Radio New Zealand | 6 March 2017
Bougainville Copper Ltd is laying out its plans for a possible return to the Panguna mine in central Bougainville.
The Panguna mine and BCL were at the heart of the divisions in the Papua New Guinea region that led to the ten year civil war and prompted a shut down of the mine and a pull out by the then Rio Tinto controlled company.
Rio Tinto is no longer involved, having walked away last year, giving its 53 percent shareholding to the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the PNG Government.
Late last month BCL presented a time line for its possible restart of mining to shareholders and the Australian Stock Exchange.
Chief executive Mark Hitchcock spoke to Don Wiseman about this and they hope to achieve their goals.
MARK HITCHCOCK: It has always been Bougainville Copper’s aim to return to mining on Bougainville and with the change in shareholding in June last year, this gave Bougainville Copper, as an independently run and managed PNG company, the chance to actually forge some of its plans to return to mining. So the plan for Stage Zero, which is what we are call it for December  is to arrange some of the precedents that need to be done for us to get back on the ground in Bougainville and Panguna.
DON WISEMAN: A key part of that is this issue of these shares that were split between the ABG and PNG Governments. The ABG wants those shares. What’s going to happen to them?
MH: There is still a little bit of uncertainty around the 17.4 percent that Prime Minister O’Neill indicated would be given to the landowners of Bougainville. It’s part of our Stage Zero to get some understanding on how those shares will be handled by the PNG Government.
DW: There are several other issues of course. There is still some trust and acrimony as far as BCL goes – I know you are under different ownership now but you have to overcome that barrier, so how do you do that?
MH: Well Bougainville Copper does have a fairly good name and people do remember the Bougainville Copper days and some of the good things that were generated when Bougainville Copper was running the mine at Panguna. Like education was world class, medicine was world class, and lifestyle was very good and a lot of people still remember that, so you can discount some of the good will that was generated then. So we, being a reputable and honest company, returning, we have held the ground, we have held the position and we have always wanted to return and we would like to return on terms that everyone is happy with.
DW: There is this question of compensation that has been floating around for many, many years. Demands from Bougainvilleans for compensation for the social and environmental that have been blamed on Panguna.
MH: We see that as part of the negotiations moving forward and that any compensation that is considered would be dealt with during the lifecycle of the new mine and done on a community based, sort of project.
DW: To go back to the question of a time line you have laid out a programme through to the end of 2020, by which stage you will be where?
MH: At 2020, if we can get a lot of things that we need done in 2017 we will have progressed doing all our studies and we will be at a stage where we have done a feasibility and we are ready to go and finance and start building the mine in 2020. So then it would be middle 2020s, a good five years to get the mine up and running after 2020.
DW: Yes although on your timeline which you have presented to the Stock Exchange in Australia you are going to need a fair amount of money, several hundred million dollars, before then, aren’t you, in terms of this preliminary work, so where is that going to come from?
MH: Part of the plan of having a staged process is to actually build the wealth of the company – it’s currently trading at 20 cents, or just below 20 cents Australian, and we believe there is a lot more wealth behind the company than that, and just building these stages and getting a lot more information we will build the value of the mine.
DW: As far as the landowners and the ABG – why should they go down this road. What’s in it for them – re-opening Panguna and all those scars again?
MH: The autonomous Bougainville region has a referendum in 2019 where it will its future. Its future is dependent on there being an economy that can sustain themselves as a region and the Bougainville people see that they need a major project to actually fund their future.
DW: You have been involved with the company for a long time, you must have a sense of what most Bougainvilleans are thinking and there’s certainly been vocal opposition. Do you think that’s changing?
MH: Yes there has always been fairly widespread support for Bougainville Copper. There are detractors and there will always be detractors in all spheres of the world but I believe that the underlying people of Bougainville are supportive, because they do remember what they used to have when the mine was fully operational.