Johnny Blades | Radio New Zealand | 8 October 2018
A Canadian mining company appears to have government support in the face of landowner opposition to its presence in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands.
Barrick Gold is seeking a renewal of its Special Mining Lease licence at Enga province’s Porgera gold mine which it and Chinese miner ZiJin each own a 47.5 percent stake in.
But landowners are urging the government to reject the licence application due largely to Barrick’s stewardship of the Porgera Joint Venture for the past decade.
The Justice Foundation for Porgera says the mine has caused irreparable environmental damage and human rights abuses.
The group, which claims to represent landowners in the mine area, also accuses Barrick of failing to compensate victims of abuses or to resettle those displaced by the mine’s operations.
Its chairman Jonathan Paraia said that for almost thirty years the mine had caused many problems for landowners, and that the government should not renew Barrick’s permit.
“Because of overwhelming objection from the local community, even if they issue the exploration license, physically the landowners will not allow them to explore in their areas,” Mr Paraia explained.
“They want Barrick out of Porgera or Papua New Guinea. They want the mine to operate but they want to change the ownership rights.”
But the Lagaip Porgera MP, Tomait Kapili, claimed that the Justice Foundation for Porgera did not legally represent landowners, and said the Porgera Landowners Association remained the legitimate local representative body.
Mr Kapili has poured cold water on the Justice Foundation’s attempts to drive Barrick out.
A member of the national government, the MP said he expected the license would be renewed. But Mr Kapili said the new license could be granted on improved terms for landowners who currently have a 2 percent stake in the mine, and a measure of leverage.
“I’m ready to negotiate with Barrick and ZiJin on those funds, not to accuse them of this and that, and then tell them you’ve done enough damage, we take over the mine and all that,” he said.
“They (Barrick and ZiJin) have big investment in there, they are not going to move out. None of the allegations have been tested, except for the security guards’ harassment of ladies.”
Some security personnel employed by Barrick were implicated in brutal gang rapes of local women and girls, part of a long history of lawlessness and violence around the Porgera mine.
A Barrick spokesperson denied that there have been any credible reports of rapes by its security contractors since the matter was investigated in 2010.
He also denied that the company hadn’t fulfilled its commitments to landowners removed from the mine lease area.
“The Porgera Mine pays significant statutory land use compensation to traditional landowners of the land on which the mine is situated,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“The company notes that this compensation is determined by government regulation, and that contrary to recent claims, the mine has always complied with its compensation payment obligations.”
Regarding Mr Paraia’s claim that the mine hasn’t produced promised benefits for the local community or those evicted due to the mining operations, Barrick defended its record.
“In addition to providing many thousands of jobs for Porgerans and other Papua New Guineans, the mine has provided funding for the development of critical public infrastructure in Enga and adjacent Provinces throughout its operating life to date.”
On the back of collapsed revenues over the past couple of years, PNG’s government is unlikely to want Barrick to leave the country when there is no obvious replacement with the know-how to exploit the Porgera deposit.
“To date the Porgera Joint Venture has paid over 3.3 billion kina in taxes and more than 520 million kina in royalties, providing a long-term source of important public revenue for Enga, the National Government and the Porgera Landowners themselves,” Barrick’s spokesperson said.
The Mining Warden, Kopi Wapa, has been conducting hearings in Porgera as part of public consultations over the license application, before submitting his report to the Mining Advisory Council which ultimately makes a recommendation to the minister on whether to appove the license.
In his recent visit to Mr Wapa witnessed vocal crowds of Porgera landowners demonstrating their opposition to Barrick remaining. But Mr Paraia said his group was frustrated that their legal counsel was denied an opportunity to present their case to Mr Wapa.
According to Mr Paraia, he fears the mining warden may have been compromised.
“It is alleged, he flew into the mining area at the cost of the company, and he was accommodated at the company. They were eating and dining together. And he was subject to influence by the company. That’s why we thought the lawyer was denied from speaking.”
However, the Justice Foundation of Porgera has indicated it will serve a notice of dispute, and has suggested an independent arbitrator be engaged by the government as it weighs up whether to renew the Porgera Joint Venture’s Special Mining Lease agreement which expires next year.