MAC: Mines and Communities

Bougainville update: As ministers squabble, the people denounce re-opening Panguna

Published by MAC on 2006-06-16

Bougainville Update: As ministers squabble, the people denounce re-opening Panguna

16th June 2006

In a strange twist, Papua New Guinea's mining minister (himself a Bougainvillean) has rounded on Bougainville's president, Joseph Kabui, for inviting a Canadian mining company to invest in a copper refinery on the island. It's an obvious precursor to an attempt at re-opening Rio Tinto's Panguna mine.

While neither mining minister seems at all concerned about are the wishes of the landowners around the minesite itself. These have made it abundantly clear that they will not support any return to mining.

BOUGAINVILLE: PNG says President's mining trip wasn't approved

Radio Australia

16th June 2006

Presenter/Interviewer: Firmin Nanol
Speakers: Sam Akotai, PNG Minister for Mining

Well, it might not even be operational, but Bougainville's Panguna copper mine is continuing to create controversy in the region. The government of Papua New Guinea has criticised the President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, Joseph Kabui, for meeting with executives from a mining company during a trip to Canada. PNG Mining Minister Sam Akotai, himself a Bougainvillean landowner, says he should have been consulted before Mr Kabui met with the Canadian-based company, called Invincible Mining. The company is building a copper refinery in Arawa, in defiance of the wishes of the PNG government but with the support of Bougainville's government, the ABG. The PNG national government retains control over mining on Bougainville and is concerned any resumption of mining could re-ignite the tensions which led to an estimated 20,000 deaths in a bitter civil war on the island.

AKOTAI: This is an ongoing issue with the ABG. Now, after putting up something in Arawa, without proper full processes, they now have taken on a new approach and they are actually moving ahead, they have already signed an understanding or an agreement with the mining company to assist ABG with 20 million kina [US$6 million] which, I believe, two million has already been paid to the Autonomous Government.

But I believe the President's trip to Canada was to basically follow-up on the 18 million [US$5.9 million]. I have raised questions about this trip on the basis this trip was not budgeted for in the Bougainville Autonomous [Government's] budget. All I know is that only one item which has been budgeted for is a trip to China.

What I'm asking here is, one, who paid for the trip, who paid for the tickets, the travelling allowances and accommodation for the President and his delegation? If it does not come from government sources, then isn't this an issue that institutions like the Ombudsman Commission should be investigating?

NANOL: Is it a matter of the National Government and you, as the minister, trying to control mining activities on Bougainville and trying to sanction the ABG, or is that you have a conflict of interest and you want the mining to go in some ways that you view could benefit the National Government, the ABG and the people?

AKOTAI: In relation to powers to mining, the powers are still with the National Government. People also can say that I have a conflict of interest. Of course, I have a conflict of interest, and my interest is that I'm a Bougainvillean and I'm also a landowner and I don't want to be dealing with someone who does not have any record in mining.

If I wanted the issue of mining to be addressed, it has to be with someone who is has got credibility, who is responsible and who can respect our customs, our own culture. For me, I will have a lot to say, not as a Minister for Mining, but as a Bougainvillean. So, my stand is not a stand as Minister for Mining and I would want to see that the people of Bougainville are well informed.

There are some decisions which are ABG has a right to make decisions on but I think, on this issue, it has cost a lot of lives and I want to ask to be cautious of what approaches that we are taking to get assistance to Bougainville.

And I would have also thought that the ABG would have also informed the National Government on them, seeking assistance from outside, because the Bougainville Peace Agreement is an arrangement through partnership. It was partnership arrangement that was built through that. So it's a joint creation.

Presenter/Interviewer: Firmin Nanol
Speakers: Sam Akotai, PNG Minister for Mining

Mine to stay closed


13th June 2006

THE giant Panguna mine will remain closed for as long as it takes and Bougainville will have find other means of reviving its economy.
This stern warning came from the people affected by the mine's operations in the early 1970s to late 1980s.

The people of Moroni, who live in the heart of the Panguna mine, were relocated when the mine started in 1972. They told Post-Courier last week at Moroni village in Panguna that there was no way the mine would re-open after witnessing what the mine had done to their natural environment.

They said they were not concerned about the landowner issue, but wanted the world to know what the mine had done to their environment, which at the moment, is a world wide issue.

When looking around, this reporter noticed that the second hand vegetation is starting to grow back after the place was deserted by mining activities.
The villagers said there are now signs of life returning to small creeks and waterways. "There is now evidence of eels and river crabs coming back but sadly there is no fish yet." The villagers in the vicinity of the mine have had a hard time making new gardens as most of their land was taken up by the mining operations.

The villagers said they had never benefited from the Panguna mine.

"The mine has generated more than K400 million annually and built most parts of Papua New Guinea but we the very people didn't benefit in any way. We benefited on our own hard work."

The villagers said they have learnt a good lesson and if the mine re-opens, others will benefit while they will continue to suffer.

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