MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Highlands Frustrated By Landowner Process

Published by MAC on 2006-03-09
Source: PNGIndustryNews.net

Highlands frustrated by landowner process

by Jesse Riseborough, PNGIndustryNews.net

9th March 2006

HIGHLANDS Pacific says it shares the frustration of landowner groups, who have threatened to shut down its Kainantu gold operation in PNG, as both parties continue to suffer lengthy delays in establishing a Lands Title Commission hearing concerning the project.

General manager of finance Jeff Forbes told PNGIndustryNews.net the company was just as interested in finding a resolution to the matter as the landholders.

"We are trying to keep everyone happy but we are the meat in the sandwich. We are as equally as frustrated as the landowners," he said.

Forbes confirmed there has been a nine-month delay in setting up a Lands Title Commission hearing to determine the landholder groups involved in the project, resulting in threats from them to shut it down.

Forbes said he did not expect the operation to be shut down as a result of the dispute.

"We have to manage the landowner expectations and we have empathy with their frustrations," he said.

The delay has been due to K1.18 million ($A528,600) in funds, set aside to finance the hearings, being held by the PNG Department of Finance and Treasury.

Chief Land Titles Commissioner Josepha Kiris told a press conference in Port Moresby yesterday the funds were for both the Kainantu and the Ramu nickel project, according to the Post-Courier.

The Kainantu land dispute hearings reportedly require K470,000 while the Ramu hearings require more than K700,000 to complete.

Kiris said she was not aware of any reason to withhold the funds after approval for the hearings issued by the National Executive Council in June last year.

She said she had spoken with finance ministry officials on Tuesday but "was given a vague answer that the funds will be released sometime this month".

"If the Government is allowing new (major) resource projects to operate in the country, it should be prepared to fund the land dispute hearings. But now it seems the Government is not serious."

Kiris said tentative dates for the hearings had been set for April, according to the Post-Courier.

Meanwhile, Forbes said the current chronic fuel shortage being suffered in the Highlands region of PNG was not affecting the Kainantu operation.

He said Highlands sourced all its fuel from Lae and had significant storage capacity on site. He said he was not aware of any fuel-related issues that pertained to the Kainantu project.

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