Tag Archives: John Momis

Bougainville voted yes to becoming the world’s newest nation. Now begins the gold rush

PHOTO: The people of Bougainville voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence. (ABC)

Natalie Whiting | ABC News | December 14 2019

A ceremony to announce the results of Bougainville’s historic referendum opened with a chorus of the Bougainville anthem. When the overwhelming result for independence was handed down, people spontaneously started singing it again.

It was a clear sign of the separate identity that Bougainvilleans have long maintained. The thumping result for splitting from PNG was an even clearer sign.

But the path to potential nationhood remains complex and far from guaranteed, despite the mandate from an almost 98 per cent vote of support offers.

The end of the referendum not only starts another political process, but it will also turn eyes back to a massive open-cut mine that has been sitting, waiting in the mountains since the 1980s.

PHOTO: The Panguna mine hasn’t produced a pound of metal in 30 years.

As Bougainville looks for a way forward politically, it also needs to look at economic options.

That’s something Papua New Guinea is keen for it to focus on as it grapples with how to respond to the vote.

PNG is known as the land of a thousand tribes and many in the Government are worried about keeping the rest of the country united if Bougainville leaves.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape has offered economic control but stopped well short of committing to independence for Bougainville.

Economically, the most obvious income stream for the resource-rich area is mining, but that would involve revisiting the issues that started the bloody conflict in the region.

Landowners at the site of the Panguna gold and copper mine, where the violence first broke out, say they are ready to see it reopen in the wake of the referendum.

Up to 20,000 people died in the secessionist conflict that followed, before the peace agreement which guaranteed the vote brought it to an end.

PHOTO: A small settlement has been built at the bottom of the Panguna mine. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

Several companies are already circling, keen to make a move now that the vote is over.

Whether they have the capital and the ability to reopen it peacefully remains to be seen.

PNG Prime Minister offers Bougainville economic control

PHOTO: PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape was welcomed at the airport with a guard of honour from police and a traditional sing sing group. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

As the referendum ballots were being counted in Bougainville’s capital Buka, speculation about the movements of Mr Marape were swirling.

Initial indications that Mr Marape would be coming to Buka for the announcement were replaced by rumours of him instead going to Panguna in the days after the result.

In the end his visit was moved to the town of Arawa, near the mine. But Panguna and building Bougainville’s economy featured throughout his speech.

Thousands of people gathered in the middle of town to hear him speak. The people even wanted to carry him to the stage on a specially built chair, an offer he graciously refused.

PHOTO: Thousands turned out to hear Mr Marape speak in Arawa during his first visit after the referendum. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

Mr Marape has been seen as being more supportive of the referendum than previous leaders, but PNG has nevertheless made no secret of the fact it wants Bougainville to remain a part of the country.

The independence vote is non-binding, and amid the celebrations of the result, PNG has been quick to remind people that years of discussions between the two parties will follow and a negotiated outcome will then be presented to PNG’s parliament.

In the lead-up to the referendum, Mr Marape had been discussing a “third option” beyond independence and greater autonomy which the people were asked to choose between — what he called “economic independence”.

His speech was in a similar vein, focussing on economic development and self-determination, but avoiding mention of independence.

He presented a cheque worth 50 million kina ($21 million), promised another 100 million kina ($42 million) next year and control over income generated in Bougainville, including tax powers.

“The only thing I will ask you, is that I will look after the border and both of our flags must fly until we reach the conclusion of this process,” he told the crowd.

Certainly, Bougainville is currently in no position to support itself and the call to focus on building the economy is warranted. But Mr Marape wouldn’t be drawn on whether he could envisage independence for Bougainville.

“That’s something for the future. I can’t pre-empt the outcome of the consultations that will take place,” he told the ABC.

PHOTO: Bougainville President John Momis heads to the polls on referendum day. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

After such a comprehensive vote, there may be little appetite in Bougainville to accept something less than full independence.

But for the moment his speech was well received by the crowd, and Bougainville’s President is confident of productive discussions going forward.

The greatest expectation from Bougainvilleans after the referendum is for change — people want improved services and infrastructure. Both governments will need to make that a priority and it will require funding.

Landowners split over who should reopen mine

PHOTO: The disused mine has divided locals, some of whom have blocked access to the site over the years. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

In the base of the massive open pit of the Panguna gold and copper mine, a small settlement has been built and people work digging up gold that remains buried there.

It’s thought there is still $84 billion worth of copper and gold in the site, but re-establishing operations would likely take a decade and billions of dollars.

Keeping the mine closed has been seen as part of maintaining peace ahead of the referendum.

PHOTO: People dig for gold at the base of the Panguna gold and copper mine. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

The local landowners now largely want to see it open, however, a split is already forming over which company should be brought in.

The most prominent landowner group is backing Australian company RTG, but there is another group of landowners who want to see the original company, Bougainville Copper Limited, brought back. The Bougainville Government has supported a third company, Caballus, which is also Australian.

That, combined with the ongoing political discussions, could create an uncertain investment landscape.

Mr Marape has said the PNG Government’s 39 per cent stake in Bougainville Copper Limited will be given to Bougainville, but he urged people to look at other industries as well, like agriculture.

It’s not just Panguna that has been attracting attention — landowners say they’ve received visits from other companies, some from Australia and some from China, interested in looking at other greenfield sites in the region.

Australia could face difficult diplomatic waters

The current geopolitical climate in the pacific — where China and the west are seen to be in a battle for influence — has thrown another filter on the vote.

Much has been made of possible offers from China to help Bougainville develop if it is a fledgling country.

However, Bougainville President John Momis has said there have been no offers from the Chinese Government and it was unclear if money being offered by companies, including some said to be interested in Panguna, would actually materialise.

PHOTO: The Panguna gold and copper mine sparked a war that killed 20,000 people. (Reuters: Trevor Hammond)

He said: “These are complex issues, which we’re not going to deal with right away.”

The geopolitical and diplomatic complexities of either a new nation in the region, or of a disagreement between PNG and Bougainville during the upcoming negotiations, is undeniable.

Nowhere will that be felt more keenly than in Australia, which is a key financial and development supporter of both.

Already a key former combatant from the crisis is calling for the international community to “ask PNG to accept the reality and let Bougainville go”.

PNG’s Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Puka Temu has urged the international community “not to interfere in the consultation phase”.

“What we want is to achieve an outcome like what we did 18 years ago, that is a joint creation — the Bougainville Peace Agreement was a joint creation,” he said.

In a statement, Australia’s Foreign Minister has passed on congratulations for the vote and says Australia “looks forward to continued productive engagement” between the two governments.

PHOTO: Flags were proudly flown around the region when the people of Bougainville overwhelmingly voted yes to independence. (Reuters: Melvin Levongo)

But as the cobalt blue of Bougainville’s flags flickers from buildings and cars across the region in the wake of the vote, credit must be given to both it and PNG for almost 20 years of peace and an incredibly well-run referendum.

Hopefully, the next phase will be as successful.

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‘The revolution is ongoing’: Bougainville to revive radical mining proposal

Heavy trucks sit rusting on the edges of Panguna copper mine, closed in 1989 as a result of sabotage. CREDIT: FRIEDRICH STARK / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

* Bougainville mining proposal to go before parliament in December

* Plan gives a 60% share of mines to Bougainville

* Bougainville is currently voting on independence from PNG

* Proposal was shelved ahead of independence referendum (Adds BCL share price, quotes, context)

Jonathan Barrett | Reuters | 28 November 2019

Bougainville Vice President Raymond Masono said he will revive a plan to overhaul the region’s mining laws after its ongoing independence referendum, which could strip the former operator of the Panguna gold and copper project of its interests.

The proposed changes, which have been criticised by Panguna landowners, would also erase an interest in the project held by the Papua New Guinea government, potentially complicating negotiations between the two governments after the referendum.

Under the proposed mining law amendments, Bougainville would take a 60% share in all projects and retain all mining licences, leaving a 40% share that investors can bid for.

“Panguna is the most likely project that can bankroll Bougainville’s independence from Papua New Guinea,” Masono, who is also Bougainville’s mining minister, told Reuters by telephone from the town of Buka.

“They don’t own the licence and the mine, we own it – they come on our terms. The revolution is ongoing.”

He said companies like former Panguna operator Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which counts the PNG government as a major shareholder and claims exploration rights at Panguna, would not get “special treatment”.

“They can only come in through the new framework. If they have money they can invest as will other investors.”

BCL declined to comment. The PNG government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Masono said he would push for the plan to go through Bougainville’s parliament in December, after it was shelved in the lead-up to the referendum amid a backlash from some landowners and government members.

Once the economic engine room of PNG, Bougainville has fallen to the bottom of almost every financial indicator, despite boasting mineral riches, fertile volcanic soil and stunning geography.

The autonomous region is now grappling over how best to re-establish a mining industry while maintaining peace, 20 years after the last shots were fired in a bloody conflict between Bougainville rebel fighters and PNG forces, killing 20,000 people.

As part of the peace agreement, Bougainville is holding a non-binding vote on independence that ends on Dec. 7, with the results to go before the PNG parliament and be subject to negotiation.

BCL is one of at least two companies, alongside a group including explorer RTG Mining Inc , that claims the rights to develop Panguna, with the dispute currently being tested in the PNG courts.

BCL shares had been on a bull run since the start of last week, rising almost five-fold to hit A$0.49 on Nov. 26, underpinned by positive sentiment flowing out of the independence vote.

BCL shares have since retreated to trade just under A$0.30 on Thursday.

Another Australian company, Kalia Ltd, is exploring for gold and copper on land located northwest of Panguna.

The mining law amendments, which have previously been backed by Bougainville President John Momis, were put on hold before the referendum amid concerns that landowner rights would be eroded, with control over assets being handed to the Bougainville government.

“It is totally unacceptable to be trying to steal Panguna from the customary owners,” Panguna landowner, Lawrence Daveona, said in a statement in June.

A Bougainville parliamentary committee was also heavily critical of the proposed changes, and noted that there had been a lack of consultation.

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MPs call for delay on Bougainville mining amendment

Radio New Zealand | 12 June 2019

A Bougainville parliamentary committee wants controversial legislation on mining to be delayed until after the autonomous Papua New Guinea region’s independence referendum.

The Bougainville government wants to amend the Mining Act, and two other bills, to give it greater control over mining activity.

The autonomous government said these changes would give landowners more control over their resources but there has been widespread opposition across Bougainville.

The plan to set up a company called Bougainville Advance Mining in association with newly set up Australian business, Caballus, sparked an outcry.

The Speaker of the ABG Parliament referred the matter to a Committee on Legislation, which undertook public consultations, before reporting back this week.

The committee says the Mining bill raised a lot of issues around landowners’ rights.

It worried about the creation of monopolies and the impact of the bills on the Constitution and the Peace Agreement.

It said all three measures needed further consultation before being re-drafted and submitted after October’s referendum.

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Caballus Deal Is ‘Smoke And Mirrors’

Jeff McGlinn of Caballus Mining giving a presentation in Bougainville

Post Courier | June 11, 2019

The McGlinn Caballus presentation to the Autonomous Bougainville Government totally contradicts the Bougainville Mining Minister’s recent statement that appeared in the Post-Courier (May 7, 2019) that Bougainville Advance Mining Limited, is not McGlinn’s Caballus.

The original draft bills introduced to the House of Representatives and sponsored by the Bougainville Mining Minister Raymond Masono, specifically referred to Bougainville Advance Mining Limited.

Searches of the Registry of Corporate Affairs in the British Virgin Islands confirms that the Bougainville Advance Mining Limited was approved for incorporation on August 8, 2018, and the Certificate of Incorporation was issued and dated August 9, 2018.

The incorporation certificate confirms the BVI Company Number for Bougainville Advance Mining is 1988673.  The directors and shareholders were not disclosed.

The off shore company is incorporated by Intershore Consult (BVI) Ltd.

Their web site interestingly states that Intershore is a wealth management firm specialising in tax planning, virtual offices and nominee services, among other things.

Philip Miriori, the chairman of the Panguna Landowners Association – the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA) asked the question, as to why is the Mining Minister Masono now trying to hide the fact that Caballus is behind Bougainville Advance Mining Limited?

“Everyone knows this is a McGlinn incorporated shelf company and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) has undertaken to give McGlinn 40 per cent in this entity and Panguna for free.

“The ABG has told everyone including our ABG MPs for months this.

“While the BEC – Special Meeting No.2 of 2019, Decision No.3 of 2019, dated January 28, 2019, confirms the BEC formally endorsed the assent of the bills and the issuance of a Special Bougainville Mining License to Bougainville Advance Mining Limited in respect of the whole of Bougainville.

“Similarly, the Bougainville Executive Council special meeting No. 1 of 2019 dated January 24, 2019, recorded the formal approval of Bougainville Advance Mining Ltd (BAM) for the purpose of carrying out all mining activities in Bougainville, approved the establishment of BAM.”

SMLOLA advisor Lawrence Daveona also chimed in to say that it is totally unacceptable to be trying to steal Panguna from the customary owners.

And further transfer Panguna to this highly secretive off shore BVI entity. “This Caballus deal is smoke and mirrors.” he added

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Proposed Bougainville mining law change referred to Ombudsman

Radio New Zealand | 11 June 2019

A landowning group at the site of Bougainville’s Panguna Mine says it has referred the government’s controversial mining plans to the Papua New Guinea Ombudsman.

The Osikaiyang Landowners group said amendments to the Mining Act, due for consideration in parliament this week, would effectively reverse customary law on the ownership of minerals.

Bougainville’s government has argued that what it is planning, in conjunction with Australian businessman Jeff McGlinn, will ensure landowners are better off.

But the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association said this amounted to an abuse of executive power, the Bougainville Constitution and the PNG Constitution.

Osikaiyang chair Philip Miriori said the group would never allow others to “steal our land, our minerals and both our future and our heritage”.

The amendments are defective and the people pushing them, such as Mining Minister Raymond Masono, are breaching the Leadership Code, which is the basis for the appeal to the Ombudsman, Mr Miriori said.

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Bougainville Mining Act Changes Strongly Opposed By LOs

Post Courier | June 7, 2019

The chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA) has refuted claims by ABG vice-president Raymond Masono that he made on Radio NZ yesterday.

SMLOLA chairman Philip Miriori in a statement said: “The truth is… there is overwhelming opposition throughout Bougainville to the purported demanded changes to the Bougainville Mining Act.

“We have all signed a resolution confirming our strong opposition to these offensive changes to the law that seeks to strip us o our rights, without any fair real compensation whatsoever.

“Everyone understands the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) cannot afford to pay us a fair or a just compensation.”

SMLOLA special adviser Lawrence Daveona said this is an attack on all landowners in Bougainville.

“Why do they want to disrespect us and treat us so badly once again.

“It will be torn down by the Courts if rammed through the House of Representatives,” Mr Daveona said.

He said independent legal advice to the SMLOLA also confirms the Mining Act changes breaches no fewer than 10 separate sections of the Bougainville and PNG constitutions including:

  • S53 and s293 of the National Constitution; and
  • S23 (1), s44 (1) (b), s66(4), s178, s181, s180 (2) and s180 (3) of the Bougainville Constitution.

And based on legal advice, Mr Miriori said they believe the people are being misled when they (Mr Masono) say that the Mining Act changes will ensure landowners retain control of the minerals once they are extracted and give landowners greater control.

He challenged Mr Masono to provide the ABG’s independent legal advice. “Our advice tells us that the effect of the changes is to remove customary ownership of minerals and remove landowners veto rights.”

He said landowners do not even get one share, as all shares are held in a Trust and controlled and owned by the ABG. “Even the Pope has said that indigenous people must have the final say about their land.”

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Akoitai Is Firmly Against Amending Of B’ville Mining Act

Patrick Makis | Post Courier | May 2, 2019

Central Bougainville MP Sam Akoitai is opposed to the amendments to the Bougainville Mining Act being proposed by the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

Mr Akoitai said this when addressing representatives from the nine landowner associations of the Panguna mine-affected communities last week in Arawa.

He said the ABG is trying to amend the Act when the current legislation had not been tried and tested since its enactment in 2015.

“What is wrong with the current act? Many commentators, including Bougainvillean leaders, said the Mining Act was unique after it was enacted,” Mr Akoitai said.

“What happened to this uniqueness that requires the amendments?”

Mr Akoitai said the proposed amendments would create an “uneven playing field” in the mining industry in Bougainville.

“As a former mining minister in the national government, I have never come across an Act tailored specifically to suit one particular developer,” he said.

“You must tell your constituency members not to support these changes on the floor of parliament.”

Mr Akoitai said the 60/40 per cent equity arrangements being proposed under the amendments was impractical.

“People supporting this 60/40 arrangement are fooling themselves,” he said.

“How will Bougainville come up with money to fund its equity when currently it can’t even deliver services due to shortage of funds?

“Let’s be practicable and test out the Bougainville Mining Act in its current form first before we start making amendments.”

Mr Akoitai told the affected communities that he wanted to see unity among the landowners.

This is especially for the special mining lease group, before he would be ready to talk with potential investors over the re-opening of the mine.

“I am calling on the landowner associations to remain intact and the unification of the SML factions. We have to be united so we can secure a better deal when dealing with investors,” he said.

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