Tensions between the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the O’Neill Government continue, after the Prime Minister agreed to give its recently acquired 17.4% stake in BCL to landowners (this shareholder in BCL was ‘gifted’ by Rio Tinto, a multinational company accused of involvement in serious crimes on Bougainville). President Momis has condemned the decision to hand over equity to Panguna landowners, arguing it should be transferred to the ABG.
As these confusing turn of events continue to unfold, it is worth recapping some facts, that have been excluded from recent coverage and media releases, which provide context to the recent tensions:
– The Auditor General, Public Accounts Committee and national judiciary have found both the Papua New Guinea and Autonomous Bougainville Government are populated by politicians and officials, using levers of public power, for private gain.
– There is little prospect either government possesses the desire or capacity to use mineral extraction projects to achieve long-term development objectives. Their primary motivation is to generate revenue flows that will feed elite business interests and corrupt transactions.
– Only two minority factions in the mine impacted area have supported reopening Panguna.
– The first faction headed by Philip Miriori has met secretly with Prime Minister O’Neill, in addition to being in negotiations with backdoor Australian miners to reopen Panguna and other mines across Bougainville.
– The ABG, through the Office of Panguna Negotiations, established a government sanctioned landowner faction for relaunching the Panguna mine. However, it has been paralysed by internal divisions, allegations of corruption, and a lack of wider community support.
– Both groups are described as minority factions, because they represent a standpoint that is deeply unpopular in the former mine lease area.
– Those opposing large-scale mining do not have a representative body at present, because their preferred position – the permanent closure of Panguna – is currently in place. Any serious change to this position would trigger mass action in the mine area.
– There is widespread hunger within the ABG to see a range of mines opened across Bougainville. The only legal barrier to this ambition, has been the mining moratorium, that prohibited any mining outside of Panguna.
– The first attempt to lift the moratorium against mining on Bougainville was initiated by President Momis in 1988-1989, when he was a Minister in the PNG government. Chinese investors and a company in which he had significant shareholdings was earmarked to obtain a monopoly over all minerals resources outside Panguna. This effort failed. However, the moratorium was lifted this year by the Bougainville parliament.
– There is a strong chance that despite Rio Tinto’s retreat, the ABG will attempt to reopen the Panguna mine with the support of minority factions. It is also likely senior political figures will be looking to obtain a direct stake in the mining venture.
– Under the mining law written for the ABG by UK company Adam Smith International, landowners face severe custodial sentences and fines for resisting mining on their land. Increasing the risk of arrests and prison, under the law consent for mining can be given by the type of minority landowner factions mentioned above.
– Since 2000 an international campaign has been waged to bring Rio Tinto to justice for its actions on Bougainville.
– The Autonomous Bougainville Government up until 2016 strongly opposed litigation against Rio Tinto, including the US Class Action. President Momis stated in 2013, ‘I think it can be negotiated outside of court. In fact, I believe if our people are prepared to allow negotiation with Rio Tinto we would get a much better deal’.
– The strongest grounds for bringing Rio Tinto to justice center on well evidenced allegations of involvement in security force atrocities. They have been absent from recent ABG press releases.
– The current Bougainville President was a Minister in the PNG government when these atrocities occurred, which could make this basis for action more sensitive and unlikely.