With the lifting of the moratorium on mining, Bougainville is now being targeted by a number of foreign companies seeking access to the region’s mineral deposits.
While landowning communities are eager to prevent a repeat of Panguna, evidence is emerging that the ABG lacks the capacity to negotiate with foreign investors, or competently regulate the sector.
Making matters worse, the ABG has rejected advise by its own contracted experts on alternative livelihood strategies, and is currently placing the lion-share of its focus on opening multiple mines around Bougainville.
Jubilee Australia has warned that the new Mining Act (2015) allows the government to circumvent landowner consent requirements, by setting up pro-mining ‘landowner associations’ in the regions concerned, who can rubber stamp agreements on behalf of all landowners.
The new epicentre of the resource rights struggle is Tinputz. And in echoes of yesteryear, it is an Australian mining company, Kalia Holdings Pty Ltd, which is targeting copper and gold in the Tinputz district, through its Papua New Guinea subsidiary, Kalia Investment Limited.
According to an ASX announcement, Kalia Investment Limited has signed a ‘binding Deed of Agreement with Toremana Resources Limited [a private, limited liability vehicle] that provides for a joint venture with Kilia holding 75% and Toremana 25% free carry through to production’.
Yet according to Investment Promotion Authority records, this Australian firm, Kalia Investments, has not acquired foreign certification which is required under the Investment Promotion Act 1992. Therefore, it cannot legally enter contracts or conduct business on Bougainville.
We are also told, Kalia’s partners, ‘Toremana is an approved landowner organisation under the Bougainville Mining Act 2015, comprised of seven local clans that represent customary landowners in an area of approximately 1,800 square Km’.
In a media release, published here for the first time, the latter claim is rejected by Tinputz landowners – who warn the district is on a Panguna style collision course. This media release is reproduced in full, below.
The Mutaha land owners of Tinputz have strongly denounced the claim by Kalia Holding of having 75% stake on the Tore project as stated in the media recently. Mr. Francis Ruama, chairman and spokesman representing Mutaha landowners opposed to mining in Tinputz also condemns Toremana, an incorporated land group which has been discussing exploration options at Tinputz with Kalia Holding. Mr. Ruama says that Toremana does not represent the landowners where Tore project covers, he further states that the people of Tinputz should focus more on peace building to resolve outstanding Bougainville conflict related issues before venturing into other options other than agriculture. He is afraid the idea of exploration or mining might trigger a worst crisis than what took place relating to mining in Panguna.
Land is an asset that the people of Bougainville strongly hold dearly as birth right and cannot be given away like any fruit; as such people will always fight to protect it. People will not allow any mining option that will trigger another crisis since PNG and Australia are yet to finds ways to rehabilitate these traumatic citizens of Bougainville being traumatized by the Bougainville crisis.
Mr. Ruama claims Kalia Holding does not hold 75% stake on the Tore Project as the principle landowners have never discussed exploration or mining with Kalia Holding.
“Since when did agents representing Kalia Holding discuss exploration or sign any agreement with us? I represent those of us inland where the Tore project site is located and we have never seen or met representatives of Kalia Holding or people representing Toremana”.
Mr. Ruama said the proposed option on exploration is deem to fail since the majority of the landowners strongly oppose the idea of exploration or mining in north Bougainville, with strong opposition coming from the Mutaha Clan who are the principle landowners of which the Tore Project area is located. He said Junior GB Energy [a Kalia Holding partner] should not waste good money on ideas that are not feasible and viable.
Mr. Ruama says there are matters of importance that ABG needs to address properly rather than create new ones. One of those is to settle all outstanding cases which could have developed from the Bougainville conflict. Mr Ruama said his clansmen and women have unanimously agreed that any conflict related case must be financed by ABG from revenue generated from the Panguna mine and not from any other mine on Bougainville.
Local politicians from North Bougainville should focus on the peace process and not support any venture that has the potential of igniting another conflict that may lead to more devastation than the previous crisis. The Bougainville conflict was a political agenda which triggered a war between PNG and Bougainvilleans, though it started off as a mining issue. Any unrest relating to land on Bougainville can be devastating for those directly involved and ABG. Tinputz can be Bougainvilles’ hub if agriculture is supported as soil is rich, so why talk about mining? Mr. Ruama is concerned that the local politicians do not have the people in their hearts and are going about supporting ideas that do not promote peace but have the potential of creating a conflict amongst the landowners.
The spokesman for Mutaha clan asked that ABG as the regulator of mining in Bougainville should intervene on this issue and not stand back and let foreigners deal directly with land owners. The post conflict Bougainville provides an environment that promotes bad business deals and attracts bad business partners that make very bad business deals. He is also asking that the Department of Lands and Conservation quickly develop the long overdue Bougainville Land Act as it might provide directions on land matters especially on customary land in relations to mining and other developments.