MINISTER MIRINGTORO RESPONDS TO THE ATTACKS ON THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT BY PRESIDENT MOMIS OVER THE TRANSFER TO THE LANDOWNERS OF RIO TINTO’S BCL SHARES
Jimmy Miringtoro MP | 21 August 2016
I, as the member for Central Bougainville elected by the people of Central Bougainville into the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea, am concern[ed] about the continued media attacks by the ABG President John Momis regarding the transfer of 17.4% shares to landowners and people of Bougainville, by the National Government. As far as I know during his meeting with the Prime Minister which was attended by the Regional Member for Bougainville and Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Joe Lera, the President Momis agreed to the share distribution to the Landowners and ABG.
The 17.4% BCL share equity in effect were gifted to the National Government by Rio Tinto. It was therefore was the prerogative of the Prime Minister to give the shares to the landowners as a token of goodwill. ABG on the other hand was offered 36% percent by Rio Tinto through the National Government, making it a majority shareholder. This distribution of shares was tabled and approved by the cabinet on the 11th of August 2016.
I don’t see any logic in the President’s Statement that such a move is a threat to the Peace Agreement. In my [opinion] it is a step in the right direction in strengthening the peace by addressing one of [the] root causes of the Bougainville Crisis, by giving shares to landowners who had been deprived of proper compensation, for permanent damage to their land and their environment. Even any attempt by BCL to clean up the mess will not restore it to it’s original state.
Firstly let me remind the good President that in the 20 years when the mine was in operation during his terms in office as a Senior Minister and Statesman, he never made any effort to negotiate for equitable benefits to landowners from the proceeds from the mine through ownership of shares in BCL. Needless to say that during that time Panguna mine was one of the most profitable mines in the world and the shares were worth their weight in gold. Today we have to put up with childish bickering from the President over shares that are worthless unless there is mining operations churning out profits.
The President goes on to say that the ABG Mining Law gives landowners full decision-making involvement and good revenue sharing opportunity if mining resumes. That is untrue.
Firstly the mining law was written by an organization that has a reputation of undermining rights of indigenous people and liberalizing economies in the Third World for take over by large corporations.
Secondly, the Mining Law violates the United Nations Charter on the Rights on Indigenous People especially the concept of “Free Prior Informed Consent” or FPIC.
The Mining Law should have gone under the scrutiny of the landowners via independent legal consultations. The whole matter was virtually dropped on the people in the mine-affected areas of Central Bougainville and also the people of Bougainville at large.
As the mandated Member of the National Parliament, representing the landowner of Central Bougainville, I have consulted with the Prime Minister prior to making the decision to give the shares to the landowners. It is the only way justice can be served to people who have not lost their land, their environment which is their livelihood, but also their lives.
The President’s outbursts are shameful because he was the one who stirred up the landowner sentiments to cover up his failures at the national level, in securing better outcomes for the landowners in the mine affected areas. He verbally attacked BCL in 1989 and came up with a dream he called “The Bougainville Initiative” in which he tried to bring in another company to replace BCL as the miner at Panguna.
The President can start to make peace with the people of Panguna and Bougainville by admitting that he had failed them. He should apologize to them for the sufferings and miseries they faced when they chose to take up arms because he did not hear their cries as their leader and representative in the National Parliament. He could have prevented the war if he had been honest right from the start.
The President must now talk with the Landowners about the shares instead of making unnecessary attacks on the National Government, which has done its part. The giving of shares to landowners and ABG is an indication that the Government has a genuine concern for the welfare of the landowners. It anticipates further negotiations and discussions with ABG and landowners to decide how best to work together for the benefit of all parties.
However, up till now President Momis has proven that he is incapable of running a Government which is struggling with the delivery of services to the population and the management of funds given to it. His Mining Law has proven ineffective in preventing BCL from exiting without meeting it’s obligation to clean up the mess it left behind. The only option left now is to make the landowners shareholders of mine, as they cannot be compensated for the loss and damages they have suffered. Court battles that the President is hinting at can take years and there is no guarantee that they will be won and may meet the similar fate to the class action previously lodged in the USA. In addition, it is highly questionable at this point in time who will meet the legal costs of the legal challenge against Rio Tinto.
The Bougainville Peace Agreement deliberately steered clear of the mining issue because it was a very sensitive and emotional issue owing to the fact that it was viewed by many as the root cause of the conflict that led to loss of many lives and properties. ABG’s premature effort to reopen mining in Bougainville when the wounds of the war were still fresh and people are still deeply divided was always going to create problems for ABG and the National Government. Over the years, ABG has been crying for money which it cannot manage as it was indicated in audit report from Auditor Generals Office.
Currently we have complaints from the President about the shares. How can his inappropriate Mining Law protect landowner interests when the law gives ultimate power back to ABG and not the landowners. A law which carries jail terms and monetary penalties against landowners who disrupt mining operations if the mining company did not respond to their grievances. Is this the sort of law to protect rights of the landowners?
I recommend that the President cede control of Bougainville to someone who has the energy, commitment and vision to move Bougainville forward instead of wasting time trying to kick up a dead horse. I see nothing wrong with building wealth for the landowners who can then contribute meaningfully to Bougainville’s economy instead of them being spectators all the time.
Our people are tired of vague idealism by those who live in utopia that has brought no tangible benefits to us but continued exploitation by foreigners.