‘Even if Rio Tinto walks away the Bougainville Copper could go ahead with the Bel Kol (custom reconciliation) and we can have the mine re-open’, President Momis recently told RNZI.
His statement casts doubt over the true source of the President’s anger, vented over past weeks, against Rio Tinto. Was it about justice? Or was the President simply aggrieved his plans to reopen the Panguna mine had gone off course?
Momis now will almost certainly look to China. He did back in 1989, when a company the President part owned with other North Solomons heavyweights attempted to obtain a hastily organised monopoly of the entire province’s mineral deposits, then the subject of a moratorium.
Before they had a chance to realise this potentially lucrative opportunity, the war took hold. Momis read about the butchery in Port Moresby, as he sat in Cabinet with men wielding the cleaver.
As things heat up with O’Neill, ABG power-brokers will likely not settle for anything less than a majority stake in BCL – they will leverage historical grievances to get what they want. The O’Neill government may give in, if their cut is sizeable enough.
It has to be remembered we are in robber-baron territory. With no oversight and no accountability, the big-men of Buka want steady streams of revenue coming in, ASAP. All they have to do then is stand there with a bag outstretched and watch it fill with gold pouring in from the treasury.
This can happen many ways, contracts for wives, fudged expense reports, one-off back payments, bribes from business – take your pick. Without a spotlight, things may even get cruder, misappropriation in its most base forms take place and will continue too.
Graft and theft is big business inside the ABG – but it is a business without much future, unless a viable income stream can be found large enough to satisfy big appetites.
The robber-barons know if a mine opens, they will be the chief beneficiaries. Who is going to stop the theft? The Ombudsman Commission, which barely raises a peep on the mainland, let along venturing out to the provinces? The Auditor General can issue its concern, and has, repeatedly, but who takes notice? Will the police investigate – unlikely, as they seek ABG’s favor, to keep their skeletal operation afloat. The parliament has its own public accounts committee, but infants taking their first step, don’t confront steaming bulls.
At the moment for any big-man walking into the ABG its like entering a bank, with no guard, no phone, and no sheriff. The only thing is, the gold bars are few and far between.
Panguna must reopen for this reason, quickly. The pit is like an exposed vault – it just needs someone with the technology to extract the gold, and pay taxes/royalties into the treasury, which politicians and officials can plunder, while trying to barter away local discontent with the odd infrastructure morsel, tossed from the table.
This is the Port Moresby model of rule.
Will the Chinese come in and save the day? They will probably stomach more risk than the Europeans or Americans. But they will want a bigger cut. Don’t be surprised, if any deal, also contains other big strings, like mandatory imported labour requirements.
Of course, it may not be profitable enough to even lure the Chinese.
Assuming it is, the biggest threat then becomes the landowners. The ABG has had minor success in pulling together a rag-tag representative body, which is more of a glorified business association, with little democratic mandate.
Even then it tares itself apart with infighting and disagreement. Assuming they can somehow create a palatable landowner shopfront for the ABG to sell from to the Chinese, inside the store is very different.
Armed communities throughout the mine area, won’t take kindly to trespassers offering grease, even if they are backed by mining laws written by British economic hitmen. They know the misery mining will produce, and will die again and again to prevent it. O’Neill wont send the troops – the Chinese might pay for some mercenaries, but it seems a long shot.
One senses the farce of the past five years, as a lustful President Momis chased Rio Tinto with tongue hanging out, will give way to a Chinese romance. It will be equally futile and will end badly. Meanwhile independence looms, farmers yell for policy, businessmen demand a strategy, and entrepreneurs truck and barter without a framework.
If only they knew how many businesses owned by public officials were getting large ABG grants, with nothing to show for it!
This movie sequel is looking more and more like a Hollywood horror show.