Aust Contractor To Back Govt-Sanctioned Probe Into Ramu Mine Spill

Post Courier | December 9, 2019

A Government-sanctioned investigation into the Basamuk slurry spill incident in Madang will be undertaken as a highly integrated multi-disciplinary study approach.

Environment Conservation and Climate Change Minister Wera Mori said this before leaving PNG for the global climate change conference, the Conference of Parties (COP) 25 in Madrid, Spain yesterday.

He gave a briefing on the spill incident indicating government’s total and utmost commitment towards addressing the issue.

He said the study objective now is to obtain all necessary information and data for a well informed decision to be made regarding the spill based on conclusive scientific evidence as “science does not lie.”

Mori said an initial investigation done by the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) indicated no pollution, but because of the widespread outcry and a contradicting report by an investigation done by a Dr Alex Mojon engaged by the Madang provincial government, the national government has now taken a further step to address the issue.

He said Cabinet has already approved for a comprehensive investigation, and BMT Eastern Australia Pty Ltd has been contracted to support the investigation as it is a leading international multi-disciplinary engineering, science and technology consultancy firm offering a broad range of services in the environment, energy, shipping, ports and defense sectors.

“The Water and Environment Group of BMT is recognised as one of Australia’s premier environmental consultants and they operate across the five continents in over 30 countries.

“We are getting them on board so that there is credibility in the investigation that will be conducted.

“It will be extensive, and with support from our CEPA technical officers, they have already conducted the first phase which is the reconnaissance trip or sampling plan trip.

“The second trip is sampling plan implementation or sampling, and this will be done after the New Year where all parties will be involved including representatives from the Madang provincial government so that samplings are done accurately and cannot be compromised,” Mr Mori said.

He said all parties including independent investigators, experts and a team from the Madang provincial government will also be part of the sampling.

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PNG PM urges patience over Porgera mine talks

“Government was well aware that a majority of landowners want Barrick’s lease not to be renewed” – PM.

Radio New Zealand | 5 December 2019

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has urged patience while negotiations over the contract for the Porgera gold mine continue.

James Marape was responding to questions in parliament from Laigap-Porgera MP, Tomait Kapili.

Barrick Gold Ltd, the co-operator of the mine in Enga province with China’s Zijin Mining Group, is pushing to renew its contract.

Mr Kapili requested that Mr Marape move all negotiations to Porgera itself, to adequately gauge landowners’ views and the extent of problems around the mine.

The MP spoke of ongoing “serious” law and order problems which he linked to a surge of outsiders to Porgera since the expiry of the Special Mining Lease in August.

“Since the expiry of the SML there’s hundreds and thousands of people coming from afar, outside the valley, claiming that the extension of the license – while we are negotiating – is not in order, ‘they are illegally mining, so we also want to illegally mine’.”

The prime minister answered that the government was well aware that a majority of landowners want Barrick’s lease not to be renewed.

He said the government had received many written and oral representations from landowners indicating that over 90 percent of them were against Barrick staying on.

“But we are mindful that our partners are operating the mine and they have the asset up there in the mine itself, so those discussions will bring to full conclusion when we consult everyone.

“I intend in the new year (for) an announcement to be made to the status of what will happen in Porgera,” said Mr Marape, adding that he would consider the Laigap-Porgera MP’s request.

“Let me assure the member that I look forward to considering his recommendations in the positive, that all discussions, if not all major discussions, will take place in Porgera, be held in the Porgera valley up in Enga province. So those recommendations are taken on board.”

Since last year, Porgera landowners have conducted a number of public protests to demonstrate their opposition to Barrick’s continued involvement in the mine.

They have complained about lack of compensation for environmental damage caused by the mine over almost thirty years of operation.

Mr Marape urged landowners to maintain composure while the government concludes its discussions with the mine operators.

His government is seeking a greater share in the mine.

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AXIOM STANDS BY CLAIMS 

Solomon Star | 5 December 2019

AUSTRALIAN mining firm Axiom Ltd has insisted the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Robson Djokovic attempted to solicit funds from them for his personal benefit.

“Around the time when Robson Djokovic became Chief of Staff, he approached Axiom’s Australia-based chairman,” a statement Axiom’s Community Affairs Manager Philemon Kesaka issued yesterday said.

“Upon their first meeting, Djokovic presented a document signed by Prime Minister Sogavare to confirm that Djokovic was on business for Sogavare,” the statement added.

“Djokovic was promoting his personal services to Axiom to deal with the Government including seeking money for himself.”

The statement said Honiara-based private legal practitioner Wilson Rano and a Fiji-based lawyer recommended that millions of dollars be paid to a company jointly controlled by Rano and Djokovic so that they could provide services to Axiom. 

“Rano and Djokovic were the directors of this company at the time, including from 2015 and also when Djokovic became Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister.

“Later in meetings in Fiji, with Rano, a Fijian lawyer, Axiom’s Australian barrister and Ryan Mount, Rano wanted to provide services to Axiom claiming he would work with Djokovic and also that he would manage all landowner issues because he claimed he is the only person the Isabel landowners will listen to.  

“Axiom refused to further engage any further with these parties because what they have proposed was not to Axiom’s ethical standards and nor did it satisfy Axiom’s legal and probity standards. 

“Axiom also did not want to engage with Djokovic because he was a government official and obviously as a mining company, Axiom could not engage with a convicted criminal. 

“In fact at the very start of the meeting, Axiom’s barrister made it very clear to Rano that Axiom could not engage him (Rano) because due diligence and investigations had revealed problems with his professional background, including allegations of forgery and his association with a convicted criminal Djokovic. 

“Understandably Rano was upset at being told this. 

“At no time has Rano ever represented Axiom.” 

The statement said despite this farce and the ongoing attempts by Djokovic and the government to deny the San Jorge landowners their benefits and slow Axiom’s progress, the company maintains that it will always abide by the laws and will never deviate from doing what is legally right and important for the benefit of the landowners which the company has partnered with.

“Axiom is determined that it will continue to move towards a sustainable nickel mining project on San Jorge from which landowners can benefit and moreover is free from environmental disasters and a project that all Solomon Islanders can benefit from and be proud of.”

Earlier Rano confirmed meeting with Ryan Mount, and Mr Stratton (a well-known Australian Lawyer) representing Axiom Mining Company Limited at Nadi, Fiji in 2016. 

“He said this was after Axiom KB Ltd was licking its wounds from the SMM v Axiom Case which the  Court of Appeal dismissed both Axiom’s Licence and SMM’s licence and found that the Commissioner of Lands with the help of Axiom KB Ltd and Ryan Mount illegally registered a lease over Takata/Kolosori tenement.

He claimed the meeting in Fiji was purposely to come up with a legislation in which they will try and push through Parliament to secure the San Jorge and Takata Tenements for Axiom Mining Co Ltd. 

“It is an idea which Mount was championing in light of his position that the Mines and Minerals Act simply failed to recognize investors like Axiom and how Axiom is the only company capable of properly mining San Jorge and Takata.

“As a professional, my position has always been that I would be willing to do all legal means possible to do the work in consultation with Mr. Stanton and Axiom if Axiom is prepared to put its money where its mouth is. 

“I drafted a consulting agreement between Axiom Mining Co Ltd and myself and stated that my consulting fees is AUD$700,000 and payable on installments upon achievement of each stage of the proposed legislation.

“Of course in doing so I would have needed the assistance of people I trust and who can help in pushing these agendas forward. 

“I remember discussing this with Djokovic who at the time was a freelance consultant and was not yet employed by Solomon Islands Government. 

“Because of his skills and connections, Djokovic would have been instrumental. 

“By the end of October 2016, Djokovic joined the Government as Chief of Staff and has advised that he could no longer be involved.

“Because Axiom could not afford this the matter we could not take the matter further. 

“It is not, however, because Mount discovered that Djokovic was a partner in Echelon Consulting Ltd,” Rano said.

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Two Illegal Miners Shot Dead By Cohort at Porgera

Robert Apala | Post Courier | December 5, 2019

A Porgera landowner has called for urgent action against illegal mining activities after two men were shot dead, allegedly by another group of illegal miners.

According to landowner Rexie Kulina, over 200 illegal miners entered the Porgera pit area to scavenge when the incident happened last Saturday.

Mr Kulina said illegal mining activities is raising law and order issues to a dangerous level, with armed gangs now entering the in-pit and threatening locals.

He said the deceased, both from Kandep, were in a ‘hot spot’ or area where gold specks could easily be found, when they were challenged by an armed raider, allegedly from a neighbouring province.

Mr Kulina said the second group of illegal miners wanted to move into a rich spot, where the Kandep man was getting A-grade gold but he resisted and was shot.

“The law and order situation in the valley is tense and local police cannot handle such issues in the mining areas and in the valley,” Mr Kulina said.

Porgera local police chief, Sergeant Poko Itapu, said local policemen are trying their best to settle the issues of illegal miners but still there is trouble and violence.

Sgt Itapu said they can only arrest and charge illegal miners if they cause fear to the general public or destroy public property, but if they just pass through Porgera station, the police cannot do anything.

“We are here just to protect public properties and the general public but whatever these illegal miners do in the mine’s open pit is not our concern,” he said.

Sgt Itapu said the two opposing ethnic groups are regrouping and locals are walking in groups with weapons, while women, children and mine workers in Porgera station monitor the situation in fear.

He said relatives of the deceased are demanding compensation and also want the killer to be handed over to police.

“There are no leaders here in the valley.

“The local police are powerless. “We want the government to declare a state of emergency (SoE) in Porgera valley,” Sgt Itapu said.

“We want the so-called leaders of Porgera to return because the people are suffering and want peace.”

He said most Porgera landowners and leaders are in Port Moresby fighting over the right to lead the mine license renewal.

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Axiom mining claims Solomon PM’s Chief of Staff sought $700,000

Axiom had its foreign investment licence cancelled by the Solomon Islands government in October this year and has been told that its expatriate workers were no longer able to stay in the country.

Solomon Times | 4 December 2019

The Australian newspaper reports that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff (prior to his appointment in October 2016) had sought payments from Axiom to smooth over problems with the government at the time.

Axiom mining chief Ryan Mount said Robson Djokovic, who is Mr Sogavare’s nephew and has a criminal record in Australia, had sought AUD$700,000 “consultancy” through a Fijian lawyer to allow the company to hold on to its Isabel Nickel project.

“When we looked at the company records, it was half-owned by Robson Djokovic,” Mr Mount said.

He said he refused to pay, and the ASX-listed company was being forced out of the country in favour of a Chinese company that caused the Solomon Islands biggest environmental disaster.

Mr Mount has pleaded for Australian government assistance, telling senior advisers to Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne that the company, which has 8000 shareholders, was being denied due process by the Solomon Islands government.

Amid moves to strengthen relations with Pacific governments, Mr Mount said he was told by a senior official at the Australian high commission in Honiara that it was “time to pack your bags” and leave the country.

Mr Djokovic, an Australian citizen, told The Australian via text message that the allegations against him were “a smear”.

He said his criminal convictions for burglary, fraud and drug offences “are no longer relevant but have been used for political convenience” by Mr Mount and others seeking to undermine him.

Wilson Rano, a well-known lawyer in Solomon Islands, posted on social media that he was in fact the person referred to in the article by The Australian.

“I recall having a meeting with Ryan Mount, and Mr Stratton (an Australian Lawyer) representing Axiom Mining Company Limited at Nadi, Fiji in 2016. This was after Axiom KB Ltd was licking its wounds from the SMM v Axiom Case which our Court of Appeal dismissed both Axiom’s Licence and SMM’s licence and found that the Commissioner of Lands with the help of Axiom KB Ltd and Ryan Mount illegally registered a lease over Takata/Kolosori tenement,” Rano explained.

He said that the meeting in Fiji was purposely to come up with a legislation that could give clarity to the whole mining process and help secure the San Jorge and Takata Tenements for Axiom Mining Co Ltd.

“It is an idea which Mr Mount was championing in light of his position that the Mines and Minerals Act simply failed to recognize investors like Axiom and how Axiom is the only company capable of properly mine San Jorge and Takata.

“As a professional, my position has always been that I would be willing to do all legal means possible to do the work in consultation with Mr Stanton and Axiom if Axiom is prepared to put its money where its mouth is. I drafted a consulting agreement between Axiom Mining Co Ltd and myself and stated that my consulting fees is AUD$700,000 and payable on instalments upon achievement of each stages of the proposed legislation.”

Rano says that having received instructions from Axiom he sought the assistance of Mr. Djokovic, at the time was a freelance consultant and was not yet employed by the Solomon Islands Government. Rano says that by the end of October 2016, Mr Djokovic joined the Government as Chief of Staff and advised that he could no longer be involved.

“Because Axiom could not afford to, we could not take the matter further. It is not however, because Mr Mount discovered that Mr Djokovic was a partner in Echelon Consulting Ltd. Echelon Consulting Ltd was a registered company I registered in 30 January 2015 and has nothing to do with Mr Djokovic,” said Mr. Rano.

“The only connection between Mr Djokovic and Echelon Consulting Ltd is me. It is no secret that Mr Djokovic and I have been business partners for many years which on his part has been disclosed in full to the Leadership Code Commission.”

Axiom had its foreign investment licence cancelled by the Solomon Islands government in October this year and has been told that its expatriate workers were no longer able to stay in the country.

Mr. Mount continues to argue that the country’s pro-China Minister for Mines, Bradley Tovosia — a key figure in the campaign to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan — was a leading figure in moves to deny the company an export permit.

The move — a month after the Solomons switched diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China — follows the denial of an export permit to Axiom and the assignment of one of its prospective tenements to the Hong Kong-based Bintan Mining.

Bintan sparked a massive Australian government-funded clean-up earlier this year when one of its bauxite ships spilled 80 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on an environmentally sensitive reef on Rennell Island, South of the Solomon Islands.

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Governor says people still waiting on LNG promises

The National | December 2, 2019

THE PNG LNG project is yet to deliver the billions of kina promised to the people of Southern Highlands but the operator is already accelerate production of gas from the fields in the province, says Governor William Powi.

Powi said as part of developing the P’nyang project, the proponents were trying to use the PNG LNG gas fields in the province to produce gas between 2024 and 2028 under the Associated Gas Development.

He claimed it would deplete the gas quickly while they are waiting for the P’nyang gas to come into the PNG LNG third train.

He said the plan would have a negative impact.

Powi said the landowners and provincial government had been promised billions in development levies and royalties.

They had allowed for capital expenditure deductions by way of depreciation allowance in calculation of royalty and development levy, allowing capital uplift premium and allowing for operating expenditure recovery in the calculations.

In fact, the 2 percent royalty and development levy becomes less than 1 per cent, an acceleration of the cheating by the developer.

“This should not be allowed at the expense of the people of Southern Highland and its landowners,” Powi said.

He said the development levy and royalty should be calculated at 2 per cent gross value of well head and not 1 percent “as we are currently receiving”.

He told Petroleum and Energy Minister Kerenga Kua in Parliament that the people would continue to be marginalised with the use the PNG LNG gas fields in Kutubu, Moran, Agogo, South East Mananda and Gobe oil under the Associated Gas Development.

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PNG wants a good LNG deal, not a fast deal

LNG Industry,| 2 December 2019

The Papua New Guinea (PNG) State Negotiating Team has released a statement, reaffirming its position in relation to the P’nyang Field.

Isaac Lupari, Chairman of the State Negotiating Team, said: “It is important we get a good deal, not a fast deal.

“This is vital to generate revenue and wealth creation from development of nation building projects in PNG.

“The key issue for PNG is to learn the lessons from the PNG LNG project and recently signed Papua LNG project agreement. What is essential to PNG is to develop the P’nyang Field in a timely fashion, on terms similar to other countries.”

According to the statement, there are two aspects to this. One of the current arguments is about the commercial terms.

Lupari said: “In essence PNG has already determined that we can achieve State benefits that are far greater than Papua LNG, while delivering an attractive return to the developer. We’ve already suggested to Exxon how we can resolve this sharing of benefits of the project based on international best practice.”

The other critical aspect to this is the certainty of the field being developed, and that this occurs according to a reasonable timeline with clear milestones. And yet Exxon won’t commit to this before the Minister issues the Petroleum Development License (PDL).

Lupari added: “What Exxon has demanded is we deliver a PDL before they complete industry standard prerequisites required for a final investment decision, which could give them an excuse to defer the development.

“A timeline for development must be one of the fundamental conditions in any agreement.

“Not agreeing to this makes us wonder if the developers really have any current plans to develop the project, or instead intend to warehouse the field. That kind of flexibility means the country may get no benefit – only costs – in the foreseeable future.

“We welcome the developer’s participation to resolve these issues and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.”

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