Radio New Zealand
The president of Bougainville says the ABG has been in discussions with Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Limited, about a possible re-opening of the Panguna copper and gold mine. The Bougainville government is having consultations on a regular basis .
The autonomous Papua New Guinea region is set to hold a referendum on independence by 2020 but it has to have a viable economy before Port Moresby will agree to this.
The Bougainville president John Momis says returning to mining is the fastest way to achieve this viability and that is why they are talking with BCL, which operated Panguna before it was shut down by the civil war.
Mr Momis told Don Wiseman that Bougainville has plenty of other mineral deposits and it is not dependent on Panguna re-opening, but it remains the best option.
JOHN MOMIS: Of course Bougainville is endowed with rich natural resources. Under the new Bougainville Mining Law, which is quite unique, any investor must strictly adhere to the conditions of our Mining Law, and with Rio Tinto – we have taken away every right of Rio Tinto, except the right of first refusal. That’s all they have, and if they don’t meet our conditions then even they will not be allowed to come back. But we will also consider others. In fairness to Bougainville Copper [ a subsidiary of Rio Tinto ] if you shut the door on Bougainville Copper, which other mining company would come and take care of the damage which was caused by Bougainville Copper? Bougainville Copper has the obligation to clean up. That is why we, in our mining policies, have taken everything away from them, except the right of first refusal. But [under] our current mining policy, we will consider another mine to be opened if it is considered appropriate and is we have the capacity, but one mine is enough for the time being.
DON WISEMAN: You said immediately after the election that one of the first things you would be doing is getting in touch with Rio Tinto. Have you done that?
JM: Yes we have.
DW: What is their response?
JM: They are doing evaluations and they will let us know, but we are having regular meetings with Bougainville Copper, which is a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, and there are consultations on a regular basis.
DW? Are you confident that you are going to proceed with Panguna re-opening?
JM: We are ready to engage with Bougainville Copper if they so wish, if they want to come back, and we are also ready for other arrangements if other partners are interested. For example, if the national [PNG] government wants to come in under our law. As you know the Bougainville Mining law is independent of the national Papua New Guinea mining law. We are quite independent in respect of mining in Bougainville. And that is something that even our colleagues at the national level do not fully understand.