An abandoned building at Panguna mine site in Bougainville Photo: supplied
Radio New Zealand | 24 August 2017
A group calling itself ‘Bougainvilleans United Against Mining’ has re-stated its opposition to a resumption of mining at Panguna.
The government in the autonomous Papua New Guinea province wants the huge copper and gold mine re-opened to give the economy a lift ahead of the independence referendum in 2019.
Bougainville’s mining minister Raymond Masono this week applauded a joint resolution by ex-combatants to back the re-opening, but one of those praised by the minister, a former Bougainville Revolutionary Army commander, James Onartoo, says he and his group do not support it.
The minister’s comments came after weeks of mediation, but a spokesman for Mr Onartoo, Lawrence Mattau, told Don Wiseman of the barriers they faced at the talks before pulling out.
LAWRENCE MATTAU: The way things are going, things seemed to be bulldozed from one end only, the for mining faction only. They don’t seem to be respecting our stand, our view, our explanations on why we don’t want to talk about mining. The other side don’t seem to receive us and respect us and they think we are a small minority group and they are calling us ‘impediments’. They are calling us all sorts of names and there is a serious situation going on in Panguna concerning the Special Mining Lease Area titleholders. This issue too is not resolved and Philip Miriori [of SML Osikiang] has taken his own people to court. We don’t want to be involved in any mediation that has been orchestrated by the autonomous government.
DON WISEMAN: They don’t respect you. Do they presume that you haven’t got the numbers, that you are an inconsequential group?
LM: They think we don’t have the numbers and it is the same rhetoric as before, in 1988 and 1989, before the conflict blew up. This is the same comment by the government of that time, it is still being repeated today by our own leaders and it seems that they have not learned any lessons.
DW: How many people support your “Bougainville People Against Mining” group?
LM: If you do a fact finding mission, doing polling or something, asking that question back in the village, every village will tell they don’t want to hear anything about mining in Bougainville. From the 350,000 people in Bougainville, maybe only about 20,000 people are talking about re-opening the mine.
DW: And for you guys, you are adamantly opposed to re-opening of any mine anywhere on Bougainville ever?
LM: My stand has always been we must run educational awareness right throughout Bougainville, concerning mining. If you support mining, or the re-opening of Panguna, you must give educational awareness to the people. What good is there if we have mining in operation. And those of us opposed to it must also give our view, facts and figures, supported by well document information, from experiences, from other mining companies’ history and those who are for mining must also support their stand with proper documentation; how can they clean up the tailings; how are they going to address the relocation of people. I am an ex-employee of BCL [Bougainville Copper Ltd] myself, so are all of us who are in the no-mining faction. We are all former employees of BCL and we have been involved and we know what we are talking about. What we are saying is don’t just assume that the majority are supporting re-opening. There is nil awareness, nil consultation. They think they have done consultation but we are locals, we know. ABG has never run any proper consultations with the people here.
DW: Of course they say they have consulted until the cows come home. They have said they have been doing a lot of consultation but my question was would you ever, under any circumstances support a return to mining?
LM: Then it must be acceptable in the sense of, how do they protect our environment, where is the law. Environmental protection law, river law, relocation law, the profit sharing law – there is nothing. And our government has created itself a monster that it cannot cut the hairs. Cuttting the hair means shearing of sheep. They have created themselves a monster and they are looking for money to fund this monster. This is not a fully fledged government. This is still government that is going through motions of our political future and they should only create basic service providing departments, and find the money to fund only those. They have created unnecessarily a big public service and they cannot fund this delivery of services – that’s why they are running around looking for money. It’s a big problem.
DW: They have to develop an economy, don’t they, have a viable economy in place in time for the referendum. How will they do that, because the ABG has been relying on a resuumption of mining, and this has been the road they have been going down for years now. So what should they do instead?
LM: The problem is that the last 12 years has been wasted because people have been dreaming about re-opening the mine without first of all addressing the issues involved with the mine. We know what was wrong. We know why it was shut down. No one has ever addressed these issues – that is the problem. Even the SML, the Special Mining Lease area titleholders who are taking themselves to court. Now when they sort out their issues – and their title was given or issued by the colonial government in the late 1960s, once they set that issue there is going to be another issue that pops up, concerning that very area of land where the SML is. So, as locals I personally know what is involved, the seriousness of reactivating that SML and opening Panguna again. It’s a big issue.