Tag Archives: Hela Province

Papua New Guinea government intensifies military operations at ExxonMobil plant

Armed clansmen in the town of Komo in Papua New Guinea’s Hela Province. Photo: Michael Main

John Braddock | World Socialist Website | 7 April 2017

The Papua New Guinea government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is moving to intensify its massive police and military operation against villagers in Hela province, where the $US19 billion ExxonMobil liquefied natural gas (LNG) is based.

In January, the government deployed 150 troops and police near the ExxonMobil site in response to what it claimed was a spike in tribal violence that had left dozens of people dead. Security forces were ordered to seize and destroy illegal weapons after police raised concerns about a build-up of high-powered guns.

Police Commissioner Gari Baki proposed last month that the government recruit 500 retired ex-servicemen to help enforce “law and order” in Hela. Baki said the former police, soldiers and warders would be on a six-year contract to train new police officers. Baki announced the plan while overseeing the destruction of over 500 firearms, mostly home-made, surrendered by locals during an amnesty that started in January.

Hela Governor Francis Potape admitted that the amnesty, which was extended twice into March, was largely unsuccessful. Police commander Samson Kua told the media on March 7 that hundreds of weapons still remain unaccounted for. Security forces would be ordered to take “tough measures” to recoup the guns and arrest the owners, Kua declared.

The actual purpose of the police-military buildup, which will involve 300 people, including public servants from the law and justice sector, is to protect the giant LNG project, which has been subjected to protests and blockades by traditional landowners.

Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari said securing the LNG site was a “critical” aim of the operation. “We’ve got a very important project that is located there,” he said. “It supports the economy, employs thousands of Papua New Guineans, so we’ve got to restore law and order.”

Construction of the ExxonMobil operation was originally bankrolled by the US Export-Import Bank. The project is viewed as economically vital by the major Wall Street shareholders that have backed it.

In February, the Singapore-based InterOil Corporation announced a $US2.5 billion deal approving ExxonMobil’s acquisition of the company. It includes interests in six licenses covering four million acres of the PNG highlands. One undeveloped gas field, Elk-Antelope, is among Asia’s largest and will be used to vastly expand ExxonMobil’s footprint.

Landowners in Hela are meanwhile still waiting for royalties, development levies and dividends from the project to be paid. In February, more than 1,000 protesters from four villages gathered at the ExxonMobil site to demand the payments, estimated at over 1 billion PNG kina ($A400 million). A spokesman said the government had promised to pay royalties but never kept its promises. It was the second major protest affecting the LNG project. In August 2016, landowners blockaded the entrance to the plant and disrupted gas supplies over the lack of payments.

Michael Main, a PhD student at the Australian National University, told ABC Radio on March 10 that “after four years of operation and windfall profits for the project’s joint venture partners,” the project had “delivered almost nothing of benefit to landowners.”

“In fact,” Main declared, “it has, in important ways, made life worse for the majority of people living in the project area.

Under the LNG Project Umbrella Benefits Sharing Agreement, signed in 2009, ExxonMobil agreed to pay 700 Kina (US$216) per hectare per year for land occupied by the project. The government promised specific additional development programs, such as road sealing and township development. Landowners were told they could expect, according to Main, “the project to deliver tangible improvements to their lives and to the lives of their children.”

However, during the seven months Main conducted fieldwork in the province, he witnessed “a life of immense frustration, disappointment and palpable anger at the absence of benefits.” “What I encountered was abject poverty situated alongside one of the largest natural gas extraction operations in the world,” he explained.

Rampant corruption is a major issue. Main cited the township of Komo, near the LNG plant, which contained a newly built hospital that stood empty with no beds, no staff and no fuel for its generator. This was one of several “white elephants” built at inflated prices by companies owned by PNG’s politicians.

“Promised developments, including road sealing, power supply and schools, had all failed to materialise,” Main said.

The complex clan-based society of the highlands region, with a history of disputes over land and possessions that can be traced back over many generations, has been made worse, according to Main, “by the frustrations of a population hammered by the broken promises of the nation’s largest resource development project.” He described constant outbreaks of fighting by “heavily armed clans, young men gunned down by military assault rifles, and many dozens of houses shot through with holes and razed to the ground.”

Main noted that since the beginning of the ExxonMobil project, PNG’s ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index has fallen by two places to 158, having been overtaken by Zimbabwe and Cameroon.

“Far from enhancing development indicators, the largest development project in PNG’s history, has coincided with an unprecedented downgrade in the country’s development status,” he concluded.

PNG still has one of the lowest levels of GDP per capita in the region. Real GDP growth has dropped from 11.8 percent in 2015 to a forecast 2.8 percent in 2017. Government revenue has fallen sharply due to the precipitous decline in global commodity prices. LNG prices are less than half what they were in early 2014. The price in 2016 dropped as low as $US6.45 per million British thermal units (Btu) from a peak of $19.70 in 2014. Asia’s LNG market fared worse than slumping oil markets, plummeting by 67 percent.

The O’Neill government has responded by slashing spending, targeting health and education, by up to 40 percent. Austerity is fueling explosive social antagonisms and anti-establishment sentiment. Sections of the working class are becoming more restive over the government’s vicious attacks on jobs, living standards and basic rights. Early last month, National Civil Registry office workers in Port Moresby stopped work and locked the premises, demanding overdue wages. Workers alleged that they had not been paid for over two years.

The government is increasingly mobilising the police and armed forces to suppress deepening unrest. On March 28, armed police intervened to disperse a large crowd outside the provincial assembly in the East Sepik capital Wewak as Governor Michael Somare, PNG’s first prime minister under formal independence in 1975, was preparing to retire from official politics. The crowd had gathered to demand payments for various projects, activities and past “loyalty” to Somare.

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LNG landowner frustrations rising again in PNG

Hides landowners met several times with the government to discuss outstanding LNG Project payments. Photo: Supplied

Radio New Zealand | 21 March 2017

Papua New Guinea’s major LNG Liquefied Natural Gas or LNG project could be shut down again due to simmering landowner frustrations.

Landowners in the Highlands province of Hela say the government has let them down again by not following through on promised benefits from the multi-billion dollar gas project.

The landowners mounted a protest blockade of the project’s conditioning plant in Hides last August.

In response the government signed an agreement to address landowners’ grievances over lack of benefits and equity arrangements within thirty days

Hides landowner representative Andy Hamaga said government did not honour their promise.

“Unfortunately to date they haven’t done anything. We are looking at options, whether to take them to court, or go with the national arbitration, or go go back again and shut down the whole (LNG Project) operations before the general election,” he said.

At the time of last year’s blockade of the LNG plant, in response the government said the delays in royalty payments to landowners were due to complications over identifying genuine landowners.

The Petroleum and Energy minister Nixon Duban said that it was in the best interests of Hela to ensure that the right beneficiaries would be getting the payments.

“This project is going to be here for a long time,” Mr Duban explained at the time.

“We cannot make a mess and pay the wrong people. And so the onus is on the state to ensure it’s done properly. Whether we take one year or a couple of months, we must ensure it is done properly.”

However, Mr Hamaga said this was misleading.

“The state minister is not giving us the actual information,” he said.

“They were supposed to do this clan vetting and landowner social mapping thing before we signed the big Umbrella Benefit Agreement we have signed in 2009. I think they’re using this one as an excuse.”

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ExxonMobil’s natural gas project foments unrest in Papua New Guinea

Armed clansmen in the town of Komo in Papua New Guinea’s Hela Province. Photo courtesy of Michael Main

Michael Main | UPI  |  March 9, 2017

The Papua New Guinea liquefied natural gas project is the largest resource extraction project in the Asia-Pacific region. Constructed at a stated cost of $19 billion, it’s operated by ExxonMobil in joint venture with Oil Search and four other partners.

The project extracts natural gas from the Papua New Guinea highlands where it is processed before being sent via some 435 miles of pipeline to a plant near the nation’s capital, Port Moresby. The gas is then liquefied and transferred into ships for sale offshore.

Construction for the project began in 2010, and the first gas shipment was made in May 2014.

In February 2009, the economic consulting firm Acil Tasman (now Acil Allen) produced a report for ExxonMobil about the project’s impact. The purpose of the study, which was posted on ExxonMobil’s website but has now been removed, was to provide an analysis of the likely impacts of the project on Papua New Guinea’s economy.

ExxonMobil did not respond to questions about the removal of the report or the impact of the project on local communities.

The report said the project has the potential to transform the country’s economy by boosting GDP and money from exports. These would increase government revenue and provide royalty payments to landowners. It claims the project could potentially improve the quality of life of locals by providing services and enhancing productivity. Workers and suppliers would reap rewards, as would landowners who would also benefit from social and economic infrastructure.

But six years on, none of this has come to pass.

A shaky agreement

In the years since construction began, Papua New Guinea’s ranking on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index has fallen by two places to 158, having been overtaken by Zimbabwe and Cameroon. Far from enhancing development indicators, the largest development project in PNG’s history has coincided with an unprecedented downgrade in the country’s development status.

In this period, there has been a stream of articles published that highlight the alarming state of Papua New Guinea’s economy and criticize the lack of positive economic and development impacts from the LNG project.

But very little is known about the actual impact of the project on local landowners. This is largely due to the remote location of the gas field in the mountainous Hela Province. The dire security situation in that part of Papua New Guinea also makes any investigation a highly dangerous undertaking.

I first visited Hela Province in 2009 shortly before the project was to begin construction. I encountered a population that was bristling with anticipation and enthusiasm for a development that promised to transform their lives.

In 2016, I returned and spent seven months with the landowners of the LNG project as part of my doctoral research. What I encountered was abject poverty situated alongside one of the largest natural gas extraction operations in the world. Combined with this was immense frustration, anger, corruption, mounting violence and widespread proliferation of weapons.

Like other such projects in Papua New Guinea, the LNG project was able to begin operations after agreement was reached with landowners on the benefits that were to be delivered via the extraction and sale of the resource that exists beneath their land. After much negotiation, the PNG LNG Project Umbrella Benefits Sharing Agreement was signed in May 2009.

On its website, ExxonMobil describes the agreement as ensuring a “fair distribution of the benefits,” but neither ExxonMobil, Oil Search nor any of the other joint venture partners are signatories to the UBSA. Rather, the agreement is between the Papua New Guinea state, various levels of government and the landowners themselves.

The agreement outlines a variety of income streams to be generated by the project, as well as specific development promises, such as road sealing and township development. Its upshot is that landowners can expect the LNG project to deliver tangible improvements to their lives and to the lives of their children.

But the reality – after four years of operation and windfall profits for the project’s joint venture partners – is that the project has delivered almost nothing of benefit to landowners. In fact, it has, in important ways, made life worse for the majority of people living in the project area.

Downward spiral

During my fieldwork with project area landowners, I saw a life of immense frustration, disappointment and palpable anger at the absence of benefits. The township of Komo, which is at the center of operations, contained a newly built hospital that stood empty with no beds, no staff and no fuel for its generator.

It, and its newly constructed staff houses for nonexistent staff, are just two of several white elephants built at inflated prices by companies owned by Papua New Guinea’s politicians. Promised road sealing and township development, including power supply and schools, have all failed to materialize.

The most terrifying aspect of life in Hela province has been the proliferation of weapons. The Huli-speaking population comprises a complex society of hundreds of individual clans with a history of disputes over land and possessions that can be traced back over many generations. This pre-existing context of intense inter-clan rivalry has been made worse by the frustrations of a population hammered by the broken promises of the nation’s largest resource development project.

During the project’s construction phase, Komo was a hive of activity. It was home to thousands of international workers as well as PNG nationals attracted to high-paying jobs and the promise of an LNG-driven future.

Large amounts of cash were paid to people who had no prior experience of money, and the lack of infrastructure development meant there was little to spend it on other than consumable goods and guns.

A black market arms trade has existed between the PNG highlands and the Indonesian military across the border in West Papua for many years. During the course of my fieldwork, I witnessed constant outbreaks of fighting by heavily armed clans, young men gunned down by military assault rifles, and many dozens of houses shot through with holes and razed to the ground.

Much of this fighting is a direct result of payments made to landowners displaced by the project. Compensation money paid to affected clans invariably ends up in the hands of individuals who fail to distribute the funds properly or support their own families, and the money is always paid to men.

In 2009, ExxonMobil agreed to pay 700 PNG Kina (approximately U.S. $216) per hectare per year for land occupied by the LNG project, indexed to inflation. The giant Komo airfield that was built to fly in materials for the project’s construction occupies an area of approximately 1,500 hectares. Disputes over ownership of that land have resulted in sporadic warfare over the past several years and dozens of deaths.

Military intervention

In August 2016, several leaders of landowning clans at ExxonMobil’s gas conditioning plant at the village of Hides, which is located on a ridge in a remote part of Hela Province, organized to blockade the facility and shut off the gas taps at several wells. Although security guards initially opposed the blockade, the landowners came armed. They forced their way into the plant site before locking its gates and demanding that the government meet their ultimatum to honor the UBSA agreement.

Members of Papua New Guinea’s mobile police squad told me they had no intention of acting against the local population, who vastly outnumber and outgun any police and military presence the government is capable of providing.

When I interviewed the landowner leaders during the blockade, it became clear that what they were demanding amounted to a better future for their families.

In November 2016, a convoy carrying the Hela Provincial governor, deputy governor and some local level government councilors was blocked on the road by an armed clan. Although the dispute was clan-related, I was informed that the convoy was targeted as a result of frustration over the lack of LNG project benefits and perceived corruption.

The resulting shootout left two people dead and one policeman wounded. A few weeks later, the PNG government announced that it would be sending troops with “logistical support” from ExxonMobil and Oil Search into Hela province, to flush out illegal arms and restore peace to that volatile part of the country.

The military intervention in Hela province has thus far been unsuccessful. James Komengi, a Huli who runs a peace NGO based in Hela province, told me that a gun amnesty that’s been in place for the past two months has failed to recover anything other than a few homemade shotguns and some non-serviceable factory-made rifles.

Residents of Komo village are reporting that ExxonMobil staff are being transported under heavily armed guard from their arrival at the Komo airfield to the gas conditioning facility at Hides. Recently, a man was gunned down at the Komo market in full view of the police and military contingent that is tasked with ridding the local population of its weapons.

According to the blog Papua New Guinea Mine Watch, these forces stood by and watched the killers as they calmly left the scene. They said that they were human beings who are fearful of losing their lives in the face of the enormous task ahead of them.

The governor of Hela Province has now declared the gun amnesty to be unsuccessful, with few weapons being surrendered.

The next stage is for the police and army to attempt to forcibly remove thousands of military weapons from hundreds of clans throughout the province. All this is a far cry from the excitement and optimism that characterized the mood of the landowners when the LNG project began construction in 2010.

Papua New Guinea now faces a situation where it’s compelled to send its army to an area where a major resource extraction project has failed to deliver on its promises to landowners. It may be time for all parties involved – both state and corporate – to consider development as a more effective path to peace.

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Plea for assistance with pollution from Porgera mine

Tailings waste from the mine flows through the Porgera Valley. Photo: Emily Allen

Loss of Customary Water Rights

Howard Peter | Secretary, Kulinist Strickland Resource Holders Association 

The Strickland & Dumbudu river pollution and the environmental damages by the illegal use of our rightfully owned river system has the denied the rights of the river landowners of their Customary Water use rights since 1989 till now.

Our rights were denied because of the National Government’s failure to carry out its duty to inform the poor landowners before the approval of various water use permits for Porgera Joint Venture on the effects of mine tailings, sediments and mine derived wastes on the environment, river system and the landowners living along the river system.

The denial has led to many sufferings and frustrations by the innocent river landowners who relied on the river for their daily activities. Due to the pollution and environmental damages, the landowners could no longer enjoy these rights and as a result have suffered loss and frustrations and some of their customary water rights are lost forever.

Health Related Problems

The river landowners along each section of the river have experienced a lot of health problems that they have never experienced in their life time. Some form of skin irritation diseases were faced by the landowners who used the polluted river for transport, swimming and even eating fish caught in the polluted river.

Many landowners have died due to these problems since 1990 and till now and they continue to suffer and die in their remote villages that have no access to health services.

Noting these facts , people have suffered greatly due to Department of Environment and Conservation and other responsible state agencies negligence.

Affected communities living along Strickland and Dumbudu river areas now waiting for Hela Provincial Government to look in to these allegations immediately before Barrick PJV exit by selling its 95% shares. Department has continuously ignored our plea to date , HPG to step in and do something to help ol taragu lo ples.

This issue is prolong issue so its time for Hela Provincial government to step in and do something inorder to avoid company sell its stakes of 95% to interested company. I have verbally approached with Hela Provincial government and I also wrote to them but they continuously fail to address my environmental damages and River pollution issues.

TALK ACT ENVIRONMENT WAY!

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Hela of a gun haul

hela-gun-haul

Gynnie Kero | The National aka The Loggers Times | February 27 2017
PEOPLE from Tari Pori in Hela gave up  150 guns and ammunition to security forces in Tari last Friday, making it the biggest gun surrender in Hela to date.
Out of the 150 firearms, 130 were homemade ones and 20 factory made. In all, at least 600 guns were surrendered in the province.  The factory-made guns included M16s, SLR (Self-Loading Rifle), pump actions and guns of all makes.
Finance Minister and Tari Pori MP James Marape praised those who surrendered their weapons in Hela.
He said that those who still hid their firearms after the amnesty would be dealt with by the law.
Operation contingent leaders Superintendent Samson Kua and Lt Col John Manuai thanked Marape for leading his Tari Pori people in hosting the biggest surrender in the province.
“On record, I can say that Tari Pori has come in a big way to surrender firearms,” Kua said.
The Tari Pori district will soon launch its community educational facility at Pai and  begin enrollment for youths who returned weapons.
Marape pointed youths towards education and not guns.
“Our Tari Pori district has the 800-student Pai College ready,” he said.
“I will take all youths into this facility to ensure you are educated to your capacity and become useful members of our society instead of living under the influence of gun and tribalism.”
More than 3000 members of Marape’s Piribu,  Paibali , Tipa, Waralo, Linabini , Hambuali and Pai clansmen, women and church members were part of the surrender programme.
Local leader and former mayor of Tari town Kopi Yabe appealed to leaders, businessmen and women and public servants of Hela to follow Marape and his tribes.
During the occasion also saw Hela provincial treasurer Marago Dagoba and Hela election manager John Tipa surrendering their tribe’s guns.
Local businessman Andaija Jeli also surrendered his.
Manuai said destruction of the firearms was delayed by a few days until Friday as all Hela MPs would be attending to Government business in Port Moresby.
Initially, the date set for destruction of firearms was tomorrow, coinciding with the second phase of the operation.

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LNG army call-out unsuccessful

Photo: AFP

Post Courier | February 16,2017

THE CALL-OUT operation in Hela Province has not been successful because high powered firearms have not yet been surrendered since the operation started two months ago.

This has forced the Hela provincial government to look at ways to introduce a provincial executive council decision to have a buy-back gun program.

Hela Governor Francis Potape said that more than a month has passed but the gun surrender was not happening in Hela, adding that only homemade guns had been surrendered.

Commenting on the issue, Police Commissioner Gari Baki said while he is unable to give the number of weapons returned, police would be moving in to confiscate weapons from known owners, when the moratorium expired.

“We have intelligence reports on all people in possession of firearms that have not surrendered.”

“We will go directly to them, if they still have weapons within the vicinity of their areas, we will arrest them, whether they are leaders or ordinary people, that’s the arrangement we are taking now.”

Commissioner Baki added that he did not think that the rate of factory made weapons returned was a success and that was why the police needed to take a different approach.

The moratorium should be an ideal environment to have all factory made weapons returned”, he said.

Meanwhile, PNG Defence Force Lieutenant-Colonel John Manuai confirmed that they were not able to do their work effectively when funding was not coming on time to assist them with logistics as required by soldiers and police in such operations, besides allowances.

“Allowance is just one aspect but the operational requirement is another thing that will make our work effective to achieve results,” he said.

Lt-Col Manuai who flew to Port Moresby yesterday said that he would follow up on the issues including timely release of funds and the requirements for the operations when he meets with the Chief Secretary.

He said it would be better if the funds are released for the police or the defence force to control.

Meanwhile attempts to contact the Prime Minister’s department, Mr Lupari and Director National Security Advisory Council coordinator Tony Kaip have been unsuccessful.

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Tribal fighting is the biggest threat to the LNG project: Potape

Photo: AFP

Post Courier | February 14, 2017

TWO separate killings have been reported in Komo station in front of security force personnel on call-out operations in Hela Province.

Deputy Governor Thomas Potape when confirming the latest killing said tribal fighting is the biggest threat to the LNG Project.

Mr Potape who is also the president of the Komo local level government said despite more than seven security force vehicle presence, a community leader was killed right at the Komo Government Station on Sunday.

He said another community leader was killed at the same station last week.

“I have all the names of all suspects in Komo LLG, the biggest threat to LNG is the tribal fighting in Komo. I am prepared to assist security forces to move into Komo.”

Mr Potape said he was in Komo for the last two weeks and the killing occurred during the call-out even when seven to nine security force vehicles were there, it did not stop the killing.

“Komo has a record in killing police, army and councilors. I have 24 councils, one was killed, they held up myself, Governor, Minister for Higher Education, police vehicles. They do not have respect for Government and the rule of law.

He said four main areas have been identified and security personnel should move in numbers to protect assets like the Komo International airport and Condensation Plant for PDL1 and 7.

He said the other three identified hot-spots are Pai Kelia, Tari town and Tagali.

“Security forces should target these four trouble hot-spots. All records are with police.

Get all these information and announce the suspect’s name in public, which village, districts and council Ward he is from. Who is his Council President? Name them and move in and the community will assist hand them in.”

“I don’t want government to spend more money without any result. I will support moves to arrest all those suspects and tribal warlords in Komo. There is so much killing. I am ashamed.”

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