Tag Archives: Panguna

Australian miner expecting ABG support after Panguna mediation win

Local residents hold banners and placards during a protest at the former Bougainville Copper Limited’s Panguna mine. | Photo: Reuters

Radio New Zealand | 13 December 2017

Australian mining company RTG says Philip Miriori has been confirmed as the chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikiang Landowners Association.

The association owns the land around the Panguna mine in Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville.

Bougainville’s Panguna Copper mine Photo: Supplied

RTG is one of two companies looking to re-open the copper mine and it has close links with Mr Miriori.

There’s been a dispute over who should lead the Osikiang group, with Mr Mirori facing a challenge from former chair, Lawrence Daveona.

RTG chairman Michael Carrick said mediation has resolved the dispute in Mr Miriori’s favour.

Mr Carrick said this should lead to the Autonomous Bougainville Government, or ABG, backing RTG’s Panguna development plan.

“We look forward now to moving forward in discussions with the ABG given that they gave repeated undertakings at the mediation that the ABG would work with whomever the mediation and the court process proved up as the chairman of the SMLOLA [Special Mining Lease Osikiang Landowners Association] which is Philip Miriori,” said Michael Carrick.

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Independence ‘challenges’ could derail any return to mining on Bougainville

Image: Department of Defence.

While RTG Mining and BCL squabble over exploration rights, far more serious problems are brewing on Bougainville…

Back to Bougainville

Declan Sullivan* | ASPI | 11 Dec 2017

Trouble is returning to the island of Bougainville and Australia must be prepared. With the 2019 independence referendum looming, Australia will be called on to help support the peace process, whatever the referendum’s outcome. Australia was a major participant in two past interventions on the island, and its strategic connections run deep. Australia must ensure that it is adequately prepared for the coming challenges in Bougainville.

The 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement stipulated that a referendum on independence would be held between 15 June 2015 and 15 June 2020. Last year, John Momis, president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, and Peter O’Neill, prime minister of PNG, agreed on a target date of 15 June 2019. Two months ago, however, O’Neill backtracked on that commitment. He cited the ‘proper establishment of rule of law, proper establishment of a government structure on Bougainville, [and] proper disposal of weapons’ as conditions for the referendum to go ahead, and said that if those criteria weren’t met, the referendum ‘may not be possible’.

In response, Momis denied that good governance or complete weapons disposal were prerequisites for the referendum. Furthermore, he claimed that PNG was ‘hampering’ Bougainville’s disarmament and good governance efforts by failing to give Bougainville the grant money it was owed. PNG faces severe financial difficulties stemming from government overspending and overreliance on the commodities sector, which declined sharply in 2015. Revenue projections took a 20% hit, but government spending remained the same.

PNG has since defaulted on its electricity bills for government buildings and been suspended from voting in the UN for failure to pay its membership dues. The cost of supporting the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the peace process may be behind O’Neill’s recent backflip on the referendum. Depriving the Bougainville government of funds may save PNG money while also impeding efforts to organise an effective independence campaign.

This disagreement could derail the peace process just as it’s approaching its conclusion, and it’s possible that Bougainville may choose to fight to hold the referendum, rather than accept delays and weak promises from PNG.

The conflict on the island stems from the establishment of the Panguna mine in 1972 by Conzinc Riotinto of Australia. The mine displaced local landowners and caused environmental issues. The people of Bougainville were angry about a lack of compensation from one of the world’s richest copper mines. And the mine and its construction brought mainland Papuans to Bougainville, creating ethnic tensions.

Those factors led to an outbreak of violence and then armed conflict in 1988. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army fought against increasingly brutal PNG defence forces, which used Australian-supplied helicopters to attack villages and allegedly drop executed detainees’ bodies into the ocean.

A fragile peace process began in the early 1990s, encouraged by Australia and the wider Pacific community. The process led to a peace conference in 1994 between the PNG government and Bougainville leaders. An Australian-led multinational peacekeeping force was deployed to protect the conference and its attendees. The conference, however, collapsed when a few key Bougainvillean leaders refused to attend and PNG soldiers attacked other leaders who did.

Violence resumed following the collapse of the conference, reaching its peak in late 1996 and early 1997. A major scandal—the hiring of Sandline mercenaries to fight in Bougainville in 1997—forced the PNG prime minister, Julius Chan, to resign, effectively ending PNG’s military attempts to pacify Bougainville.

New Zealand–sponsored talks in 1997 led to the deployment of a new peacekeeping mission to the island. The Truce Monitoring Group was a mix of military, police and government agency personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu. PNG and Bougainville concluded a peace agreement in 2001, and the mission withdrew in July 2003. Throughout the period, Australia played a key role.

It may well again. Given the potential for violence during the referendum, it was always likely that Australia and New Zealand would be asked to support the effort in some capacity, potentially with observers on the ground. A return to violence could require an even more substantial peacekeeping mission. Given that weapons are still present in Bougainville, it behoves Australia and New Zealand to support the disarmament process, even with their own financial resources if PNG proves unable. Pressure also should be placed on O’Neill to abide by the timetable agreed with Momis. PNG recalcitrance will likely slow the rate that weapons are handed in if former fighters believe there could be a return to conflict.

Bougainville is an issue that Australia will have to deal with, one way or another. Right now there’s a chance to smooth the way towards the referendum and potential independence. If negotiations break down and violence returns, however, Australia’s involvement will be much more difficult.

* Declan Sullivan is a master’s candidate at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.

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Bougainville Copper Limited Opposed Strongly by Landowners at Warden’s Hearing

Bougainville Revolutionary Army fighters look down on the Panguna mine in 1996

RTG Mining | Stockhouse | 12 December 2017

The Board of RTG Mining Inc. is pleased to provide an update on the Warden’s Hearing for Bougainville Copper Limited (“BCL”) held in Panguna yesterday.  Despite BCL not having been to Panguna in over 28 years (given landowners had refused to even allow them access), to ensure a full and fair hearing amongst the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association members, Autonomous Bougainville Government representatives, including the Warden and BCL, the landowners in a show of good faith allowed BCL access on this special occasion (despite BCL not having followed custom).

At the outset, it is important to acknowledge the Autonomous Bougainville Government representatives on the day being the Warden and Mining Registrar conducted an orderly forum, ensuring both the opposition to BCL and its supporters were given an opportunity to express their views.

BCL has stated it lodged a compliant extension application for Exploration Licence (“EL”) 1 in July 2016, which legal advice to the SMLOLA states was not validly lodged.  Based on this legal advice, the SMLOLA filed an objection to the extension application with the Warden stating it is invalid because it was submitted out of time and was incomplete which means that the EL expired 15 months ago. This was also consistent with statements to the SMLOLA members on several occasions by the ABG confirming they had not received an extension application from BCL, as early as 8 September 2016. Interestingly BCL’s position only yesterday changed, within just four days, suggesting now that it was not processed on time, blaming the ABG. 

Despite the right to do so, the SMLOLA chose not to stop the Warden’s Hearing yesterday as it was keen to give its members the opportunity to speak their mind, given the depth of emotion behind their views.  The purpose of the Warden’s Hearing was to determine whether the purported extension application by BCL has the necessary support of the SMLOLA members, being the owners of the minerals and customary land within the EL boundary.

SMLOLA’s objection is only one of in excess of 100 formal written substantive objections lodged in respect of the Extension Application. Other objections call on the ABG to cancel BCL’s EL pursuant to the ABG’s own Notice to Show Cause dated 21 July 2016, based on a blatant breach (admitted by BCL) of section 112(1) of the Mining Act because RioTinto transferred more than the statutory maximum 25% shareholding without seeking the ABG’s approval. Another objector lodged a Petition with 2,000 supporters expressing opposition to BCL. Another objector points out that BCL’s EL was granted without consent or compensation to the customary landowners and therefore constitutes the unfair (and unconstitutional) deprivation of their lawful property. Other objections make the point that BCL was granted a 2 year EL, but was unable to gain landowner consent and access before its expiry on 7 September 2016, having made no progress on the redevelopment during the full 2 year term.

The Warden’s Hearing was held yesterday, with a strong majority held message from the SMLOLA members, they will never grant BCL access to their lands and do not support an extension of BCL’s previous EL1 or the grant of a new EL to them. 

This position was also supported by a Petition, signed and supported by around 2,000 members of the SMLOLA stating “No to BCL Forever” which demonstrates the position of many of the landowners.

All those who supported BCL, for the most part, were calling on BCL to compensate them for the past atrocities which they hold BCL accountable for, which to date BCL have neither accepted nor compensated them. 

Update on Recent Media Comments

Following on from the announcement on 5 December 2017 confirming the resolution of the Leadership dispute over the SMLOLA in favour of Mr Philip Miriori, we can now advise that the discontinuance papers have also been lodged with the Court, bringing the dispute to a formal end.

Since that announcement, media publicity has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the new Bougainville Mining Act (“Mining Act”) introduced in 2015, which is understandable given this is the first time many of the provisions are being applied and considered. 

RTG has taken extensive legal advice and wishes to provide its understanding of how the Mining Act applies to the Panguna Mine area and to provide an update on matters related to the previous BCL exploration licence (BCL’s EL) over that area and the application for an exploration licence by the joint venture company with the SMLOLA (“SMLOLA’s ELA”) over the same area. 

The Mining Act is both new and unique, with significant changes from the PNG Mining Act (which formerly applied to mining on Bougainville). Understandably, all stakeholders, including both the landowners and the ABG are still in the process of working through the implications of the key changes. As a result, it is therefore understandable in this learning process that there may be different interpretations and views expressed prior to determining what is allowed for under the new Mining Act.

What is absolutely clear however is that the Mining Act has expunged the State ownership of mineral rights in Bougainville (which applied under the PNG Mining Act) and conferred ownership of them, not on the ABG but on customary landowners. All minerals are owned by the customary landowners whose land contains the minerals. In the case of the old 1.5bt Copper-Gold Panguna Mine, the SMLOLA members are the customary landowners.

However, the role of the ABG is also important.  It is the administrator of the Mining Act and the regulator – an independent umpire that is responsible for issuing mineral exploration licenses and mining leases, in accordance with that Act, in a manner which is both fair and impartial, to assist the landowners to ensure both their interests, and the interests of all Bougainvilleans, are properly protected in the process. 

SMLOLA’s ELA embodies the very rights conferred on the customary landowners under the new Mining Act, allowing them to take control of their property (being the minerals at the old Panguna Mine) and their destiny (being the conditions on which access is permitted to their land for exploration and mining).

SMLOLA and RTG respect the ABG’s role as the independent regulator to fairly and impartially grant and administer exploration licenses. Contrary to recent false allegations published in the media, the SMLOLA plan for the Panguna Mine has been developed over the last 5 years, in full consultation with the ABG. This included full and comprehensive briefings to President Momis (over 20 meetings) and the two previous Mining Ministers of the ABG, to ensure the plan had the ABG’s support. Following a suggestion of the ABG, it also included flying a number of ABG Ministers to the Masbate Mine in the Philippines (being the last mine developed by the RTG Management) in late January this year. 

The ABG was fully supportive of the SMLOLA plan until a sudden change in March this year, with the appointment of the new Mining Minister who then expressed support for BCL, the previous operator of the Panguna Mine.

The consortium of the customary landowners was only established after 30 years of inactivity at Panguna without resolution or compensation by BCL for any of the major environmental and social damage and human misery resulting from it.  SMLOLA’s ELA is the only application that has the required support of the customary landowners. SMLOLA has confirmed they remain committed to working co-operatively with the ABG, fully respecting their role in the process, ensuring all Bougainvilleans and the ABG also benefit from the redevelopment.

RTG accepts that, in representing the owners of the land and the minerals contained within it, the SMLOLA executive are charged with the responsibility of seeking to commercialise their mineral ownership interests in a manner that protects the members, a role which RTG can see they take very seriously.  This has been a full time job for the executive, which has also required the employment of a team of landowners to assist in negotiations, awareness campaigns and protecting the members’ rights. For this Central has ensured these persons have been fairly compensated on arms’ length terms in an honest and transparent manner and at normal commercial rates.  The ABG were in fact advised of that plan long ago (before the current Mining Minister’s appointment, which may explain the confusion) and expressed no concerns.

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Bougainville landowners to write 2000 signature petition over Panguna mine

Ewen Hosie | Australian Mining | December 11, 2017

Landowners in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, have expressed backing for an RTG Mining-led consortium to take over the abandoned Panguna mine instead of Bougainville Copper (BCL). The landowners are expected to present a 2000-signature petition in opposition of BCL.

The long-dormant copper mine, abandoned since 1989 due to local conflicts, is currently under consideration for redevelopment by BCL, which is now partially owned by the Bougainville Government.

The rival consortium, Central Me’ekamui Exploration, said it has the backing of local landowners, including the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA), however, and representatives of RTG Mining said that the BCL’s problems regarding its legacy in the region were “insurmountable”. The mine, while non-operational for three decades, was owned by Rio Tinto until last year.

The Bougainville Government has accused the consortium of bribing landowners.

“The Autonomous Bougainville Government will not entertain companies who use the back door or break and enter through the window using self-centred individuals who think they have a monopoly over the people’s resources or represent their interests,” said mining minister Raymond Masono.

The mine’s relaunch remains a keystone of Bougainville’s upcoming independence plans; Bougainville’s regional cabinet is expected to finalise Panguna’s exploration licence next year.

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Bougainville landowners back rival consortium to take over controversial Panguna copper mine

People supporting a rival mining consortium hold anti-BCL signs at the Panguna mine site. (Facebook: Me’ekamui)

Eric Tlozek | ABC News | 11 December 2017

The Bougainville Government is holding a crucial mining warden’s hearing at the abandoned copper mine which sparked a decade-long armed insurgency against the Papua New Guinea Government.

Key points:

  • RTG Mining chairman Michael Carrick says a proposal by the Central Me’ekamui Exploration Limited consortium is more realistic and “for the benefit of the people of Bougainville”
  • But BCL company secretary Mark Hitchcock says the consortium’s conduct is “less than honourable”
  • Bougainville’s Mining Secretary Shadrach Himata says all landowners will be asked for their views

The hearing will help determine if the company Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), which was forced to abandon the Panguna mine in 1989, should retain an exploration licence for the site.

The Bougainville Government now owns part of Bougainville Copper Limited and wants it to redevelop the mine, but a rival consortium is challenging their bid, and said it has the support of key landowners from Panguna.

That consortium, Central Me’ekamui Exploration Limited, includes ASX-listed RTG Mining.

RTG’s chairman Michael Carrick said the group’s proposal was more realistic and better-supported by the people of Panguna.

“[It’s] a sensible and well-supported and economically deliverable proposal to develop the mine for the benefit of all the people of Bougainville,” he said.

RTG Mining has told the Bougainville Government that BCL’s exploration licence for Panguna has expired and legally cannot be renewed.

It wants the Bougainville Government to consider its application instead, saying the landowner association for the mine pit, the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA), backs its bid and would present a 2,000-signature petition in opposition to BCL.

“For the first time in 30 years a mining company has been endorsed and supported by the SMLOLA,” Mr Carrick said.

RTG Mining said longstanding resentment against BCL over the conflict and the ongoing environmental problems caused by their sudden withdrawal would prevent the company from being able to operate the mine again.

“The legacy issues for BCL are insurmountable,” Mr Carrick said.

He said the landowners would present a 2000-signature petition in opposition to BCL.

There is a legal dispute over who rightfully chairs the landowner association.

RTG Mining said the dispute had been settled with their preferred candidate, Philip Miriori, in charge; the Bougainville Government said the mediation had failed and that the matter is still before the courts.

PHOTO: The Panguna mine was abandoned in 1989 after an armed uprising known as the Bougainville Crisis. (AAP Image: Ilya Gridneff)

The Bougainville Government has also criticised the consortium for paying landowners who support them and implied it is not respecting the approval process.

“The Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) will not entertain companies who use the back door or break and enter through the window using self-centred individuals who think they have a monopoly over the people’s resources or represent their interests,” Mining Minister Raymond Masono said in a statement.

“… The ABG rejects companies that think they can bribe their way into people’s resources by giving certain individuals money to gain landowner consent.”

The ABG has had the PNG Government ban the key executive from Central Exploration, Sydney lawyer Renzie Duncan, from coming to Papua New Guinea.

Michael Carrick from RTG Mining says the consortium has been dealing openly with the Bougainville Government and that landowner payments are wages for its employees.

“The wages paid are in respect of services rendered to the joint venture,” he said.

“The joint venture is a commercial operation and landowners, like anyone else, are able to work and to get paid for their services.

“Our dealings with landowners have been completely transparent and professional.”

Mr Carrick said the intent of the travel ban against Mr Duncan appeared to be to help Bougainville Copper Limited.

“It is clear the ABG, on the appointment of the new mining minister, supported BCL and the temporary banning of Renzie, I assume, is designed to limit the support that could be afforded to the landowners of Panguna,” he said.

Bougainville Copper Limited is deeply unhappy with RTG Mining and its partners.

“We think they’re less than honourable in how they’re carrying on their conduct and their activities in the area,” BCL company secretary Mark Hitchcock said.

He said BCL’s licence application was legal, and wasn’t processed on time because the Bougainville Government wasn’t ready to implement the processes of its new Mining Act.

“The department didn’t have the resources to manage the application at the time it was taking place,” he said.

“It now has all those facilities in place.”

Landowners set to weigh-in on hearing

Mr Hitchcock said many landowners do support BCL, but are not being properly represented.

“From what we’ve seen, there is widespread support for mining in Panguna and mining with Bougainville Copper,” he said.

Bougainville’s Mining Secretary Shadrach Himata said all landowners will be asked for their views as part of the approval process, not just the leaders of the association.

“The warden’s hearing is a process that will engage the views of all the landowners in the resource areas,” he said.

“It won’t be affected by the leadership tussle of the SMLOLA landowners.”

Crucially, Mr Himata, said BCL is the only company currently being considered by the Bougainville Government.

“Right now, the only legal applicant on the exploration tenement is BCL,” he said.

“Until that process is completed, there are no other applicants or applications over the same tenement. That’s the position of Government.”

The eventual decision on the exploration licence will be made by the Bougainville Executive Council, the regional government’s Cabinet, probably sometime in 2018.

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RTG Increases Its Interest in the Panguna Landowners Joint Venture Partner

ANNOUNCEMENT TO THE TORONTO AND AUSTRALIAN STOCK EXCHANGES

RTG | Stockhouse | 8 December 2017

The Board of RTG Mining Inc. is pleased to announce that through a further direct investment and conversion of loans in Central Exploration Pty Ltd (“Central”), RTG has increased its interest in Central to 24%. Michael Carrick is now Chairman of Central and Justine Magee has also been appointed a director of Central. In addition one of RTG’s major shareholders (interests represented by Mr. Richard Hains, who also independently provided early stage funding to Central), has a 32% interest in Central. 

As announced previously, Central is the joint venture partner of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (“SMLOLA”), being the owners of the minerals at the old Panguna Mine. The joint venture is held through Central Me’ekamui Exploration Limited who has applied for an exploration licence over the customary land of the SMLOLA members, being the old Panguna Mine. The SMLOLA has nominated RTG as their development partner for Panguna.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government (“ABG”) is currently considering all exploration licence (“EL”) applications, including the purported EL renewal application of Bougainville Copper Limited. Both the SMLOLA and RTG are committed to working with the ABG to ensure both the ABG itself, and all Bougainvilleans benefit from any redevelopment of Panguna.

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Bougainville Vice President warns Panguna Landowners

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

DO NOT MEDDLE WITH PANGUNA SAYS MASONO

By Aloysius Laukai | New Dawn | 6 December 2017

ABG Vice President and Minister for Mining, RAYMOND MASONO is calling on Panguna leaders, PHILIP MIRIORI and LAWRENCE DAVEONA to know that the Panguna mine is no ordinary mine.

He said that the Panguna mine has a bad history that has crippled the economy of PNG and Bougainville and with many lives lost fighting for it.

The Vice President said that the Panguna mine no longer belongs to the landowners because Bougainvilleans blood were spilt over that particular mine.

He said that whilst the resources in Panguna and other parts of Bougainville might belong to the people, the ABG has a responsibility to protect its people from unscrupulous companies whose sole interest is to exploit our people for their own economic interests.

The Vice President said that we have seen how Bougainvilleans were exploited by foreigners since colonial days and the ABG does not want a repeat of the past.

He said that he was surprised that certain individuals can so easily sell their birth right for as little as FOURTY THOUSAND KINA a month to a foreign company when foreign exploitation was one of the issues against which our people fought and died.

Also the ABG rejects companies that think they can bribe their way into the people’s resources by giving certain individuals money to gain landowner consent.

PANGUNA WILL BE DEVELOPED SAYS VICE PRESIDENT

The ABG Vice President and Mining Minister, RAYMOND MASONO says that the PANGUNA MINE in Central Bougainville will be re-developed under the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 and by a developer or developers who respect the Autonomous Bougainville Government and its laws.

In a press statement, MR. MASONO said that the developer must also come through the main door.

MR. MASONO made these remarks when commenting on a statement by RTG of a deal supposedly made between MR. PHILIP MIRIORI and LAWRENCE DAVEONA to support RTG to develop the PANGUNA mine.

He said that it seems ironic that two people who were fighting over the leadership of the Osikayang Landowners Association in court, a mediation case which is still the subject of a court decision can suddenly reconcile to support a company that does not respect the legitimate government and its mining laws.

The Vice President said that the ABG, the landowners and the people of Bougainville will not entertain companies who use the back door or break and enter through the window using self-centred individuals who think that they have a monopoly over the people’s resources or represent their interests.

He said that the landowners will decide who the preferred developer would be through a transparent process undertaken by the ABG Department of Minerals and Energy Resources currently underway.

MR. MASONO said that the process has not yet been exhausted and any deals supposedly made between landowner leaders,companies,or the National Government and in particular RTG are premature at this stage.

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