Rowan Callick | The Australian | August 19, 2016
Former Papua New Guinea leader Julius Chan has applauded Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for giving landowners and local governments a bigger stake in mines in Bougainville and Western Province — but he says it fails to go far enough.
The Panguna mine on Bougainville island is one of the South Pacific’s largest for copper and gold but has been shut since 1989 after attacks by secessionist rebels in a conflict that has cost an estimated 10,000 lives.
Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto had a 53.8 per cent stake in Bougainville Copper Limited, which controls Panguna, but last month said it would give its share to the PNG government and Bougainville’s autonomous administration, leaving both parties with a 36.4 per cent stake.
It was the first time Bougainville’s autonomous administration had owned a stake in Panguna.
Mr O’Neill told parliament on Wednesday his government — which already has a 19 per cent share of BCL — would transfer the 17.4 per cent stake from Rio to Bougainville to “help to alleviate some of the legacy issues of the past”.
Mr ONeill also announced that 33 per cent of the Ok Tedi mine — originally developed by BHP Billiton, which ceded its control to a trust that his government controversially nationalised — would be given “to the people of Western Province”.
Sir Julius told the parliament in Port Moresby that a bill he introduced into the parliament in 2014 “would completely revolutionise mining in the country,” including the legal regime and resource ownership.
It would hand over all sub-soil assets to landowners — in effect, robbing the national government of the largest single portion of its revenues.
The mining, gas and oil industry, PNG’s most successful sector, has campaigned strongly against this potential change of ownership.
It was unclear whether Mr O’Neill would support Sir Julius’s bill at the final stage.
But the fact that his extensive announcement on Wednesday of a shift in resource share ownership did not mention the bill might indicate that he intends to oppose it.
Sir Julius said Mr O’Neill’s announcement “has taken a long time, but nevertheless, I welcome it”.
The Post-Courier newspaper said yesterday in an editorial that transferring the Panguna stake “is a step in the right direction and bodes well for the reconciliation and peace process” leading towards a referendum on independence in June 2019.
Yesterday’s report headlined “Bougainville given gold mine” incorrectly said Ok Tedi is in Bougainville. The error occurred in the production process.