The PNG Attitude blog reports that the PNG government is looking to purchase Rio Tinto’s stake in Bougainville Copper Limited. Dr Kristian Lasslett, in a reply on the website, argues there is no business case to justify the PNG and Bougainville government’s optimistic outlook for industrial scale mining.
Realistically – not always a popular vantage point – what does a 53.83% stake in BCL give the investor [potentially the PNG government – MW], in terms of expected future revenues?
BCL has certain amounts of capital reserves, but clearly no one would buy out the Rio stake with a view to enjoying the interest accrued from these reserves.
Presumably, they would expect to have a stake in revenues generated by a new large-scale mining operation.
Panguna is an exceedingly dim prospect. Despite the ongoing efforts to pump this project [going back eight years! – MW], there is wide spread opposition on the ground – if all was as rosy as the constant stream of press releases suggest, surely we would see the first signs of BCL vehicles rumbling along the old pit for prefatory work, to the waves and smiles of surrounding villagers, excited by the journey ahead.
Another key issue. The commercial complexity of obtaining finance, insurance, etc, in a post-conflict environment where large-scale mining is a big bone of contention would be extremely challenging, to say the least.
They could bring on the Chinese investors. Certainly they have been looking around Bougainville for prospects – and we have seen Chinese take stakes in other natural resource developments, especially in Madang Province. But if landowners were resolutely opposed to BCL’s return, add a few more layers of exclamation marks, were this to be done under Chinese auspices. Chinese investors would be doing their due diligence in this respect – at least one would hope.
If PNG are really considering this purchase, then either they have drunk the PR Kool-aid on Panguna, or alternatively, perhaps the company is in the running to acquire other industrial scale mines on Bougainville?
You could perhaps forgive PNG in either case for being overly optimistic, given the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) itself has been at times euphorically pumping the potential of large-scale mining on Bougainville, primarily Panguna, without presenting a serious business case to justify its predictions. Meanwhile, the governing apparatus on Bougainville is being rotted with grand corruption (!!), really jaw dropping graft is going on, with impunity – and honest civil servants are frustrated. Those seriously attempting to build local industries are receiving little assistance.
The independence referendum is an unescapable date with reality. A yes vote in particular will force the ABG to account to the people of Bougainville, for what has happened to all the grant and aid money pumped into the island, and for the bold policy prognoses that have guided its future planning. At some stage people’s charitable inclinations will run dry and the question will be asked of the ABG, ‘account to us, like any government’. And given some of the companies who are the recipient of government largesse this could get very awkward indeed.
If the people of Bougainville ask the ABG to facilitate a transition to independence, only to find the state edifice is hollow, or worse still, venal, there will be real despair. Accordingly critical questions now, are a friend for a better tomorrow. More need to be asked.