Not the right time to talk about reopening Panguna

‘Large scale mining is nothing but a well-organized scam to plunder resources from under the unsuspecting landowners who pay a heavy price for lies…’

Chris Baria | January 25, 2019

The call by Boniface Arunara, Team Leader of the Bolave Constituency awareness group on ABG to lift the ban on Panguna Mine, which appeared on Friday’s paper (25/01/19) cannot go unchallenged by those of us who fear that it is not the right time to entertain an industry which is callous, divisive and corruption-prone.

It is foolish to talk about the Panguna mine which is a divisive issue at this very crucial period when Bougainville faces significant challenges in its journey through a referendum to eventual independence. The mine was the initial flashpoint of a costly war that claimed the lives of 20,000 Bougainvillean man, women and children. There is no telling whether the next wave of mining will do any better, especially when we have a lot of opportunists aligning themselves with all sorts of mining companies to divide up the people’s loyalties to one company or another.

Those of us opposed to mining are well aware that ABG has been issuing exploration and probably mining licenses, without due diligence checks on the recipients of these licenses. Some of us are shocked to learn that the Filipino Mining company SRMI, carrying out mineral exploration in southern central Bougainville, has bad mining reputation in the Philippines for tax evasion, human rights abuses, and buying politicians, but ABG went ahead and issued them the mining license.

In the Friday’s article, Mr. Arunara goes on to raise the volatile issue of compensation in an irresponsible attempt to raise people’s expectation, while at the same time talking about RTG another mining company which very little is known about. Has BCL compensated the people of Bougainville for their suffering and deaths? What makes Mr. Arunara so sure that another company that has just crawled out of the woodwork will pay BCL’s debts?

Look at all the number of mining companies looking up at ABG and begging for licenses like a pack of hungry dogs and as this notes go to print, another mining company “Caballos”(not sure of the name) has just come into the mix.

Unless we own our own mining company, it is pointless to talk about development and prosperity when we don’t own the means of production even though we lay claim to the minerals beneath our feet. Millions of dollars will pass through before our eyes as investors pour in money to develop the mine, buy capital equipment and build the mine infrastructure. The mine exists for these investors who stand to make a massive profit behind the scene while we wait for the price of copper and gold to improve on the world market to be paid. The mine is not there to pay us compensation for trying to chase it away or build roads for us and make us rich overnight.

Prosperity will come for politicians and the elites but it is the landowners and those affected by mining that will pay heavy the price for the damage to their way of life their land and environment and subsequent loss of livelihoods. What compensation paid to them will not bring back the way of life they enjoyed prior to mining.

Physical self-reliance also should be sustainable and not just a show for Papua New Guinea and Australia to grant us independence. It should be a long term commitment by the leaders of Bougainville to their people. Physical self-reliance should not be measured on the wealth from the mine, which corrupt governments misuse, but on an economy that puts money into the pockets of the rural communities where the bulk of our people live, while at the same time paying for government operations and the delivery health and education services to the people.

Let’s not forget that Panguna bankrolled Papua New Guinea’s independence but today mired in foreign debt the country is scraping the bottom of the barrel trying pay for service delivery to the people. Why? because they lived on free money from BCL until we closed the mine. BCL made huge profits because they never paid for any environmental protection infrastructure and enjoyed tax concessions. Mining is not a sustainable industry like agriculture and often leaves the host country in a financial, environmental and social mess after it mines out the minerals.

I would suggest that Mr Arunara, instead of try to bringing more problems from overseas, reconsidered his proposal to ABG and look at options such as tapping into safe alluvial mining which is a leaky tap sending out billions of Kina worth of gold out of Bougainville. I have mobilized my community to go into Virgin Coconut Oil production. This is a value added product that can go directly to the local and export market, after minimal processing at the household level to bring more cash in for families to meet the cost of school fees and medicines. There are many business opportunities that are participatory, creative and challenging than spending dull days gazing into the depths of a mine pit and coming up with indecent proposals. A lot of countries in the world like Fiji have vibrant economies without having to depend on mining, which to date is nothing but a well-organized scam to plunder resources from under the unsuspecting landowners who pay a heavy price for lies.

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Filed under Bougainville, Human rights, Mine construction, Papua New Guinea

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