Radio New Zealand | 17 April 2018
The President of the autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville has elaborated on why his government is saying no to mining at Panguna for the foreseable future.
Panguna was the site of the Bougainville Copper Ltd mine which was at the crux of the ten year long civil war.
In recent years there has been a push to have it re-opened to help drive the Bougainville economy forward.
Two companies, Bougainville Copper Ltd and RTG have been battling for the rights to mine Panguna but last week the government announced an indefinite moratorium on mining there.
Don Wiseman asked Bougainville President John Momis why they had taken such action.
JOHN MOMIS: Because landowners themselves are split. One faction supporting another company in developing the mine and another faction supports another company. So we don’t want to cause a split amongst the landowners because we have a referendum coming. We want to make sure we unite our people.
DON WISEMAN: Yes, although the landowners you say are supporting another company – that’s the Osikaiang group and they are right at the site of the current mine so as far, I think, as they are concerned, they are the landowners at that point, therefore they are ones that make that decision.
JM: Not really. Titleholders have rejected their claim. They have said they are not the legitimate titleholders, this Osikaiang group. Titleholders, according to law, are people who are supporting another company. So there is a definite divide and until the people are united we will not proceed with any mining.
DW: So in the meantime, in terms of trying to orchestrate some sort of unity, is the ABG going to do anything? Are you going to undertake anything, or leave it up to the landowner groups themselves?
JM: No, no we have taken steps to unite them. For us you know determining Bougainville’s future is more paramount right now. It is the priority we are focussing our attention to, to make sure that the people of Bougainville are united, so we don’t want any other issues to undermine this unity.
DW: Essentially it is off the radar until after the referendum?
JM: That’s probably it. I can’t see how the landowners can unite before the referendum. If they do then that will be good and we will look at other possibilities.
DW: The ABG of course is in an invidious position because you are a significant owner of Bougainville Copper Ltd, which is this other company you talk of. If the landowners agreed and they wanted to go with RTG, the second of those companies, would you, the ABG, accept that?
JM: We have some problems with RTG right now. In fact they are causing a lot of confusion and division in the community and we are not prepared to go ahead while this situation prevails.
DW: One of the reasons for this focus on Panguna had been to get the economy cranking ahead of the referendum, if that was possible. So if the effort is now going in a different direction is there going to be this focus that’s been talked about up to now but I am not sure how much has been done, in terms of agriculture and tourism and fishing.
JM: We cannot sacrifice unity for the sake of even generating revenue at this point in time. We have the referendum coming and it’s going to be very high on our priority list, so we have made it very clear to the landowners that unless they are totally united and they are prepared to subject themselves to the rule of law and so on and so forth, the ABG will leave the reserve [moratorium] in place.
DW: But in terms of these other industries is any effort going into those?
JM: We are looking at timber development and other industries, yes.