Tag Archives: ABG

RTG-led consortium meets Bougainville Gov’t over Panguna project

Australian Mining | September 12, 2018

ASX-listed RTG Mining has presented its redevelopment proposal for the Panguna mine to the House of Representatives in Bougainville in a significant step forward for the project.

RTG Mining is leading a consortium of local landowners in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea (PNG), that is trying to win government support in order to restart operations at the mine, currently under consideration for redevelopment by Government-backed Bougainville Copper (BCL).

The mine’s relaunch is a keystone of Bougainville’s upcoming plans for independence.

The dormant Panguna copper mine, which has been abandoned since 1989 due to local conflicts, contributed roughly 40 per cent of PNG’s economy during the height of operation.

The consortium, led by landowners, presented its proposal last week to a number of representatives of the Bougainville Government and is currently developing a social licence to win further support.

This includes donations for the local Arawa hospital, school and education support, support for the Women’s Federation in Bougainville and sport sponsorship opportunities, including the local rugby sevens team, the Black Orchids.

“This gesture of support by RTG is significant towards our efforts to compliment our ABG Government including all stakeholders on Bougainville working towards a united and peaceful Bougainville,” said Peter Tsiamalili, Autonomous Bougainville Rugby president.

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MP upset at Australian advisors in Bougainville

A lake in the pit of the long defunct Panguna mine in Bougainville. Photo: www.travelinspired.co.nz

Radio New Zealand | 23 August 2018

An MP in the autonomous Bougainville parliament says Australian aid to the region is being used to jockey for position ahead of the vote on possible independence.

Bougainville is due to vote next year on whether to remain part of Papua New Guinea or choose independence.

Donor nations have started increasing their support but MP Joseph Watawi is taking issue with Australia sending in teams of advisers, without consultation.

He says the advisers are there to gain political power and influence for Australia when what Bougainville needs are nurses, doctors and engineers.

Mr Watawi told Don Wiseman he thinks the Australian assistance is focused on the possible re-emergence of the former Australian owned mining company, Bougainville Copper Ltd – the company which sparked the Bougainville crisis.

TRANSCRIPT

JOSEPH WATAWI: So rather than Australia trying to get back here under the cover of BCL, to re-open the mine, I think it is a fair thing for them to seriously look at how they can provide some form of redress to the people of Bougainville through supporting the current, ongoing reconciliation process in Bougainville. That’s what I see it is currently lacking.  

DON WISEMAN: You have been critical of Australia sending in advisers but the truth is isn’t it, that the ABG – the Bougainville government – still needs advice. It hasn’t got a lot of the capacity it needs if it is going to get itself organised for this vote.  

JW: So called advisors, which have flooded the Bougainville administration, I think some of these are absolutely unnecessary. Only on areas which we think we need critical advice then we should be able employ people that we identify and people that might come from Australia, but there are other places. In PNG we also have a lot of retired public servants who may be able to engage in terms of  providing capacity in whatever administrative area that we think we need and require that kind of advice. I don’t see a wholesale advisory capacity that should come from retired Australia. It is like Australian aid is being given to Bougainville and we take it on the right hand and they take it back on the left hand. So it really doesn’t make any sense.

DW: When you say unnecessary advisors, what are you thinking of?

JW: Well in areas where we think it is necessary that we should have some advisers, then we should engage people in those areas that must be identified in terms of strategic advice in what ever areas. For example in terms of growing the economy, I think it is an area we think we can probably need some expertise in giving us some rough forecast on what they think the economy will be like in the next ten years down the road. So these are some of the areas I think we could be able to take on advice, but anything else, in terms of weapons disposal – what do they know about weapons disposal when we own the weapons here, and we think we had ways and means to deal with people who are holding onto weapons.

DW: The New Zealand government has also stepped up its involvement and I see from a press release you have put out that you are quite happy with what New Zealand is doing. So what is the difference between what New Zealand is doing and what Australia is doing?

JW: New Zealand I think, because they are also based with the culture of the Maori people and I think they know how to deal with the indigenous people and the manner in which they offer their support and assistance, particularly on the policing service, I see the role New Zealand plays also involves some kind of customary, cultural relationship that sort of enhances the manner and the attitude they are offering the kind of advice and support, in terms of capacity for Bougainville, and that’s the difference I see. 

DW: There are discussions around restarting mining on Bougainville, and BCL is one of those, but it is not of course an Australian company anymore is it? You have tied this Australian involvement into a possible return of BCL but BCL is now owned by Bougainville and the PNG governments, isn’t it?

JW: The sale by Rio Tinto to the PNG government and the ABG was a rush job, and I think it was just a way out, of Rio Tinto not willing to address the legacy issues in terms of the environmental damages and all of these other things that they had created while operating the Panguna mine. And not only that but even they wanted to basically pass on some of these liabilities to the ABG. I think Rio Tinto on that note basically, just acting, like, you know, we don’t want to know what happened to you guys. We picked up the wealth and whatnot from your ground, and therefore we do not to come and recognise the difficulties you are suffering, the pain the people have gone through. From my observation and analysis this is very unfair.    

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The new battle for Bougainville’s Panguna mine

Rusting trucks at Panguna mine, Bougainville

Speculation about the future of the Panguna copper mine in Papua New Guinea’s autonomous region of Bougainville, which ignited a decade long civil war in the 1990s, peaked late last year when an application for exploration by former Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), was put to a local vote.

Catherine Wilson | The Interpreter | 21 August 2018

The outcome revealed that the mine remains a contested site and that a new battle for its riches is deepening divisions among traditional landowning groups. Chris Baria, a Bougainville writer and commentator, who lived through what is known as the “Crisis”, explained the sentiment in a recent interview:

When those with mining interests meddle with Panguna, it makes people revisit the pain and suffering, and the horrors of war that the government wrought on its citizens for closing down a mine, which they felt had not compensated them enough for their loss.

The mine still stands in ruin. From the Morgan Junction checkpoint near the entrance, the drive is long and winding up into the white mist that often veils the peaks of the Crown Prince mountain range. In a valley at the top is the scene of a time warp: rusting mine machinery disintegrating into the all–consuming jungle, rows of silenced trucks and gutted housing blocks.

Locals amid the ruined mine buildings at Panguna (Photo: Catherine Wilson)

In 1989, the Nasioi on Bougainville were the world’s first indigenous people, angered by inequity and environmental damage, to shut down a multinational mining venture. But the feat came at a huge cost. The ensuing civil war, primarily between local rebel groups and the PNG Defence Force, decimated infrastructure and development and left 15,000–20,000 people dead, with many more suffering still from untreated trauma.

Yet debate about the mine’s possible revival has persisted for the last eight years. It’s the focus of the Bougainville autonomous government’s ambitions of fiscal self–reliance as an independence referendum approaches in June 2019; an enormous challenge for a region still occupied with post–conflict reconstruction and heavily dependent on aid. Last year, only 14% of the government’s expenditure, totalling K162 million ($67 million), was covered by internal revenues, while experts point out that an independent nation of Bougainville will need a budget two to three times greater.

This is a dilemma for many Panguna landowners. A few years ago, as I sat with villagers near the mine pit, no–one expressed a wish for mining to return to this beautiful valley. But views faltered among those committed to secession. Janet Colman from Guava Village said she did “not really” want the mine to reopen.

If I had a choice, but I don’t think I have a choice. If I am crying for independence; then I need the mine.

When BCL’s latest bid was defeated, Bougainville’s President John Momis announced an indefinite moratorium on exploration and mining in Panguna, highlighting his fears of potential conflict between landowner factions.

However, the link between mining and political aspirations continues to fuel the contest for Panguna’s wealth. Other foreign companies are jostling for position, such as Perth–based RTG Mining, which has forged an alliance with Philip Miriori, former combatant and now president of the Panguna–based Mekamui government, and chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association.

Three years ago, Bougainville passed new mining legislation vesting traditional landowners with ownership of minerals on their land and rights to participate in key development decisions. At the same time, power plays appear to be mounting between Panguna landowning clans and groups; those who previously, without rights, united against a common external foe. As Baria explains:

people who come from around the mine area are not homogenous, and deep divisions exist along family and clan lines going back to the time before the Crisis.

Mining companies now understand they will not be successful without landowner support. At least five ex–combatants and local leaders are known to be entertaining a range of corporate interests from Australia, Canada, China, Brazil and the US.

It is another hurdle for Momis and his government, who are working to rally a sense of political unity in a Melanesian society, where people still prioritize allegiance to their clan and customary land.

Panguna mine in operation, circa 1971 (Photo: Robert Owen Winkler/Wikimedia Commons)

Suspending developments in Panguna aligns with those landowners, such as Lynette Ona, Chairwoman of the Bougainville Indigenous Women’s Landowner Association, who believe the mine should stay closed until they can master their own destiny. Yet independence in itself won’t remove landowner rivalries or other risk factors Bougainville is currently challenged with, such as high youth unemployment, constrained institutional capacity to reach and govern rural areas and incomplete disarmament. Some armed groups, such as the Mekamui Defence Force, didn’t sign the peace agreement or surrender firearms.

Helen Hakena of the local Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency has expressed concern that “they [the Mekamui] get their strength from guns … there needs to be a priority set by the government in getting those arms out before the reopening of the Panguna mine”.

Bougainville is still working toward establishing the post–war unity, strong governance and state resources that are needed to manage the complex combination of post–conflict recovery, unaddressed mining grievances, and risks of resource–related corruption and land disputes. For mining, without peace, won’t contribute to Bougainville’s longing for successful self–government and equitable development.

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IS BOUGAINVILLE ON THE BRINK OF WAR?

MOST OF THE NEWS COMING OUT OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA TODAY IS ABOUT THE REFUGEE CRISIS ON MANUS ISLAND. BUT 1,000KM SOUTHEAST OF MANUS ON BOUGAINVILLE ISLAND, A LITTLE-KNOWN STORY ABOUT THE BLOOD-SOAKED 40-YEAR-LONG INDEPENDENCE STRUGGLE OF A QUARTER OF A MILLION PEOPLE IS APPROACHING AN ENDGAME.

Ian Lloyd Neubauer | Penthouse | 13 July 2018

Cut from the pages of a glossy travel brochure and just smaller than Hawaii’s Big Island, Bougainville is blessed with incredible natural resources: sugar-white beaches, fisheries, hyper-fertile soil and one of the largest untapped mineral deposits on the planet – copper, silver, gold and uranium estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

The largest known concentration of minerals lies in Panguna Mine, a vast hole in the ground in the Guava Mountains of central Bougainville. Between 1972 and 1989 it provided nearly half of PNG’s GDP and made billions in profit for its operator, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), a former subsidiary of Rio Tinto.

But while less than one per cent of those profits were reinvested in Bougainville, hundreds of millions of tonnes of tailings – the toxic by-product of industrial mining – were dumped straight into rivers, turning vast tracts of once-fertile farming and hunting grounds into barren, moonlike wastelands.

In the late 1970s, a landowner group led by Francis Ona presented BCL with a multi-billion dollar cleaning bill. BCL, however, claimed it was in compliance with the law while concurrently insisting it had not damaged the environment. It continued to dump tailings into the rivers like a careless tourist might drop a cigarette butt on the beach.

In 1988, push finally came to shove. Ona and his mob broke into BCL’s storerooms, stole a bunch of explosives and blew up Panguna’s power lines. The event marked the start of the longest conflict in the South Pacific since WWII and the world’s first successful eco-revolution – an episode of military history that has drawn parallels with the 2009 James Cameron film Avatar.

PNG sent in its army to crush the rebels, pitting Australian-supplied helicopter gunships and gunboats against a ragtag militia armed with slingshots and homemade rifles. When that failed, soldiers trained their sights on the general population, burning down villages, using rape as a weapon and executing alleged collaborators en masse. And when that failed PNG applied a cruel Australian-backed naval blockade, depriving the entire island of fuel, medicine and all contact with the outside world.

By the time a lasting peace agreement was signed in 2001, 15,000 to 20,000 Bougainvilleans – 10 per cent of the population – had been killed or succumbed to illnesses. For its woes, Bougainville was granted autonomy and tacit control of its fantastic mineral wealth, including the US$50 billion worth of copper and gold left at Panguna.

Now, a new-look independently listed BCL is plotting its return to Panguna, promising jobs and prosperity for all – despite not lifting a finger to clean the mess it left behind. Astonishingly, the Autonomous Government of Bougainville is courting the proposal because it desperately needs cash for an independence referendum scheduled for June 2019 and the prospect of running the world’s newest country the following year. But many Bougainvilleans hold serious grudges against BCL and warn if the company returns, war will follow.

HAPPY VALLEY

During the ’good times’ of the 1970s and 1980s, Arawa and its port Kieta, an hour’s drive from Panguna, was the second richest town in PNG. Hotels, restaurants and banks lined Happy Valley, Kieta’s dreamy beachfront strip, while cruise boats and sail craft crowded around the old yacht club.

All that remains of Kieta today are ruins overgrown with jungle and the wrecks of two small steamships at the end of a pier where Queen Elizabeth II and her royal entourage disembarked during a state visit in 1974. Arawa hasn’t fared much better; its wide boulevards lined with overgrown fields, stain-coloured apartment blocks and abandoned gas stations.

In Arawa I meet Philip Miriori, former private cabinet secretary of rebel leader Francis Ona, who died in 2005. Today Miriori is chairman of the Special Mine Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA), a group of 2,000-odd landowners who under the new Bougainville Mining Act hold rights not only to the topsoil but also the minerals underground. That makes Miriori one of the most powerful men in Bougainville and his opinion of BCL a matter of concern.

“BCL does not have any compassionate feelings. I have seen what they are capable of,” he says. “One night during the war, the PNGDF (PNG Defence Force) woke up everyone in my village and made us stand in a line while they burnt all our houses. I hold BCL directly accountable for what happened that night because BCL provided the soldiers with funding, logistics and shelter. Not as long as I am alive will I ever accept BCL coming back.”

Allegations of BCL’s complicity in Bougainville’s war stem back decades and have been corroborated by the highest level of government. In 2011, SBS’s Dateline unearthed an affidavit signed by former PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare that reads: “Because of Rio Tinto’s financial influence in PNG, the company controlled the government.” In a separate affidavit, former PNGDF general Jerry Singirok said the army “functioned as the corporation’s personal security force and were ordered by BCL to take action to reopen the mine – by any means necessary”.

BCL refused to comment for this story. But in a shareholder update released in October, the company claims it “has always maintained positive relationships in Bougainville” and “continues to respectfully build relationships with a range of stakeholders, including project area landowners”.

Yet in the very same document, the company scolds Miriori for “attack[ing] BCL through the media by using the title of SMLOLA chairman to convey the misleading impression that there is a united view of opposition to BCL”.

The notice also refers to a SMLOLA leadership dispute between Miriori and his cousin Lawrence Daveona, whose relationship with BCL stems back decades. Daveona was once president of the Bougainville Development Corporation, a purported BCL development fund that was run like a Fortune 500 company with interests in engineering, logistics and even mining. He was also a former director and secretary of BCL’s Roads Mine Tailings Lease Trust Fund – a body set up to administer compensation payments to Panguna landowners.

Daveona refused comment, citing ongoing court proceedings with Miriori. But he pointed out Miriori has a corporate sponsor of his own: RTG Mining, a Perth-based consortium that operates seven mines in five countries and is challenging BCL’s bid to reboot Panguna.

Miriori acknowledges he’s on RTG’s payroll but says his support for the company is based the award-winning environmental and social policies it has demonstrated at Masbate, the largest operating gold mine in the Philippines. “RTG will work well with the community,” he opines, adding: “If this story doesn’t go well, you will not be welcome back in Bougainville.

LEGACY PIT

In BCL’s October shareholder notice the company claims it is “increasing its presence in central Bougainville through the engagement activities of our local team”. 

Yet BCL has no official presence in Arawa. And it’s hard to imagine how a car with BCL logos could get past Alex Dakamari, a crusty old rebel with hangdog features who controls Morgan’s Crossing Checkpoint – a roadblock set up by Ona in the early 1990s on the only carriageway leading up to the mine.

“BCL are wasting their time. If they come back, we will fight,” Dakamari scowls. “We don’t want the mine reopened – full stop! Otherwise, all our money will go to white people like in the past. We were the owners and they turned us into beggars. They can’t get away with it again!”

Before it closed, Panguna was the largest open-cut mine in the world – 2.5 kilometres wide and half a kilometre deep. On one side of this titanic-size eyesore, a wall of untreated tailings hundreds of metres high marches slowly down a ravine. Millions of litres of opal-blue water rush from pit water drains on either side of this wall, forming waterfalls of the damned that lay waste to all life in the valley far below.

Dapera is a village that once sat right on top of the mine. In the early 1970s, BCL moved Dapera’s residents to a squatter settlement built on a plateau of crushed rock not far from the ore-sorting plant. A desolate collection of hardscrabble shacks, Dapera II is now home to a few hundred impoverished landowner descendants like Jayden Frankie.

“You can see the destruction BCL did to this community,” he says. “Before my father had good land. This is not good land. We can’t grow crops and when heavy rain falls, rocks in the ground turn blue and green.”

His friend, Richard Onio, voices similar sentiments. To find good land for farming we have to walk up to those hills,” he says, pointing to a steep ridge. “But it’s dangerous in heavy rains because of landslides.”

What do they think about the idea of a BCL comeback?

“They would not be welcome,” says villager Freddy Bernora. “We would send them off. They stole billions of dollars from us and I do not see how this company has changed.”

Frankie says he wants RTG to reopen the mine:

“We have seen some pictures of how RTG works in the Philippines, how people there live side-by-side with mining. They showed us how they produce benefits for landowners. They seem to respect landowners.”

“For me,” says Onio, “I am with neither RTG or BCL. I am neutral. I want to see if they meet our terms and conditions. I am not convinced by either side yet.”

CAESAR’S PALACE

On another plateau above the pit lies a small city where BCL housed more than 2,000 employees during the ’good times’. Today, around 8,000 landowners and squatters reside in the concrete skeletons of residential towers Ona and his mob set fire to after BCL withdrew. Masked in heavy fog, carpeted in moss and spattered with graffiti, it has the look and feel of a set from the Planet of the Apes.

Philip Takaung, Ona’s 77-year-old half-brother and Miriori’s deputy, is Caesar of this post-apocalyptic world. With the frame of a silverback gorilla and a crushing handshake to match, he makes an intimidating presence when I find him congregated with family and friends on the top floor of the tallest tower.

“When BCL came here and started polluting our land, we didn’t know anything about minerals. We had no education so they took advantage of us,” he says. “When we asked them to clean up the rivers, they did a feasibility study and said there was nothing poisonous in the water. We said NO! Our crops, our rivers, everything is dead! But they ignored us. They ignored us for 10 years until we took action. I was on that team with Ona that blew up the power lines.”

Takaung shows me his weapon of choice during the conflict: a nine-foot-long pole with a Y-shaped head known as the ‘Rambo Stick’ – a slingshot so powerful it can puncture a hole in a car, or take off somebody’s head. “This weapon is very good because it makes very little noise,” he says. “When you fire it, the enemy has no idea where you are. Then you can fire again.

I ask Takaung how many soldiers he killed during the war. He looks at two small children in the room who are glued to his every word, decides against answering and continues with his sermon:

“BCL burnt our villages. They tortured our people. They cut off people’s hands and threw them from helicopters. They raped our women, the young children, the men and old ladies! They put the machete in between women’s legs! I saw it! They slaughtered people like they were animals!”

On the way back to Arawa I stop at Anewa Bay, home to Bougainville’s modern port facilities.. There I meet port worker Francis Baubake, a withered old man in his fifties with a wooden leg and a terrible story to tell.

“In 1996, the PNGDF got a new mortar bomb that was untested. So they tested it on my family, “ he says. “We were in church in a refugee camp in Buin in the south when it hit us. My daughters Brenda and Alvina, seven and 12, and my wife Sicilia were instantly killed. I lost my leg,” he says, tapping his wooden stump.

I ask Baubake who he holds accountable for his loss. He stares numbly into the middle distance and thinks for a while before mumbling: “The PNGDF. The PNGDF and BCL.”

But when I ask what might happen if BCL returns to Bougainville, he answers without pause. “War,” he says, grinding his teeth. “War.”

THE NO-MINING VOTE

On my fourth day in Bougainville, I am struck with malaria and spend the next 24 hours shivering in bed, my joints and lower back burning with pain. The fever dissipates the next day but the experience makes me ponder the fate of an estimated 5,000 Bougainvilleans who succumbed to malaria during the blockade of the 1990s, and the poor state of health of most islanders today. In a squatter settlement next to my guesthouse, I find a man in his twenties with a cancer the size of a football growing from his heel.

More than half of all adults here are obese, while alcoholism is endemic. 

The war took everything out of everybody here and the trauma has been passed onto this generation,” says Geoff McAndrews, a Californian who recently opened Bougainville’s first surf camp. “There are no jobs. The only thing they have for entertainment is volleyball and homebrew.”

Over the next few days, I learn a significant minority are pro-BCL. “If BCL comes back, they can fix the environmental issues because they know all about them,” says accountant Lindsay Kalio. “I don’t think any other company can do this as we have no relationship with them.

Yet more than half of all islanders I speak to oppose any kind of industrial mining.

Our previous experience with mining was pollution and violence so I don’t want mining to come back,” says Alex Takena, a fisherman in Kieta. “We should focus on sustainable industries like copra (coconut) and cocoa farming.”

Lawrence Robert, a carpenter in Arawa, agrees. “I don’t think Panguna should reopen because our island is tiny and if miners come back, they’ll tear it to pieces. We should have tourism instead to promote our culture and heritage.”

Adds John Boscoe, a subsistence farmer from Oemah village in the island’s south: “Mining did not benefit any of us in in the past but we all lost our homes. If it happens again, the Panguna landowners will drink milk and honey and we will get nothing.”

The SMLOLA discounts anti-mining sentiment. “These people have to look at the bigger picture,” Miriori says. “Mining is the right choice for Bougainville because we need the revenue if we want to become an independent nation and generate employment and security. Panguna will reopen, whether they like it or not.”

BETTER THE DEVIL YOU OWN

A week passes until I regain enough strength to make the bone-jarring four-hour drive from Arawa to the capital Buka, which is as fly-blown as a place can possibly be.

When I arrive the city has been under a total electricity blackout for close to a week for reasons no one can explain. When I visit Bougainville’s House of Representatives in the middle of the day to make an appointment with President John Monis, no one is there. Ditto at the Ministry for Mineral and Energy Resources and BCL’s little office.

Later in the day, news breaks that the SMLOLA leadership dispute has ended and Miriori has emerged victorious. It sees RTG’s share price soar 83 per cent in a single day and the inking of a “historic” deal between the consortium and the SMLOLA.

“The Chairman and Mr Daveona have also pledged support for RTG as the preferred development partner,” RTG says in a statement. “This is a historic and important step for the landowners, with RTG being the first mining company that has been endorsed by the SMLOLA in 30 years.”

But the victory is short-lived. Bougainville Minister for Minerals and Energy Raymond Masono accuses RTG of trying to sneak into Panguna through the back door. “The Autonomous Bougainville Government rejects companies that think they can bribe their way into people’s resources by giving certain individuals money to gain landowner consent,” he says.

RTG rigorously denies it has bribed landowners even though Miriori admitted to me that he is on their payroll. However BCL has been busy handing out money to landowners, too.

In March of last year, BCL distributed US$1.5 million in compensation to landowners at a public ceremony in Buka attended by Masono. “It is not the devil that we used to know, but it’s now the devil that we own,” Masono said at the ceremony, adding that it would be foolish go out looking for other developers.

Masono’s comment about “the devil that we own” refers to Rio Tinto’s June 2016 decision to finally call it quits on Bougainville – and its subsequent donation of its majority shareholdings in BCL to the governments of Bougainville and PNG.

RTG chairman Michael Carrick says the move was in part an attempt by Rio Tinto to stack the deck in BCL’s favour. But the cards had already been stacked in a very big way by the authors of the 2015 Bougainville Mining Act, who gave BCL the first right of refusal to redevelop Panguna.

RTG’s Carrick insists the Act no longer applies. “BCL ’claims’ it has first right to the exploration license under the mining act,” he says. “But our legal advice is that the renewal application for extension of the term of their licence is invalid because it was submitted out of time and was incomplete.”

For his part Masono remains nonplussed, insisting BCL is still in the box seat and RTG doesn’t even have a seat on the table. “Right now, the only legal applicant on the exploration tenement is BCL,” he says. “Until that process is completed, there are no other applicants or applications over the same tenement. That’s the position of the government.”

THE PRESIDENT SPEAKS

On my last day in Bougainville, I score an interview with President John Momis at Buka’s tin-pot airport. Right from the get-go he contradicts Masono’s position and corresponding claims by BCL that its proposal has the support of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville.

“Currently we do not have a preferred partner. We will ask people who are interested to submit their applications and we will scrutinise their applications quite stringently,” the President says. “We are open to discussions with BCL but there’s whole new dimension today. They need to win the support of landowners who own the resources.”

I ask him what he thinks about RTG’s competing bid to redevelop Panguna, and of rumours that China is eyeing the mine.

“We are not sure about RTG,” he says. “They have to convince us first. I don’t know if they are in a strong position. As for the Chinese, they are not in the picture right now. But we are open for business.” 

And so the race for Panguna’s riches continues with no clear frontrunner. But no matter which company wins, three things seem certain.

First, the bulk of Panguna’s riches will inevitably end up in the pockets of oligarchs, shareholders and hopelessly corrupt officials instead of a sovereign wealth fund where it belongs. This prediction is drawn from the ’resource curse’, which dictates countries with lots of minerals tend to have less economic growth and democracy than countries with fewer natural resources. Hundreds of studies have been undertaken to prove the theory, though one need look no further to Hela Province on PNG’s mainland to see it happening in real time. There, ExxonMobil’s A$24 billion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project has failed to deliver any significant development outcomes for landowners. “In fact, it has, in important ways, made life worse for the majority of people living in the project area,” says Michael Main, an Australian National University doctoral student conducting fieldwork in the area.

Which leads to prediction number two: if Panguna reopens, there will be blood. According to the World Bank study ‘Natural Resources and Violent Conflict’, countries that export around five per cent of GDP have a six per cent risk of conflict. But when exports reach 25 per cent of GDP, the probability of conflict climbs to 33 per cent. If Panguna reopens, exports of minerals will account for close to 100 per cent of Bougainville’s GDP. That doesn’t bode well under the World Bank’s formula. And despite reassuring me the plans to reboot Panguna’s will definitely go ahead, a fortnight after I leave Bougainville he changes his mind, announcing an indefinite moratorium.

We will not allow this project once again to reignite the wounds of the Bougainville crisis and distract our focus for restoring peace and our preparation for our referendum in 2019,” he told New Zealand’s Asia Pacific Report.

The decision is a breath of fresh air and a rare example of a politician in PNG making an unpopular and unprofitable decision that is beyond a shadow of a doubt in the best interest of constituents.

My final prediction for Bougainville? That the people will overwhelmingly vote in favour of self-determination when they go to the polls in 2019. “We in Bougainville have a huge passionate ambition,” Monis told me before I left, mirroring the thoughts of every Bougainvillean I interviewed on the subject. “And that ambition is to liberate ourselves from all kinds of transgressors, evil and marginalisation so there will be unity to affect the kind of changes we need to truly become free.” 

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Government To Transfer BCL Shares To Landowners

Post Courier | July 3, 2018

THE National Government does not wish to hold any shares in Bougainville Copper Limited, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has told the people of Bougainville.

He said the National Government is going to transfer shares on BCL to the landowners where the mine is located at Panguna, Central Bougainville.

“We have transferred 17.4 per cent out of Rio Tinto shares, National Government does not wish to hold on to those shares and we believe it rightfully belongs to the landowners where the mine is,” Mr O’Neill said in a statement yesterday.

He said the other issue relating to the state-owned shares that is about 19 per cent would continue to have discussions with the Autonomous Bougainville Government and relevant stakeholders as to how these shares could be disposed in the new future.

“But let me stressed very clearly that we have obligation, both ABG and National Government and the landowners of Panguna, we have an obligation to the minority shareholders of BCL who have trusted us and have bought shares in this company many years ago, they are simply mums and dads who have invested in the future of Bougainville and we have to resolve these issues with them in an amicable arrangement where they can be able to easily dispose their shares either to ABG or landowners,” Mr O’Neill said.

According to the 2017 BCL annual report, the Bougainville Government is the major shareholder – its Bougainville Minerals Ltd holding 36.45 per cent, or 146,175,449 shares in the mine. It is followed by the State which has 76,430,809 shares or 19.06 per cent of BCL.

The third biggest shareholder is state-owned enterprise Eda Minerals Limited which has 69,744,640 shares or 17.39 per cent followed by JP Morgan Nominees Australia Limited which has 59,264,812 share or 14.78 per cent of BCL. BCL announced at its annual general meeting in Port Moresby in May that there would be no dividends paid to both national and international shareholders for the 2017 financial year on top of a recorded consolidated K7.30 million loss after tax.

Company chairman Sir Mel Togolo also reported BCL’s consolidated income for the year at K7.63 million which included K5.23 million in interest and dividends and realised gains on the sale of investments of K2.39 million for the year.

“Operating expenses for the year were K14.83 million compared with K11.52 million in 2016 and were under budget.

“The company has sufficient funds to meet recurrent expenditure under the current work plan and remains debt free. “BCL will not pay a dividend,” Sir Mel said.

He said the K7.30 million loss was against a budgeted loss of K15.2 million and consolidated loss of K3.78 million in 2016

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‘Bougainville won’t fall for more false claims from BCL’

Photo: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Philip Miriori (Chairman) and Lawrence Daveona (Ex Chairman) SMLOLA | 4 June 2018

HOW CAN BOUGAINVILLE COPPER LIMITED BELIEVE WE AND OUR AUTONOMOUS BOUGAINVILLE GOVERNMENT WILL FALL FOR MORE OF THEIR FALSE CLAIMS OF RESPECT FOR BOUGAINVILLE AND ITS PEOPLE?

Bougainville Copper Limited (“BCL”) continues to insult and disrespect Bougainville: the Panguna Customary Landowners by the recent statements made by BCL’s Chairman, Mr Mel Togolo and the ABG by their treatment at their Annual General Meeting blocking their vote.

Why did BCL not work with the ABG in advance to ensure they could have their say at the meeting if they are genuinely trying to mend fences with Bougainville and lose their mantle of being a PNG controlled company?” asked Mr Philip Miriori, the Chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (“SMLOLA”).

Mr Miriori said “we know the new BCL Chairman has his trainer wheels on, but this is unbelievable! How many world class mines has he developed? Wasn’t he the guy who sat on the Rio controlled BCL Board in the bad old days – for 6 or 7 years? Isn’t he the PNG country manager for the environmentally controversial deep sea mining start up, Nautilus Minerals? Why would we want any of that?”

Then there is the false attempt to blame third parties for the opposition by the Panguna Customary Landowners: this reflects the continuing failure on the part of BCL to even acknowledge the historic environmental havoc wreaked on the Panguna Land by BCL and the role of BCL in the devastating conflict in Bougainville. “Do they think we have forgotten or forgiven – no never” says Mr Miriori.

Mr Miriori, says “The failure of BCL’s Chairman, Mr Togolo, to acknowledge the historic wrongs committed against the people of Bougainville is totally unacceptable. The wilful blindness of BCL, its failure to admit its role in causing the environmental devastation to our land and its failure to rehabilitate or provide compensation for the damage, condemns BCL from ever obtaining SMLOLA’s approval or support. Trying to blame third parties for this is both naïve and arrogant – it is a flimsy and dishonest attempt to divert attention from their failure to win any aspect of social licence to return to Bougainville. That is and will always be the problem.”

Mr Miriori said “it is simple, BCL has one of the worst environmental and social impact records in the world and has not been welcome to return to Panguna in 30 years – yet they claim strong Landowner support. Just more lies!”

Prominent SMLOLA member Mr Lawrence Daveona supported Mr Miriori’s comments saying “BCL’s operations at the Panguna Mine were the cause of the devastating conflict on Bougainville. That is why they have been unwelcome in Bougainville for the last 30 years. It was the height of arrogance to think they could win community support without any reconciliation. They have ignored us and tried to go around “the impediments” – the owners of the minerals and have tried to simply pull political strings. The recent BCL attempt to curry favour and scramble to regain tenure to their old mine has been a disaster, just like their treatment of our lands and people – after 30 years of neglect and arrogance, how surprising!”

Mr Daveona said “our President Momis summed it up perfectly when he said BCL did not deserve the renewal because their attitudes to Landowners had not changed from the past.”

Mr Miriori spelt out what he said “were obvious facts:

  • BCL has achieved no reconciliation with the Customary Landowners for 30 years;
  • BCL has not attempted discussions with the current Court sanctioned SMLOLA Chairman and Executive even once; 
  • BCL has failed to acknowledge its role in Bougainville’s tragic history;
  • BCL has offered no compensation for the environmental and social impact of BCL’s massive profit taking operations at the Panguna Mine;
  • BCL has offered no assistance to rebuild Bougainville post resolution of the conflict; 
  • BCL has undertaken no remedial action to address the massive environmental damage from its past operations; and
  • BCL has made no attempt to identify the needs of the Customary Landowners and engage with the community.;

Mr Miriori said “it was outrageous that BCL untruthfully claimed it held unanimous Landowner consent when there was an existing petition with more than 2,000 SMLOLA members rejecting BCL’s return to Panguna. BCL has insulted the Customary Landowners by referring to them as ‘impediments to be removed’ and more recently, ‘disruptive influences’. This shows a contempt for the rights of Customary Landowners and the people.

Mr Miriori said “how could they have been surprised – they have never had majority Landowner support. Have they forgotten their 30 year history of devastation they never seem to mention now?”

Mr Daveona supported the ABG’s decision saying “BCL had an EL for two years from 2014 to 2016 and even had a further 15 months after the expiry of EL 1 and still they could not win Landowner support. The refusal of that application has been very positive for the Landowners and allowed us to bring an end to the social disharmony their false claims caused and to build an even stronger opposition to their return. The Landowners are now fully united against BCL. BCL should leave and respect the wishes of Landowners.”

President Dr John Momis of the ABG stated on 8 January 2018, in a public interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, that the BCL Application had been denied by the ABG because of the Panguna legacy Issues and consequently the inability of BCL to gain a social licence. He observed BCL’s attitude towards Customary Landowners had not changed and therefore that BCL did not deserve an extension. It was noted that at the Warden’s Hearing in December 2017 almost all those who spoke referred to these significant and continuing legacy issues and the need for BCL to pay compensation.

President Momis was entirely correct in his observation and the recent statements by BCL’s Chairman show a contempt not only for the Customary Landowners but also for the ABG itself.

Mr Miriori agreed saying “BCL was the tenement holder during the time which systemic damage to the environment and river systems occurred. The Panguna mine was at the centre of the conflict.” It is reported 20,000 Bougainvillean people died in this conflict. This is the incontrovertible factual truth of BCL’s legacy.

These events are of global significance and to this day are fundamental to the vast majority of the Panguna Customary Landowners and Bougainvilleans opposing BCL’s return.

BCL made a formal decision to not acknowledge responsibility, to not say ‘sorry’ and to not pay any fair compensation for these events and the massive damage. These deliberate commercial decisions (to save BCL money and to not acknowledge its past wrongdoings) are fatal to BCL’s attempt to return to Panguna.”

As the highly respected community leader, Mr Sam Kauona said at the Warden’s Hearing, BCL can never be allowed to return to Panguna. The petition opposing BCL’s return has more than 2,000 supporters. The majority of those attending and speaking at the independent Warden’s Hearing in December 2017 opposed BCL’s return.

The continued failure to have regard to the opinion of the Customary Landowners, Mr Miriori says, “shows an arrogance and on-going disrespect.” He powerfully criticises BCL’s attempt to divert the blame from its own conduct “This arrogance and ongoing disrespect of the Landowners’ clear wishes perpetuates the tragic legacy of BCL/Rio, and with every day that passes, further compounds and entrenches the opposition of the overwhelming majority of Panguna Landowners to BCL. Let us now look forward not backward to a new deal for Bougainville. BCL is finished. Its attempt to cause even further delays to the successful redevelopment and reopening of the mine blocks and delays employment opportunities, the funding of critically needed community programs and obtaining of financial benefits for all Bougainvilleans.”

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BCL “wishes to create goodwill”

Cedric Patjole | Loop PNG | May 28, 2018

Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) chairman, Mel Togolo, says the company aims to work positively and constructively with both the PNG and Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).

He also said the company wishes to create goodwill among communities as they plan to redevelop Panguna Mine.

Togolo said this following the company’s Annual General Meeting on Thursday.

Togolo said it was important to note that BCL was a PNG company with both the PNG and ABG governments as major shareholders.

“The National Government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government have 36.4 percent each. They own the company because they have significant interest in the company on behalf of their respective people,” said Togolo.

Given their majority shareholding, it was important that positive and constructive relationship was in place.

“We respect the Government of the day. We want to work together, and also we know that the Government, the Bougainville Government like the Papua New Guinea Government, have got significant interests as shareholders and their interest as a board we’ll have to look after that interest and to make sure that we create goodwill and understanding among the community in order for us to redevelop the Panguna Mine.”

With the referendum approaching, Togolo says that is a political process they will not be involved in. But they encouraged both governments to work together during the process.

“But as a company we are focused to see how we can redevelop the mine which will be of benefit to Bougainvillean people and the Government of Papua New Guinea.”

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