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Phillip Miriori: Why Bougainvilleans are having their say – ‘No to BCL’

Bougainvilleans proudly display “No BCL Ever” T-shirts. Image: Me’ekamui

Phillip Miriori | Asia Pacific Report | 13 October 2017

As many would be aware, we Bougainvilleans have been through a tough history with the disasters that came from the past operations at Panguna, then owned by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL).

One of the key issues that led to our civil war, when around 20,000 of our friends and family died, was the way we were treated by BCL then – entering our lands without consent, poisoning our gardens and lives, removing our mountains, inviting in the military and ignoring our views, without compensating us fairly.

Since the end of the conflict, BCL has made no effort to resolve the damage they caused to our people, lands and rivers – infact they deny any responsibility and are trying to tell us what to do again, calling us impediments when we do not agree with the rules they try and dictate.

Have they learned nothing or think we have forgotten?

We have fought hard to protect ourselves from the same thing happening again if Panguna re-opens, and the new Bougainville mining law transferred ownership of the minerals to the landowners. As a result, now nothing can happen to our minerals without our consent.

Our Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA) members are now in a position to make BCL, the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the world respect our views. One of the key steps in the process of late has been our efforts to protect ourselves from the attempt to force the return of BCL without our consent.

We have had to use the Courts to ensure we are listened too and the result has been a landmark mediation process, right here on our lands at Dapera led by Justice Kandakasi.

Mediation process

The mediation process was initiated by me to try and help resolve the challenge to my leadership of the SMLOLA by Mr Lawrence Daveona, despite the fact he is not following custom in recognising my leadership position, a position I was born into.

He also wants BCL to return despite everything they have done and failed to do, which is strongly opposed by the majority of our members, as demonstrated by the petition against the return of BCL which now stands at around 2000 members saying “No to BCL”.

The mediator has now given us one more opportunity to try and resolve this among our family which I am keen to do. I firmly believe we can all unite to protect our people against the return of BCL and I promise to make every effort to do that with Mr Daveona and the ABG.

I want to work with them to ensure any redevelopment of Panguna is done properly this time and our members are protected and looked after, respected and treated equally and fairly.

The primary objective of the mediation was to try and resolve the challenge to my rightful leadership of the SMLOLA by Mr Daveona, which I firmly believe is unlawful and will take to the courts again if necessary. I am making every effort to accommodate him as unity will have a very valuable benefit for all of us and the future of Bougainville.

One of the other valuable objectives that has come from the mediation and I have committed to work on, is to more closely align our association’s constitution with our Nasioi customs, moving key decisions back to our clan system that has been our way since time immemorial. I strongly support that and encourage everyone to participate as I believe it will assist in making any benefit sharing from a future mine fairer for all.

The mediation over the past few weeks, has also given our women, the owners of our land, the opportunity to stand up and be heard. Some of them are against mining and one of my important tasks will be to work with them further as I believe Independence for Bougainville is very important and mining, if done responsibly and with people who we can trust, who will show us respect and fairness, will enable us to get there quicker.

As part of that process, in my role as the chairman of the SMLOLA and an elder to our clans, I have worked hard to attract a reputable international mining company who has both the social and environmental track record to make sure this time the mine could be developed successfully, fully integrated into our local community.

Revolutionary law

From the time the new transitional mining law was passed in 2014, I worked closely with President Momis and both Mining Ministers, Michael Oni and Robin Wilson. In fact, on the day the law was passed I was invited to meet with President Momis at the ABG Parliament to celebrate the new revolutionary Bougainville Mining Act, which uniquely, gave ownership of the land and minerals, back to the landowners to try and repair some of the mistreatment of our people in the past.

They were then opposed to the return of BCL and supportive of our efforts right through until March this year when suddenly and inexplicably something changed. They would no longer engage with us, would not explain why and started a very public campaign supporting BCL and a challenge of my leadership by Mr Daveona.

I didn’t select RTG Mining Inc. lightly, even going to a mine their management developed in the Philippines with a group of both Panguna landowners and ABG Ministers to see how they do things. In fact, the three ABG Ministers that came to see the RTG operation in Philippines expressed support for RTG.

Over time we came to develop a trust with RTG’s management and believe they will make the redevelopment of Panguna a great success, working closely with our members. They have supported the hard work we have done over the last year to defend ourselves against the illegal return of BCL.

Misled through lies

It is disappointing that some try to mislead through lies. The suggestion that improper payments were made to ABG officials is both ridiculous and untrue. They are currently working against us and strongly pushing BCL and Lawrence, rather than being impartial which is all we ask of them.

Despite the current position of the ABG, we are confident that they will eventually hear our firm views – “No to BCL!” and we remain committed to working with them to find a solution where all will win, including the ABG. We must talk openly and respectfully to find a fair solution. The law and views must be respected and we will continue to fight for that for our members.

The mediation is not a forum to make a final call on who the developer should be and if the mine should be redeveloped, which must be done in conjunction with all our members, but it has been invaluable to be able to showcase the opportunities to highlight the issues and concerns with a possible return of BCL.

In fact, BCL and the ABG have publicly admitted they cannot develop the project themselves and would have to find a partner. Who will that be, why won’t they tell us? How can someone support them when we do not even know who the actual developer will be?

I hope that the discussions at the mediation will assist Mr Daveona to understand why our people would be better off without the return of BCL. And I will continue to work with him to try and reconcile our positions so we can stand united against them and get a far better result for our people, developing a model that is win-win for the people of Bougainville and the ABG.

Phillip Miriori is chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA), Me’ekamui Government of Unity and SMLOLA.

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ABG claims of financial independence if mine reopens ridiculed

Nasioi Writer responds to Member for Kokoda, Rodney Osioco’s claims the Bougainville government will be financially self reliant if BCL is allowed to reopen the Panguna mine.

Mr. Osioco I can probably forgive you for being so naive and sentimental. Where and when is this extractive industry madness going to end. Your little baby government cannot even account for funding it gets from National Government which ends up in your private accounts as we are being told. Is this how you are going to manage the millions you get from mining and pay tit bits to the landowners who to this day have never been compensated adequately for loss of everything from environment, rivers, and land which is the source of their livelihood?

We are fed up with ABG preaching that agriculture, tourism is not enough to run the economy of Bougainville. Coming from a government that is wasteful with buying fleets and of cars and staying at expensive hotels, I find this hard to believe.

I wonder how much these politicians carrying out awareness are being paid? Isn’t this work suppose to be given to others to do? Maski giaman nabaut kisim allowance na mekim awareness.

The introduction of mining into our midst is causing so much confusion and division among the people who should be united to vote in the forth coming referendum. ABG’s push for mining with BCL at it’s helm is now being challenged by another player RTG which supposedly has the cash and elaborate plans to deal with issues ahead. I don’t support mining in any form or shape because already these companies are sprinkling cash this way and that. This is where corruption takes root if is not already eating away at ABG.

Opposition to Mining is mounting and I think it is time Hon. Osioco and his colleagues started to look at alternatives otherwise we are going to face another catastrophe at the hands of mining companies.

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Aussie investor talks slow over Bougainville mine relaunch

 Ewen Hosie | Australian Mining | October 9, 2017

Talks between Australian investors and the Papua New Guinean and Bougainville governments over plans to reopen the Panguna copper mine in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville have slowed.

The mine has been closed since 1989 due to conflicts in the region.

Local operator Bougainville Copper (BCL) recently contributed to a tax and revenue summit in the region’s capital Buka, where it conducted a feasibility study for a relaunch of the once-thriving Panguna copper mine, which, while non-operational, was owned by Rio Tinto until divestment last year.

Lawyer and mining industry expert Renzie Duncan — currently advising Bougainville officials on mining rights and creator of an Australian investor consortium for the region — is banned from entering PNG until 2024 due to a request filed by the Bougainville Government, which wishes for operation of the mine to remain local.

Gold and copper company RTG Mining and billionaire private management fund owner Richard Hains are among the investors currently involved with the Australian consortium, which pays stipends to local landowners

The relaunch has been cited as a crucial financial key to the small region’s plans for independence from Papua New Guinea, which is planned to go to a public vote in 2019.

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Plans to restart giant Bougainville mine stall as operating rights battle rages

Local residents holding banners and placards during a protest at the former Bougainville Copper Limited’s (BCL) Panguna mining operation located on the Pacific Ocean island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, May 3, 2017. Renzie Duncan

Jonathan Barrett | Reuters | 6 October, 2017 



Plans to reopen one of the world’s biggest copper mines, shut by a civil war on the Pacific Island of Bougainville in 1989, have run into trouble.

The quarter of a million people of Bougainville are tentatively scheduled to vote on independence from Papua New Guinea in June 2019, and revenue from the reopening of the Panguna mine is essential [?] for the otherwise impoverished island to have any chance of flourishing if it becomes the world’s newest nation.

But there is now a struggle over who will run the mine between Bougainville Copper Ltd – the previous operator now backed by the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Papua New Guinea government – and a consortium of Australian investors supported by the head of the landowners who own the mineral rights.

The dispute is opening old wounds – and is almost certainly going to delay any reopening. That could help to drive copper prices higher as many forecasters expect that demand for the base metal will exceed supply in the next few years.
The battle lines have been hardening on several fronts, Reuters has learned.

Papua New Guinea has told airlines that Sydney businessman Ian de Renzie Duncan, who set up the consortium, is banned from entering the country until 2024, according to a Papua New Guinea government document reviewed by Reuters. The request for the ban was made by the Bougainville government, three sources with knowledge of the document said.

The consortium has also acknowledged for the first time that it is paying some landowners a monthly stipend and has pulled in some big backers that have not previously been disclosed. They include Richard Hains, part of a billionaire Australian race-horse owning family which runs hedge fund Portland House Group.

In a sign of how ugly the row is getting on the ground, local opponents of BCL becoming the operator – and some who are opposed to the mine reopening altogether – blocked Bougainville government officials from entering Panguna in June.

They had hoped to get key landowners to sign a memorandum of agreement that would have endorsed BCL as preferred developer, according to a copy of the document reviewed by Reuters. The proposed agreement also stipulated the mine would be re-opened by June 2019, ahead of BCL’s own timeframe of 2025-26.

The Papua New Guinea government didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.

Bougainville’s main political leaders say getting the mine reopened is critical. “If the independence of the people is to be sustained then we need Panguna to run,” Bougainville Vice President and Mining Minister Raymond Masono told Reuters in a phone interview.

He said he believes BCL has first right of refusal to operate the mine under laws passed three years ago, and only if BCL declined to take up that right should an open tender take place.

DEEP RESENTMENT

The abandoned copper and gold mine contains one of the world’s largest copper deposits. During its 17-year life until the closure in 1989, Panguna was credited for generating almost one-half of Papua New Guinea’s gross domestic product.

The civil war was largely about how the profits from the mine should be shared, and about the environmental damage it had caused. There was deep resentment among the indigenous Bougainville people about the amount of the wealth that was going to Papua New Guinea and to the mine’s then operator, Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd, a forerunner of Rio Tinto.

The mine was forced to shut after a campaign of sabotage by the rebel Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

The conflict between Bougainville’s rebel guerrilla army and Papua New Guinea forces left as many as 20,000 dead over the following decade, making it the biggest in the region known as Oceania since the Second World War.

Rio Tinto divested its stake in BCL in 2016, and the listed company is now just over one-third owned by the Bougainville government and one-third owned by Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O‘Neill said last year his government would gift the shares received from Rio, or 17.4 percent, to the people of Bougainville, although that is yet to take place.

“NEVER AGAIN”

The challenge from the Australian consortium that now includes listed gold and copper explorer RTG Mining was made public in June. Duncan and his fellow investors have joined forces with a group of Panguna landowners, the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowner Association (SMLOLA) led by Philip Miriori.

Miriori was in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army as the private secretary to the late Francis Ona, the former BCL mine surveyor who became leader of the resistance.

Ona had declared that BCL should “never again” be allowed to run the mine and Miriori, Ona’s brother-in-law, still supports that stance. “They have caused a lot of damage, they don’t have the money and they are not telling the truth and so I wouldn’t accept them,” Miriori said in a telephone interview from the Bougainville town of Arawa.

The consortium’s challenge is based on new mining laws introduced in 2014 that downgraded BCL’s mining rights to an exploration licence and gave landowners powerful rights over the minerals on their land to acknowledge the losses suffered by those in Panguna during the conflict.Miriori told Reuters that the government did not have authority over mine negotiations.

PAYOUTS TO LANDOWNERS

Duncan, a former barrister with a background in mining law, heads an entity called Central Exploration that has a half share of the consortium.

Duncan’s consortium has been paying money, described as a stipend, to some of the landowners, but denies this amounts to bribery.

“We are really talking about people receiving a couple of thousand kina ($608) a month,” said Duncan, who added that the money helps the landowners to travel and find accommodation in towns where Panguna negotiations take place. “It’s not bribery, it’s business,” he said.

BCL claims to have the support of eight other landowner groups in Bougainville with an interest in the project. They have land rights covering access roads and the port site, among other areas, though crucially not the mine site itself.

BCL chairman Robert Burns, who formerly worked for Rio Tinto, said Bougainvilleans were the ones being impacted by Duncan’s attempt to gain control of the mine.

“Everyone is being frustrated and impeded by this issue,” Burns told Reuters in a phone interview from the PNG capital, Port Morseby.

FINANCING DOUBTS

The uncertainty is going to make it difficult for either group to raise the capital that will be needed to get the mine restarted.

In 2012, BCL estimated the cost of re-opening at $5 billion. With few of its own assets, the company would need to secure the mining rights before tapping capital markets.

The Australian consortium may be in a stronger position, according to Hains, who is a 15 percent owner of RTG. He said the consortium has strong access to the North American capital markets and could re-develop Panguna in a “highly timely fashion”.

As it stands, BCL has no mine without the support of the owners of the minerals, and Duncan’s group has no project without road and port rights as well as government support.

Anthony Regan, a constitutional lawyer at the Australian National University and an adviser to the Bougainville government, said the immediate outlook for the mine is bleak. “The need of Bougainville to have a significant source of revenue if it’s to be really autonomous or independent has become hopelessly enmeshed with the future of Panguna.”

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Wars of words over Panguna as Bougainville moves to new era

Leonard Fong Roka | PNG Attitude | 26 August 2017

With Bougainville less than a year away from a referendum on its political future, the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and a local Panguna group known as the Meekamui Government of Unity are in a war of words over the re-opening of the Panguna copper and gold mine.

The ABG wants the now reformed Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) to operate the mine which it believes will finance the redevelopment of Bougainville.

But the Meekamui and the Osikaiyang Landowners Association are keen to see the mine opened by an Australian company they have aligned with called RTG.

Bougainville’s president John Momis has said the ABG will not allow a company with no track record to mine at Panguna.

The quarrel between the ABG and the Meekamui is potentially divisive and may affect peace-building efforts in the autonomous province.

BCL, through the Panguna Negotiation Office, is said to be funding a group calling itself Panguna New Generation Leaders which is aggressively pushing for the re-opening of the mine.

The Meekamui and its overseas backers are taking a more moderate stance but are determined to get RTG to develop the mine.

After a 10-year civil war, the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001 addressed the political problem but did not provide a settlement to cater for the Panguna problem which is still shimmering around us.

Meanwhile the 1980s vintage old landowners associations and the new landowners association are also still verbally brawling and attacking each other.

As this struggle goes on, we, the innocent people of Panguna, are being blamed by other Bougainvilleans of working to re-open Panguna.

On the BCL side we see no change of heart for the interests of the people of Bougainville who have suffered because of them and the PNG state.

Rio Tinto offloaded its shares to PNG and Bougainville so that we could see that it was changing its mind on the future of Panguna. But can we be sure? We need to watch to see if various personalities move to and fro between positions in BCL and Rio Tinto.

Let us hope we are not submerging into the violence of the 1990s even as we try to work through the peace agreement and move to the new dawn that next year’s referendum should represent.

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Bougainville SML proposes mediated talks on Panguna

Radio New Zealand | 5 July 2017

A Bougainville landowner group wants to reach a compromise with the autonomous government over re-opening the Panguna mine.

The government in the Papua New Guinea region wants to bring back Bougainville Copper Ltd to run the mine, but the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association, which owns the site, has teamed up with another miner, RTG.

SEE ALSO: Renzie Duncan and Philip Miriori team up in another illegal Bougainville venture

The mine re-opening is viewed as critical to Bougainville achieving some fiscal self reliance ahead of a vote on independence in June 2019 [COMMENT : this is nonsense – it would be at least a decade before any money would flow to the government, even if the billions needed could be found to rebuild the mine]

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

The chair of the SMLOLA, Philip Miriori, said they were proposing talks with the ABG to sort the matter out.

He said they would like to bring in a mediator.

“We have this timeframe, a very important timeframe for a referendum, 2019 – we need mediation because he will make sure we find a fair solution for SML [Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association], for ABG and for the rest of Bougainville. So you know there will be a win – win situation,” said Phillip Miriori.

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Bougainville govt’s forthright support for BCL at Panguna

President of the autonomous Bougainville government, John Momis. Photo: RNZI

Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand | 30 June, 2017

The Bougainville Government says it won’t give way to a landowner group that says it will not allow Bougainville Copper Ltd, or BCL, to return to the troubled Panguna mine.

The autonomous government wants the mine re-opened to boost the economy ahead of the vote on independence from Papua New Guinea set for 2019.

But the chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association, Philip Miriori, is adamant they will not allow BCL to return, though they are keen to see the mine opened, using an Australian company they have aligned with, called RTG.

However Bougainville President John Momis says the government is not about to let a company with no track record mine at Panguna.  

JOHN MOMIS: RTG doesn’t have any money. The RTG representative in fact, a fellow by the name of Renzie Duncan has Philip Miriori and a few of his cobbers on his payroll and their intention is to get the support of the landowners and the ABG and as a speculator go and find a developer. RTG itself as a company does not have the money.

DON WISEMAN: BCL doesn’t have any money either does it?

JM: BCL doesn’t have any money but BCL has the data. BCL has the first right of refusal. If we didn’t give it to them and set a time frame within which to source funding then BCL might take us to court and thus delay the opening of the Panguna Mine. If they fail to secure the necessary funds then we have the liberty to invite anyone else. But we can’t just give it to somebody, a company that has no standing, no track record, such as RTG. 

DW: Well I don’t think that is true. RTG has run mines. The thing with BCL and whether they are going to take Bougainville to court, well, that is not going to happen, is it, since Bougainville is effectively controlling BCL now?

JM: Well we may now control BCL but the original agreement, concocted in Australia by the colonial government and Rio Tinto.

DW: But they are not in the picture any more are they?

JM: They are not in the picture but the agreement itself is still valid.

DW: Is not the critical thing and you have told me this on a number of occasions. The critical thing is that you get the mine operating as soon as possible – the quickest way of doing that would be to accede to the demands of the landowner group that lives or owns the land right at the Panguna mine site?

JM: Philip Miriori’s SML landowners is just one out of nine landowner groups. Eight out of nine support ABG and BCL to open the mine, because ABG has shares in the mine. Although the amount of money is not much but ABG as we have been telling people Rio Tinto is no longer the devil we knew. Now the devil we own as such will be operating under our law. Eight out of the nine landowners support ABG.

DW: Yet you has an attempt to sign this memorandum of agreement the Friday before last and it was unsuccessful. Raymond Masono [Vice President of Bougainville] said last week he was going to give those people two weeks to sort themselves out – his words – but they seem very adamant so do you think you can bridge the gap here?

JM: Well the ABG has told the landowners the onus is on you to sort yourselves out to reach an agreement and we are giving them two weeks. And we know for a fact that most of the landowners are in support – it is just Philip Miriori and his group who are on the payroll of Renzie Duncan. This could be interpreted as bribery as you know.

DW: Well they might say the same in a way. The thing is I guess, they end up being the pivotal landowner group, or that seems to be the way they see it.

JM: If the eight go against the SML landowners [Miriori’s group] nothing will happen. If nothing happens then the whole of Bougainville will not benefit but the worst losers will be the landowners themselves. The ABG as the government has the perspective of making sure that we get the best interests of all the people, all the landowners, as well as all Bougainville. Whereas the SML people are just looking at their own selfish, legal interest and they are causing trouble. But we are not going to allow this to keep happening this way because it is time people put aside their selfish interests and worked for the common good of the people of Bougainville, which the government represents.

DW: Well their comeback to that is going to be that as landowners they control, as per the Mining Law, they control what is beneath the surface.

JM: That’s right but the ABG is also a major stake holder and without ABG’s approval nothing happens.

DW: The ABG has talked about mining in other areas. Have you gone any further with that?

JM: I am not sure what the Department of Mining is doing, but as you know they applied for exploration licences and they given and now I guess it is up to the companies which applied to find the funds which are necessary to carry out the exploration.

DW: Do you know whether there is outside interest in doing that?

JM: Toremana – a Western Australian company is interested there with the landowners in the Tinputz area, not far from Buka. But the other one is Isina, that is Sam Kauona and his people and they have been granted the exploration licence and I presume they’re working to either find partners or find the money themselves to do the exploration.

DW: So in terms of resolving these issues and getting a viable economy, or getting things starting to happen over the next couple of years, how confident are you at this point?

JM: Well I think everybody knows that fiscal self-reliance is one of the most important benchmarks that will be taken into account after the outcome of the referendum – by the national government, by the UN and the international community and I think people know that, so they are working hard now to ensure that we reach a consensus to open the mine. Apart from other, agricultural and fisheries businesses, believe that the Panguna mine is probably the best, quickest way of generating revenue because a dollar invested in mining produces three dollars in other associated industries – that’s agriculture or other businesses.      

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