PNG Exposed | 12 May, 2016
It was 1989, blood was spilling on the streets of Bougainville after landowners closed Rio Tinto’s controversial Panguna mine. Yet while mobile squad officers and the BRA traded fatal blows, a number of political heavy weights were trying to lift Bougainville’s moratorium that forbade any further mining activities.
According to internal records published for the first time here (see below), senior government figures wanted exploration licenses over the island to be exclusively issued to Bougainville Resources Pty. Limited (formerly Patana Company No. 86 Pty. Limited), a corporate entity which they had a 49% stake in through their shares in the holding company Patana Company No. 89 Pty Limited (see below).
It can be revealed that President John Momis was one of the individuals with shares in this company. He was also directly implicated in this effort to open up Bougainville to mining exploration, at a time when Panguna was provoking a war that would end up taking 20,000 lives.
Just two years prior John Momis had written to Bougainville Copper Limited, denouncing the devastation that mining had caused to his island. Then he described the company as a “cancer”.
Two years later Momis’ colleague the North Solomons Premier wrote to Papua New Guinea’s Mining Minister, to ask that the mining moratorium be lifted, and exclusive prospecting license be issued to a company Bougainville Resources Pty. Limited.
This company was co-owned by a Chinese-Australian consortium, Bougainville Gold Enterprises Pty Limited (50.1%), and a second concern, Patana Company No. 89 Pty. Limited (49.9%). Bougainville’s current President held 33% of the shares in Patana Company No. 89 Pty. Limited.
In a second letter to the Mining Minister the North Solomons Premier insisted that the lifting of the moratorium and the award of a prospecting authority to Bougainville Resources Pty Limited, would help to stop the Bougainville crisis in its tracks. He also implies that a failure to comply with this request, may lead to a loss of provincial support for the upcoming Bougainville Copper Agreement renegotiation, which was seen as critical to the national government’s Bougainville peace package.
As part of this high risk strategy being pursued by those behind Bougainville Resources Pty Limited, the Mining Minister is asked to steamroll over existing regulations through an amendment to the Mining Regulations – this would ensure there was no time for objections to be lodged by potential “opponents” to this mining exploration monopoly over Bougainville.
“It is a matter of urgent priority that the Prospecting Authorities sought by our company (Bougainville Resources Pty Ltd) be awarded immediately. Applications for Prospecting Authorities through the current regulatory framework would take time which in this instance is a luxury we cannot afford ourselves. The long period of time involved under current application procedures would also permit opponents to orchestrate a deliberate campaign of misinformation which could jeopardise our aspirations and our venture”.
The letter continues:
“I suggest that the solution can be found through a change in the Mining Regulations (Chapter 195) whereby so far as the applications for Prospecting Authorities related to the North Solomons Province, the time period as prescribed under the above regulations for objections (Section 69), time for hear(ing) (Section 70), and such other procedural impediments to an immediate consideration and granting of our Prospecting Authority application – be minimised as far as possible”.
While these letters to the Mining Minister were never made public, the press did uncover links between Momis and the Chinese-Australian consortium who would be the primary beneficiary of this secretive deal.
The Australian Financial Review revealed in 1990:
“A detailed plan is in place for a joint venture between Bougainville’s Provincial Government and Australian business interests to acquire the prospecting rights for virtually the whole of the island, once security is restored. Although Bougainville MP and the national Minister for Provincial Affairs, Father John Momis, conceived the venture, its true architect is Sydney-based notary, Mr Benedict Chan. Associated with Mr Chan in the Bougainville Resources joint venture is Sydney media consultant Mr Martin Dougherty, through the PNG-listed company Patana No 82 Pty Ltd [renamed Bougainville Gold Enterprises Pty Ltd]”.
At the time it appears reporters were not aware that Joseph Kabui, John Momis and James Togel each held shares in the company partnering with the Chan led consortium. Therefore, no questions were asked about the nature of this involvement.
Nevertheless, when Benedict Chan was confronted with general allegations of corruption, he claimed “Why would I need to ‘grease’ people? It is a commercial venture”. The Australian Finance Review also noted:
“Mr Chan denied he was a financial backer of Father Momis’ Melanesian Alliance Party … But, Mr Chan said, he was a ‘personal supporter’ of the Melanesian Alliance and was also a trustee of the Melanesian Awareness Campaign, another organisation of which Father Momis was a trustee”.
This historical revelation comes as John Momis in his capacity as ABG President has overseen discussions that could potentially lead to a lifting of the mining moratorium on Bougainville. This began with the passing of the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 – drafted by controversial British company Adam Smith International – and it continues as parliament debates the moratorium question at this very moment.
There are public concerns that any lifting of the moratorium will be used by today’s political heavyweights on Bougainville to benefit a small national minority and their foreign business partners. Already misgivings have been expressed over the considerable payments made to businessmen such as Henry Chow by the Momis government.
These new revelations over Bougainville Resources Pty Limited, also raise important legacy issues. For example, why were certain political leaders trying to lifting the moratorium at a time when the mining question on Bougainville was throwing the nation into civil war? Could the war have been averted, if more time had been spent dealing with Panguna landowner grievances, rather than engineering a scheme to open up Bougainville to the Chinese-Australian exploration company?