Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand | 30 June, 2017
The Bougainville Government says it won’t give way to a landowner group that says it will not allow Bougainville Copper Ltd, or BCL, to return to the troubled Panguna mine.
The autonomous government wants the mine re-opened to boost the economy ahead of the vote on independence from Papua New Guinea set for 2019.
But the chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association, Philip Miriori, is adamant they will not allow BCL to return, though they are keen to see the mine opened, using an Australian company they have aligned with, called RTG.
However Bougainville President John Momis says the government is not about to let a company with no track record mine at Panguna.
JOHN MOMIS: RTG doesn’t have any money. The RTG representative in fact, a fellow by the name of Renzie Duncan has Philip Miriori and a few of his cobbers on his payroll and their intention is to get the support of the landowners and the ABG and as a speculator go and find a developer. RTG itself as a company does not have the money.
DON WISEMAN: BCL doesn’t have any money either does it?
JM: BCL doesn’t have any money but BCL has the data. BCL has the first right of refusal. If we didn’t give it to them and set a time frame within which to source funding then BCL might take us to court and thus delay the opening of the Panguna Mine. If they fail to secure the necessary funds then we have the liberty to invite anyone else. But we can’t just give it to somebody, a company that has no standing, no track record, such as RTG.
DW: Well I don’t think that is true. RTG has run mines. The thing with BCL and whether they are going to take Bougainville to court, well, that is not going to happen, is it, since Bougainville is effectively controlling BCL now?
JM: Well we may now control BCL but the original agreement, concocted in Australia by the colonial government and Rio Tinto.
DW: But they are not in the picture any more are they?
JM: They are not in the picture but the agreement itself is still valid.
DW: Is not the critical thing and you have told me this on a number of occasions. The critical thing is that you get the mine operating as soon as possible – the quickest way of doing that would be to accede to the demands of the landowner group that lives or owns the land right at the Panguna mine site?
JM: Philip Miriori’s SML landowners is just one out of nine landowner groups. Eight out of nine support ABG and BCL to open the mine, because ABG has shares in the mine. Although the amount of money is not much but ABG as we have been telling people Rio Tinto is no longer the devil we knew. Now the devil we own as such will be operating under our law. Eight out of the nine landowners support ABG.
DW: Yet you has an attempt to sign this memorandum of agreement the Friday before last and it was unsuccessful. Raymond Masono [Vice President of Bougainville] said last week he was going to give those people two weeks to sort themselves out – his words – but they seem very adamant so do you think you can bridge the gap here?
JM: Well the ABG has told the landowners the onus is on you to sort yourselves out to reach an agreement and we are giving them two weeks. And we know for a fact that most of the landowners are in support – it is just Philip Miriori and his group who are on the payroll of Renzie Duncan. This could be interpreted as bribery as you know.
DW: Well they might say the same in a way. The thing is I guess, they end up being the pivotal landowner group, or that seems to be the way they see it.
JM: If the eight go against the SML landowners [Miriori’s group] nothing will happen. If nothing happens then the whole of Bougainville will not benefit but the worst losers will be the landowners themselves. The ABG as the government has the perspective of making sure that we get the best interests of all the people, all the landowners, as well as all Bougainville. Whereas the SML people are just looking at their own selfish, legal interest and they are causing trouble. But we are not going to allow this to keep happening this way because it is time people put aside their selfish interests and worked for the common good of the people of Bougainville, which the government represents.
DW: Well their comeback to that is going to be that as landowners they control, as per the Mining Law, they control what is beneath the surface.
JM: That’s right but the ABG is also a major stake holder and without ABG’s approval nothing happens.
DW: The ABG has talked about mining in other areas. Have you gone any further with that?
JM: I am not sure what the Department of Mining is doing, but as you know they applied for exploration licences and they given and now I guess it is up to the companies which applied to find the funds which are necessary to carry out the exploration.
DW: Do you know whether there is outside interest in doing that?
JM: Toremana – a Western Australian company is interested there with the landowners in the Tinputz area, not far from Buka. But the other one is Isina, that is Sam Kauona and his people and they have been granted the exploration licence and I presume they’re working to either find partners or find the money themselves to do the exploration.
DW: So in terms of resolving these issues and getting a viable economy, or getting things starting to happen over the next couple of years, how confident are you at this point?
JM: Well I think everybody knows that fiscal self-reliance is one of the most important benchmarks that will be taken into account after the outcome of the referendum – by the national government, by the UN and the international community and I think people know that, so they are working hard now to ensure that we reach a consensus to open the mine. Apart from other, agricultural and fisheries businesses, believe that the Panguna mine is probably the best, quickest way of generating revenue because a dollar invested in mining produces three dollars in other associated industries – that’s agriculture or other businesses.