“Respect will never be earned from us the people unless we are respected”
Bougainville Special correspondent
Frustrated villagers in Panguna have ransacked the entire office grounds of the Chinese scrap metal company that has been operating in Panguna for the last three years. The company, which has been removing scrap metal from selected areas on the mine site and exporting straight to China, has lost valuable assets due to the recent activity by landowners.
Related story: More Chinese arrive in Bougainville to work at Panguna
The company is claimed to be allowed by the National Government into Panguna, through an ABG agreement with the self-styled Meekamui Government of Unity. Under a conspicuous arrangement, the company established its main office near the mine site.
Chinese Metal Scrape Company have been working at the Panguna mine-site removing scrap metal for three years. Their presence in the area was welcomed by people who thought the company was registered and received backing from the National government of Papua New Guinea.
The medium sized economic activity strengthened MGU’s relationship on the political level with ABG and the National government. However later, the ABG government later came out on media to politicize the presence of Chinese.
When concerned locals raised questions to the Ioro Member about whether the presence of the Chinese firm operating in the area was legal, the member could not answer.
“We raised our concern to the Member for Ioro and Mining Minister to provide explanation about the presence of Chinese men and whether their entry was indeed legal. However, the member was not able to answer.”
Late 2014 the company had to leave Panguna after political arguments intensified over the company’s legal status to operate in Bougainville, let alone in Papua New Guinea. The company will have to wait now until a proper agreement is drawn up by the three governments (National, ABG and the MGU).
The legal status of the company’s entry into the country is very much unknown, but since it came into Panguna, the company has so far been able to export significant amounts of scrap metal to China.
The landowners, after a long wait for an explanation from the Mekamui Government walked into the camp and took whatever they could carry out of the office grounds. Many of the assets were shared among the landowners in the area.
The highly factionised Mekamui authority now blames the people for not respecting company property. However, the reason that Panguna people have given is that the governments (ABG and MGU) have no respect for the people. A spokesperson from the landowners said;
“Respect will never be earned from us the people unless we are respected. We the landowners have never called for the government to shelter other people on our land without seeking our consent. We are never respected by the government thus we the people who own the land here in Panguna will never respect them. The Chinese are not known by the gods of the land.”
The presence of these men in Panguna has also contributed to other social issues such as harassment of women. Shortly after arriving in Panguna, a group of Chinese men were seen searching for a “pamuk house” (brothel). This greatly infuriated women who are legitimately landowners of the area, and contributed to the ill sentiment harboured against the foreign workers.
The landowners have told the company to never return.
“If the government of the PNG, ABG and MGU are concerned about involving the people in economic activities, they must first of all come down to the level of the people to know their needs, otherwise pursuing such ventures can create disharmony because in this case, the people were told to accept without consulting what they think or feel about it. It is much better if the government can involve the people in economic activities rather than making us look like spectators. Otherwise we do not want to see them (Chinese) here again”