Yesterday ex-combatants, community leaders, scholars and citizens engaged Dr John Momis, Anthony Regan, and Adam Smith International – who were protected by armed guards – in a robust debate over the proposed mining bill.
It was not the usual ‘leaders’ who were making the arguments, but ordinary Bougainvilleans who stood up to be counted. We must not be a ‘yes master’ nation claimed one speaker, we must be a ‘thinking nation’.
Many at the meeting were shocked to discover that their political representatives could not explain the very basic features of the proposed legislation. Instead it was the foreign expert who did the explaining, telling people it was written by outsiders for their own good.
But as one participant said, the Mining Bill is colonial and arrogant. Written in London by World Bank contractors, it would criminalise women for removing marker pegs from their land. It would put in prison mothers who stopped demolition equipment from destroying their clan’s property. It gives mining companies responsibility for overseeing community consultation, with no independent body to ensure landowners have a place to raise grievances or obtain independent information. It potentially allows 1% of the landowner population to decide on behalf of the other 99%, and that is called consent in the Mining Bill!
Participants also poked holes in Momis’ claim that communities have been consulted, many there pointed out from first hand experience that communities directly impacted by mining have yet to be consulted at all.
The day finished with a strong speech by retired Bougainville Revolutionary Army General Sam Kauona who said the Mining Bill must not pass, more time is needed for consultation.
If one wishes to read a fictionalised version of the Buka meeting put out by a Public Relations spokesperson, the ‘Bougainville’ News blog – administered by an Australian ex Panguna mine worker – has provided an excellent – though sadly false – account – it’s a cool story but sadly there are no dragons!