Who benefits from the exploitation of our natural resources?

Lester Seri

Last week the Sepik River People published a Public Announcement Advertisement, making clear their stand, “Ban Frieda River Mine”.  This is a repeat of their previous announcements to ban the mine.

Interesting to note that the Governor of the East Sepik Province rightly seem to be responsible and cautious by allowing for proper consultation and hearing everyone out in order to take a collective decision, but there are other MPs that seem to want the process fast tracked and give the green light for the mine development to take place quickly.

One wonders why the rush considering the enormity of the mining tasks involved of the planned project, the rugged geographical setting, and the likely social and environmental implications that might  arise out of it affecting the multitude of the people in the area, as we have seen in the other mines such as, Ok Tedi, Pogera, and Bougainville to name a few?

It seems like we have never learnt any lessons from these other mine projects to do a better job in order to minimize social and environmental impacts while improving on just and equitable sharing and distribution of the benefits from the proceeds of the mineral exports?

For whatever number of years that Ok Tedi and Pogera Mines have been in operation and the billions of revenue these mines have generated, it is beyond belief that little if any has change in the lives of the landowners and the surrounding communities, I mean basic necessities such as improved income,  electricity, water supply, hausik and medicines, schools, and better constructed road network, and business opportunities for the people in the region. How does one explain this real hard reality situation that we are experiencing in Papua New Guinea, after 42 years of political independence and billions of dollars of revenue generated?

The same could be said about our people on Bougainville Island, after how many years of the Panguna Mine and the many many millions of Kina that it generated, and after the mine closed due to civil war, what is there to show for, in terms of “development”, in real terms? The same could be said of the Misima mine and the people too?

I guess the question that needs answering is, who has and is actually benefiting out of the exploitation of our precious natural resources? More precisely, how are our own people, especially in the rural areas of these multi-billion dollar project areas, really benefiting? The fact that as citizens, we barely scrape through every year despite billions of Kina annual budget being handed down, and effectively there is nothing to show for, is quite troubling to live with.

May be, as a People and a Nation, we should acknowledge the stand taken and the call made by the Sepik River People, this time, and take a step back and critically look at our natural resources extraction policies, laws and strategies again by identifying those serious issues and problems that we have had and faced in the last 42 years, and answer the question, why have we not done well and made any real progress in our development endeavour, in order to do what might be the right thing or way to do to realize that collective desired progressive difference? This challenge should not be that difficult to do as there have been and continue to be scores of scholarly papers / books that have been written about PNG experience over the years relating to our developmental challenges that should guide us to do the right thing, for once!

One problem for sure, in my humble view, is that, in the course of the 42 years of our independence, we have had all the time and opportunity to take a bold stance and make major policy shift to make a big  and better difference but we just did not have that, bold, strong, honest and responsible leadership to do it, and our situation and sufferings today is a testament, that we had quality leadership failure. We need good, strong, bold, determined and responsible leadership with moral authority committed to doing the right thing by their people for now and into the future. 

It is my greatest hope that the Governor of East Sepik and the Leaders responsible for this major mine development will take heed of the our peoples’ call and do what is proper and right by all and guide the nation along a more prosperous developmental path into the future, a better one than what we have been through thus far?

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Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

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