Paul Flanagan | PNG Attitude | 12 January 2018
Are we sure, as Axel Sturm asserts in PNG Attitude, that “one thing is for sure: Without revenues from the Panguna mine under the leadership of BCL that is owned by the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the independence of the island will remain a sweet dream.”
Separate to the BCL versus RTG issue there is a more fundamental assumption. Why is a mine essential for independence?
Bougainville’s agricultural prospects are reasonably strong. It has some of the best agriculture land in Papua New Guinea.
Its cocoa and copra plantations were extremely productive prior to ‘the troubles’. Tourist potential would appear significant if law and order issues are contained. Its waters would link into fishing revenues under the Nauru Agreement.
Bougainville’s estimated population of around 300,000 is larger than many other Pacific island nations – about half Solomon Islands, slightly larger than Vanuatu, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, and significantly larger than Samoa.
These countries get by with a form of independence without a mine.
Experience also is that mining can lead to ‘resource curse’ issues that may manifest greatly in Bougainville as Panguna could represent a major share of measured GDP.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a mine, just asking why it is “essential”?
This is an assumption that needs to be examined closely. Using the figures quoted by Mr Sturm, even if 320 of 367 customary heads are in favour of a particular course of development, that still leaves 47 with issues. And the issues may not come only from the customary heads.
The Panguna mine riches are not going to disappear. Is it better that they are left in the ground for another generation until there is an absolutely unambiguous consensus that they should be developed?
This would simply be banking the resource at this stage.
And it may allow the people of Bougainville to consider more inclusive forms of development and governance as it considers the June 2019 referendum on its political future.