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Bougainville president elaborates on ‘No’ to mining

Radio New Zealand | 17 April 2018

The President of the autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville has elaborated on why his government is saying no to mining at Panguna for the foreseable future.

Panguna was the site of the Bougainville Copper Ltd mine which was at the crux of the ten year long civil war.

In recent years there has been a push to have it re-opened to help drive the Bougainville economy forward.

Two companies, Bougainville Copper Ltd and RTG have been battling for the rights to mine Panguna but last week the government announced an indefinite moratorium on mining there.

Don Wiseman asked Bougainville President John Momis why they had taken such action.

JOHN MOMIS: Because landowners themselves are split. One faction supporting another company in developing the mine and another faction supports another company. So we don’t want to cause a split amongst the landowners because we have a referendum coming. We want to make sure we unite our people.

DON WISEMAN: Yes, although the landowners you say are supporting another company – that’s the Osikaiang group and they are right at the site of the current mine so as far, I think, as they are concerned, they are the landowners at that point, therefore they are ones that make that decision.

JM: Not really. Titleholders have rejected their claim. They have said they are not the legitimate titleholders, this Osikaiang group. Titleholders, according to law, are people who are supporting another company. So there is a definite divide and until the people are united we will not proceed with any mining.

DW: So in the meantime, in terms of trying to orchestrate some sort of unity, is the ABG going to do anything? Are you going to undertake anything, or leave it up to the landowner groups themselves?

JM: No, no we have taken steps to unite them. For us you know determining Bougainville’s future is more paramount right now. It is the priority we are focussing our attention to, to make sure that the people of Bougainville are united, so we don’t want any other issues to undermine this unity.

DW: Essentially it is off the radar until after the referendum?

JM: That’s probably it. I can’t see how the landowners can unite before the referendum. If they do then that will be good and we will look at other possibilities.

DW: The ABG of course is in an invidious position because you are a significant owner of Bougainville Copper Ltd, which is this other company you talk of. If the landowners agreed and they wanted to go with RTG, the second of those companies, would you, the ABG, accept that?

JM: We have some problems with RTG right now. In fact they are causing a lot of confusion and division in the community and we are not prepared to go ahead while this situation prevails.

DW: One of the reasons for this focus on Panguna had been to get the economy cranking ahead of the referendum, if that was possible. So if the effort is now going in a different direction is there going to be this focus that’s been talked about up to now but I am not sure how much has been done, in terms of agriculture and tourism and fishing.

JM: We cannot sacrifice unity for the sake of even generating revenue at this point in time. We have the referendum coming and it’s going to be very high on our priority list, so we have made it very clear to the landowners that unless they are totally united and they are prepared to subject themselves to the rule of law and so on and so forth, the ABG will leave the reserve [moratorium] in place.

DW: But in terms of these other industries is any effort going into those?

JM: We are looking at timber development and other industries, yes.  

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Bougainville Govt says no to Panguna indefinitely

An abandoned building at Panguna mine site in Bougainville Photo: supplied

Panguna landowners are holding the region to ransom says Momis

Radio New Zealand | 13 April 2018

The government in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville says it will not allow exploration or mining activities at the Panguna mine site until landowners unite.

Two companies have been battling to re-open the mine, a move the government had been touting as vital to developing Bougainville’s economy.

But at the end of last year President John Momis announced a moratorium on mining at Panguna and in a new statement he says it is ‘absolutely clear the landowners and the people of Panguna are divided over their preferred developer.

He said after debate in the ABG House of Representatives it was very clear this decision could not be avoided and has been made in the best interests of the landowners and the people of Bougainville as the region prepares for its referendum next year.

Mr Momis says landowner leadership at Panguna remains unresolved creating factional groups with opposing views and positions on how the mine should be developed.

He says as long as the landowners remain divided the moratorium will remain in place.

Mr Momis says the ABG had invested a lot of effort trying to unite the landowners but while most Bougainvilleans are in favor of reopening the mine, the Panguna landowners are holding the region to ransom.

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Traditional landowners reject mining exploration bid in Bougainville

Catherine Wilson | Mongabay | 27 March 2018

  • Ahead of next year’s referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea, the government of the autonomous region of Bougainville believes reopening the Panguna copper mine is the key to gaining economic self-sufficiency.
  • In January, traditional landholders rejected a bid by Bougainville Copper Ltd. — now majority owned by the Bougainville and Papua New Guinea governments — to renew exploration at the mine.
  • The dispute of the mine highlights the ways in which traditional communal landownership in Melanesian states complicates both public and private development projects — and the role landowner groups can play in environmental stewardship.

Traditional landowners in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, have exerted their power of veto under the autonomous region’s new mining laws and rejected a corporate bid by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) to embark on renewed exploration at the war-ravaged Panguna copper mine, which has been dormant for 28 years.

New legislation introduced in 2015 gives them ownership of any mineral resources on their land, as well as rights in key decisions about their exploitation.

At the core of concerns by many indigenous landowners is the company’s record on environmental and social responsibility. BCL, a former Rio Tinto subsidiary, operated the mine at the time civil war broke out in the late 1980s — a conflict sparked by claims of extensive environmental damage and inequities connected with its operations. Two years ago, the global mining multinational sold its stake in the mine and, at the same time, dismissed any obligation to clean up or rehabilitate land and rivers contaminated with mine waste.

The landowner vote in January was not, however, unanimous, with evidence of opposition from some landowning groups and support from others. Bougainville’s president, John Momis, then imposed an indefinite moratorium on mining in Panguna. He expressed concerns that the depth of local division on the issue could trigger tensions, even unrest, and undermine the region’s progress toward a referendum on independence set to be held on June 15 next year.

Although the Bougainville government has a 36.4 percent stake in BCL, Momis told Australia’s ABC News in January that “If we went ahead now, you could be causing a total explosion of the situation again,” referring to the devastating war on the island from 1989 to 1998 that left some 20,000 people dead.

Nevertheless, debate about reopening the Panguna mine is unlikely to dissipate, as mineral extraction is believed by local leaders to be the only feasible economic option for driving the region’s fiscal self-reliance alongside ambitions of self-determination. Other companies with rival bids to redevelop the Panguna mine are also waiting in the wings, including Australia-based RTG Mining, which has forged an alliance with local Mekamui tribal leaders.

The abandoned Panguna mine pit, as it is today. Photo by Catherine Wilson.

Bougainville’s history of resource extraction and conflict has been affected by some unique factors, including the long-held desire for secession in the region, which contributed to the widespread unity of landowners and the scale of their mobilization and resistance to the foreign-led extractive venture.

However, in common with other Melanesian island states, such as the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, it is a prime example of how customary landownership, which covers over 80 percent of these countries, can have a crucial influence on a wide range of public and commercially driven development projects.

Friction between differing worldviews about the value of land is at the heart of localized conflict related to mining in Bougainville, but also at the Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea’s remote Enga province, and the massive PNG LNG natural gas project in the highlands.

For companies from the industrialized West, where laws endorse the rights of individual land tenure, land is a major source of commodities for generating profits and corporate or personal wealth. But for Melanesian societies, the centuries-old system of customary landownership is communal. Land is owned not by individuals but by clans and family groups, who are considered custodians until it is passed on to the next generation.

The right to use land by members of landowning groups, whether for agricultural cultivation, building homes, hunting, or worshiping ancestors, reinforces social structures held together by mutual kinship obligations and ideas of collective social security. Traditionally held land is, therefore, entwined with social harmony and cohesion.

Intensified interest by export-oriented foreign resource-extraction companies in Papua New Guinea in the mid-20th century heralded an era of confrontations. Their ambitions often encountered major hurdles in countries where land was not surveyed or registered and no single individual was traditionally entitled to sell it.

In communities affected by the PNG LNG project in the Papua New Guinean highlands, for example, claims that individuals have been incorrectly named as beneficiaries in landowner identification programs have been a factor in regular episodes of disrupted operations and localized violence in the past eight years. In a country where customary laws and land rights are oral and undocumented, the risk of incorrectly identifying landowners and the potential for opportunists to hijack the process for their own reward is very high.

Obtaining rights to customary land to build infrastructure and improve much-needed public services in Pacific island states, such as water, power, communications and transport, can also involve lengthy negotiations with traditional owners. And delays, work stoppages and disruptions to projects easily follow when there are disagreements about the activities involved, the social and environmental impacts, or the nature and amount of compensation to be paid to landowners.

This is a growing problem in expanding cities and towns, such as Port Moresby, the Papua New Guinea capital, where the demands of urban development are matched by the growing need for more land.

In Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, the civic water supply has been disrupted on numerous occasions because of disputes over compensation with the owners of the land where the Kongulai water catchment, the supply’s source, is located.

Local Panguna landowner, Lynette Ona, believes Bougainville islanders were at the forefront of the global environmental movement in the 1990s. Photo by Catherine Wilson.

Yet, at the same time, the culturally entrenched role that customary landowners perform as “custodians of the land” could be seen as aiding environmental protection. In Panguna, it was the landowners who called for action on deforestation, soil erosion, crop degradation and the pollution of rivers and streams.

Panguna landowners Phillip Takaung and Lynette Ona believe the campaign they waged in the 1990s put them at the forefront of the then-burgeoning era of global environmental activism. “This is the first island in the world where we fought for the life of the people and for the environment,” Takaung said during an interview at the mine in 2016.

There is an increasing call by governments in the region for greater mobilization of land as part of their larger aim to boost human development and standards of living. But there remains little will for land reform at the local level. Many clans and families still view land as vital for their economic and social survival, now and in the future. And the long connection between local governance and landownership means that many chiefs and local leaders see external government and political control as unwanted interference and, in some instances, motivated by intentions to wrongly “steal” their land and its wealth.

This has been a major issue in Papua New Guinea, where the government’s Special Agriculture and Business Lease (SABL) program has fallen foul of manipulation and corruption. This attempt to free up traditional land for economic projects resulted in 12 percent of the country, or 55,000 square kilometers (21,200 square miles), being allocated mostly for logging by foreign companies, rather than agricultural projects to benefit local communities.

There are exceptions, such as the recent national land reform initiative in Vanuatu, which gained popular support. In a bid to reduce land-related disputes, conflict and fraud, and provide better governance of investment and development projects, the Vanuatu government introduced new laws in 2014 aimed at strengthening and integrating the rights of traditional landowners with government planning and oversight institutions. Time will be needed to judge their effectiveness.

Read the original article on Mongabay – https://news.mongabay.com/2018/03/traditional-landowners-reject-mining-exploration-bid-in-bougainville/

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Four Mining Exploration Licences Issued for Bougainville

“Bougainville is open to any investor who want to come and do business”

Post Courier | February 18, 2018

Secretary for Bougainville Mineral and Energy Resources Shadrach Himata says a total of four mining explorations licences have been issued to date.

Mr Himata said companies from Australia, Canada, and the Philippines have taken up interest in the exploration of various areas in Bougainville upon the request of landowner groups.

“We have a company from Australia, Canadians interested, and the Filipinos who are interested in exploration,” Mr Himata said.

“Right now we have issued four exploration licences in the Tore area in North Bougainville and the Central Bougainville is the Isina area.

“The Filipino company, SR Metals, are interested in doing exploration in the eastern part of Isina area in Central Bougainville.”

He said on the northern part of the Tore area, Australian company, Kalia Resources, is carrying out exploration.

“I guess Bougainville is open to any investor who want to come and do business with us,” he said.

“Potentially Bougainville is a highly mineralised region, but what we are doing at the moment is we are looking at areas that the people themselves want exploration to take place, then we open up those areas.

“Basically the entire Bougainville region is under what we call a moratorium. Only areas where people are willing to give up their land for exploration, then the government will facilitate.”

He said for Panguna, the government gave the first right of refusal to Bougainville Copper Limited, but through the process the people and the government felt it was risky to allow BCL to develop the mine or pursue exploration.

“They have decided not to renew the exploration licence and put the area on reservation.

“Apart from Panguna we have also opened up other economic areas on Bougainville with mineral exploration, with the hope that we will find a major resource to process to development.

“We are betting on current exploration companies on the ground right now. Again you never know how long exploration takes. It may take five years or even 10,” he said.

“If we find something earlier the better, but we still see Panguna as an actual mine and it is easier to develop Panguna than other areas.”

He said although Panguna has been put on reserve, it is still on the radar in terms of an economic impact project for Bougainville.

“The key is unity of the people, that is why we are putting the brakes a bit. When they are ready they can come back to the government with one voice and we can decide what is the best method going forward.”

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BCL wants to bully Bougainville into reopening Panguna

Has BCL not learnt from history that Bougainvilleans do not like being bullied!

BCL takes Bougainville Govt to court over licence non-renewal

Radio New Zealand | 16 February, 2018

Mining company Bougainville Copper Ltd is taking an arm of the Bougainville government to court.

This came after the autonomous government in the Papua New Guinea region announced late last year a moratorium on mining at Panguna, which had been abandoned in 1989 after the civil war started.

Two companies are vying to re-open Panguna but Bougainville President John Momis said to get the nod, the successful company must first win the trust of the people and BCL is yet to do this.

Meanwhile a mining wardens meeting in central Bougainville in December turned down BCL’s request for its exploration licence to be extended.

But the company is not giving up and secretary Mark Hitchcock says they want the licence restored, hence their application for a judicial review.

“We have taken the regulator , which is the Bougainville Government, as the Department of Mineral and Energy Resources, to court. We are seeking leave to apply for a judicial review of that decision, to not renew the exploration licence.”

The Bougainville government is the main shareholder in Bougainville Copper Ltd, with 36%, after it was given the lion’s share of equity by Rio Tinto when that company walked away from involvement in BCL two years ago.

Mr Hitchcock say the ABG leadership has told him that the company has to do what it has to do to protect the interests of all of its shareholders.

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Moratorium on Panguna stays

Bougainville President John Momis

PNG Industry News |  12 February 2018

IT seems that nothing will happen at the Panguna copper-gold mine until after the referendum on independence is held for the island upon which it is situated in Papua New Guinea – Bougainville.

The doors to Bougainville Copper Mines (BCL) and RTG Mining – both anxious to redevelop the mine which has been closed since 1989 – have now been firmly shut by President John Momis.

Momis has told media that the mine would remain closed until after the vote, which is expected to take place on June 15, 2019.

This follows up on a statement issued by Vice President Raymond Masono, who is also Mines Minister, in which he said that the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) had completed the legal process under the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 in relation to BCL’s application to renew its exploration licence over the Panguna mine area “and conclude that it is untenable under current circumstances for the Panguna project to proceed, resulting in a decision not to grant an extension to BCL’s exploration licence.

“Effectively BCL does not have any more tenement (sic) in Bougainville or any legal right over Panguna mineral resources and the legal ownership of the Panguna resources reverts back to the customary landowners of Panguna and the ABG.

“In making that decision to not grant an extension of terms to BCL’s tenement, the ABG has also made a decision to impose a mining reservation (moratorium) over the Panguna mine area for an indefinite period,” Masono said.

Masono added that the public was invited to comment on the Panguna moratorium and this should be submitted to the Department of Mineral and Energy Resources by close of business on March 26, 2018.

“It is in Bougainville’s best interest that the Panguna resources owners be left alone and be dealt with by the ABG alone regarding any future plans for the Panguna project moving forward when the circumstances are conducive and the moratorium is lifted.

“For BCL or RTG or any other investor to directly deal with the landowners regarding the development of the Panguna project will only result in more division and problems among the people and may affect ABG’s drive for peace and unity leading towards the referendum.

“The ABG will not accept nor be influenced by any speculations regarding its decision on the moratorium and redevelopment  of the Panguna project,” Masono concluded.

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Landowners and companies in new battle for Panguna mine, which triggered Bougainville Crisis

PHOTO: Panguna landowners are arguing about which company should restart mining. (ABC News: Bethanie Harriman)

 Eric Tlozek | ABC News | 10 February 2018

The race to reopen one of the world’s biggest copper mines, Panguna, is dividing landowners and the wider community in Bougainville.

Key points:

  • Local leader Philip Miriori says activity at the Panguna mine would bring “prosperity” and “better infrastructure” to the community
  • Bougainville’s President says the Government is keen to restart the mine to boost its case for independence
  • Not all landowners around the mine are happy with the stalemate, or with RTG’s push to leapfrog former operator BCL

Panguna was abandoned in 1989, after landowner dissatisfaction with the mine led to the Bougainville Crisis, an armed uprising against the Papua New Guinea Government in which 20,000 people died.

Now mining companies are trying to come back, right as Bougainville prepares to vote on whether it should become an independent nation.

Philip Miriori is a local leader who wants mining to resume.

“The Panguna mine must reopen,” he said.

“That is going to bring prosperity. We need to see our kids go to school. We need better hospitals, better infrastructure.”

Mr Miriori leads a group called the Me’ekamui and has been battling through the courts and mediation to become chairman of the landowner association of the mine pit, the SMLOLA (Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association).

“I think unity for the resource owners is important, before anything else,” he said.

“Without the unity, I don’t think we can achieve anything.”

Mr Miriori’s Me’ekamui group has entered into a joint venture with Perth company RTG Mining, which is making a bold bid to reopen Panguna.

PHOTO: Philip Miriori’s Me’ekamui group has entered into a joint venture with RTG mining. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

“What I was interested in with RTG is a social licence [to mine],” Mr Miriori said.

“I don’t want to get anything for myself, I want to see my people benefit.”

But Mr Miriori and other supporters are being paid by RTG, an arrangement the Bougainville Government has criticised.

Mr Miriori said the payments were legitimate salaries, not inducements for people’s support.

“That is always a normal part of anything, nothing is free,” he said.

“The world has changed. People are educated. So there’s no bribery there.”

RTG’s bid and Philip Miriori’s push for leadership of the landowner association has disrupted a sustained effort by the mine’s former operator, Bougainville Copper Limited, or BCL, to return to Panguna.

BCL is part-owned by the Bougainville Government and had an exploration licence and first right of refusal over the site.

But the Bougainville Government has now rejected BCL’s application to extend that licence, and put an indefinite moratorium on any mining at Panguna.

PHOTO: The Panguna mine is one of the world’s biggest copper mines. (AAP Image: Ilya Gridneff)

Bougainville’s President, John Momis, said the issue of mining had become too sensitive.

“A lot of people are against mining, any mining at all, and mostly against BCL, because of its past,” he said.

Landowners at loggerheads as referendum looms

Mr Momis said the Government does not want conflict at the mine to distract from a scheduled referendum next year on whether Bougainville should secede from Papua New Guinea.

He said the Government may have been overly keen to restart the mine, because it wanted the revenue to boost its case for independence.

“Panguna is a very, very difficult issue for all the things that happened in the past,” Mr Momis said.

“So maybe we were pushing things too hard because of our desire to meet our fiscal self-reliance target.”

Not all the landowners around the mine are happy with the stalemate, or with RTG’s push to leapfrog BCL.

Jeffrey Clason’s mother is one of the mine landowners, and he said many people want BCL to resume mining.

“I think the majority of the landowners are still with BCL and I think as the Mining Act says, they’re the last people to say yes or no, it’s their land,” he said.

“So, for the landowners, BCL is still welcome.”

PHOTO: Bougainvillean Bernadine Kama says she does not want mining to restart at Panguna at all. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Some Bougainvilleans, like Bernadine Kama — who comes from a village near the mine, don’t want mining to restart at Panguna at all.

“We’ve already seen the damage and destruction done to our land,” she said.

The Bougainville Government said it will come up with a new strategy for Panguna, and will continue consultation with landowners about whether it should be mined, and who should mine it.

But in the meantime, Bougainville Copper Limited is pursuing court action against the Government, which is not only a major shareholder, but also the mining regulator.

So the battle for Panguna is getting more complicated, right as the region prepares for a contentious referendum on its political future.

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