok Tedi mine may be in jeopardy following the granting of certain orders by the National Court last Friday, according to an inside source.

Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika ordered that Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML) refrain from dumping mine waste and tailings into the Ok Tedi and Fly River systems pending the hearing of the substantive matter on Feb 12. Salika ordered the Government to provide details and records of how it spent the dividends it received from OTML from 2001 to 2013.

The judge ordered a freeze on several trust accounts and for the plaintiffs to engage a reputable environmental scientist or firm to conduct extensive research into the extent of environmental pollution in the Fly River and its social, health and economic impact on the people.

The court granted the orders on an urgent application filed by lawyers Allan Bainyamai and Samson Jubi on behalf of a group of landowners.

The source said the court order could jeopardise the EPD, which aimed to seek a resolution between BHP Billiton and the PNG Government on drawing down long-term funds held by PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP).

The EPD panel, led by former prime minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu, was initiated in the wake of the O’Neill Government’s takeover of OTML and the dissolution of the previous PNGSDP board chaired by another former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta.

The source said that BHP could view the court orders as a definitive step towards an environmental damages claim against the Australian-based global mining giant, which had previously operated Ok Tedi.

“BHP could reconsider giving the PNG Government the green light on the Ok Tedi long-term funds if it thinks this matter is heading towards an environmental damages claim,” the source said yesterday.

The source said under the current rules of the Ok Tedi supplementary agreement, the long-term funds worth K2 billion would be released only after the mine closed and BHP’s consent was needed to access the money.

“The National Court orders may be a temporary relief for the concerned landowners but it may jeopardise the long-term benefits under the current agreement unless the PNG Government renegotiates an acceptable package with BHP.”

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