MAC: Mines and Communities

Review process requires cooperation: Hancock

Published by MAC on 2006-04-04

Review process requires cooperation: Hancock

Jesse Riseborough,

4th April 2006

THE MAN heading the review of the Bougainville Copper Agreement has told he hopes to bring together the four interested parties to facilitate the review process, although he cautioned that it could take years rather than months.

Dr Graeme Hancock, currently contracted to the PNG Government as part a World Bank Technical Assistance Program in PNG, explained that for the process to be effective, and for any workable solution to be obtained, a delicate approach would need to be taken.

Hancock said he hoped to bring the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the Bougainville landowners, Bougainville Copper and the PNG Government, to the table and said he saw his role in the review, which will be jointly funded by Bougainville Copper and the PNG Government, as more of a facilitator rather than a mediator.

"I don't think it can be forced. I think it is something that is going to take a lot of thought and a lot of process as far as its impact on the community is concerned," Hancock said.

"At the moment some of those people [Bougainville landowners] have not even bought into the peace process on Bougainville, so I think there will be some time [spent] encouraging them to take part in the process.

"I really don't see it being quick. But if there is a willingness on everyone's part, then I see no reason why it shouldn't be relatively quick."

The Bougainville Copper Agreement, originally put in place in 1969, was supposed to be reviewed every seven years. Hancock said it was partially reviewed in 1974 but the upcoming review would represent the first formal review since the agreement was put in place.

In terms of the scope of the review, Hancock issued a broad overview of the primary concerns involved, including a possible lifting of the exploration moratorium on Bougainville as well as a review of the compensation agreement that expired shortly after the massive copper-gold mine was closed in 1989.

"If the moratorium was to be lifted, then arrangements need to be put in place so that the people of Bougainville have the determining role in the granting of tenements - at the moment they would not under the Mining Act," he said.

Bougainville Copper currently holds six exploration licences surrounding the Panguna mine and have recently indicated it is looking to resume exploration work on the ground, already selecting primary targets.

"This [the lifting of the exploration moratorium] needs to be very carefully thought through and Bougainville then needs to have the capacity to manage that process, which I don't believe it currently has," Hancock said.

In the company's annual report released last week, chairman Peter Taylor made it clear he expected the moratorium would be lifted as a result of the review process. He said the company had commissioned a report on possible exploration targets within its landholding.

"I hope the talks will resolve a number of outstanding issues resulting from previous mining and the suspension of mining operations. BOC has made it known that it is willing to participate in talks aimed at allowing all parties to concentrate on the future rather than dwelling on the past," Taylor said.

"The board is keeping its options open and does not dismiss the possibility that alone or with partners, it will mount an exploration program on Bougainville if the necessary consents are received."

However, Hancock moved to dispel any suggestion or misconceptions the review would result in a resumption of mining activities at Panguna.

"The review is a review of the Bougainville Copper Agreement, it is not a review of whether there should be mining on Bougainville or not and it is not a review as to whether the mine should re-opened or not."

Hancock explained the review would also investigate outstanding compensation payments under the original agreement and would possibly look to settle some of the historical claims.

He was also critical of comments made by Bougainville President Joseph Kabui in PNG media reports yesterday, in which Kabui reportedly said the relevant Bougainville landowners should be driving the review process in terms of the needs of Bougainvilleans.

"I think they need to be more involved than that, I think that is a bit of a cop-out," Hancock said.

"They need to be in there as a full participant, consistent with what they requested prior to the closure of the mine. The provincial government were asking to be more involved so they need to be involved."

Kabui was quoted by the National yesterday as saying Rio Tinto, which holds a 53% stake in Bougainville Copper, "must talk with the landowners".

Kabui also reportedly issued a warning that a review process that did not engage his Bougainville Government could be disastrous.

"The Bougainville constitution states that minerals belong to the people and Rio Tinto. PNG must appreciate it and not shove down our throats fixed ideas and policies. Failure to involve ABG in any mining talks on mining as one of the principal negotiators can be disastrous."

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