MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Bougainville Update

Published by MAC on 2006-08-24


Bougainville Update

24th August 2006

Two very interesting stories arrived from Bougainville late last month. Both provide an intriguing indication of how some tables (in this case at least two of them) can get turned in the wake of mining-derived destruction. First, a group of Bougainvilleans working in the mining industry on the island attacked the government (whose authority at least in part derives from the movement which closed down the Panguna mine in 1989), for negotiating covertly with highly dubious overseas companies.

The miners cited China Non Ferrous Metals as being responsible for Zambia's worst-ever mining disaster since independence (as MAC also did in mid-August). The miners pointed to the need for prior "thoughtful consultation with all of the affected parties", though this is not the equivalent of recognising fully-informed prior consent for those living around the currently-abandoned minesite at Panguna.

We also learn that Panguna landowner families, who have consistently rejected a re-start of the Rio Tinto mine over the past 17 years, have stated artisanal gold mining in the concession area on a "commodity exchange" basis with traders.


Bougainvillean miners slam secret talks

Postcourier

24th August 2006

THE Autonomous Bougainville Government may tie itself in a mining deal that will be unavoidable in the future, say Bougainville's mining industry professionals. They said the ABG has been negotiating mining on the island without consulting local expertise. The group, consisting of Bougainvilleans working in the mining industry in the country, said the ABG should know better about striking deals with unknown mining companies as there is no guarantee the agreed benefits will flow onto the island. They said they were concerned about recent negotiations between the ABG and Ord River Resources, an Australian junior mining company with links to a Chinese Government-owned firm.

"If the report is true, it is a pity the leadership on the autonomous island is contemplating on taking a miscalculated and precarious path in its long dream of achieving an economically flourishing and vibrant Bougainville. "It appears that the leadership on the island has not leant the recent lessons from the closure of the Panguna mine and its historical significance," they said this week. "Our research confirms that Ord River Resources Limited was formed in May 2004 as an unlisted company in Australia and is a new and small player in the industry which lacks operational experience and strong financial capacity. Ord River Resources Limited is partly owned by China Non Ferrous Metal Industries, a Chinese Government-owned company." "They said CNFMI has hit headlines in Zambia for its safety records with the Chambisi Copper Mine.

CNFMI owns about 60 per cent of the project. They said Ord River Resources knew well the Zambian issues before courting with ABG for a piece of Bougainville. "We appreciate that Bougainville needs foreign investment to create jobs and rejuvenate its frail economy. To achieve this, the ABG must attract reputable international investors with track records that demonstrate genuine partnership in any project development with the ABG and its entities and the people. This must be done in a transparent fashion," they said. "What is required most of our Government, including the ABG, is to put in place better policies and fiscal terms, and choose investors that are willing to do business only on the conditions and terms offered by our Government(s), not the contrary."

They said while Bougainville was "sitting on a lot of resources", it was not proper for her to repeat the same mistakes ad run a risk of jeopardising economic development by prematurely flogging Panguna and sending the wrong signals to the legitimate international investment community. "Besides, the ABG is not yet equipped with environmental expertise or the other infrastructure necessary to unwind the complex Panguna problems," they said.

"As such this misguided stab without thoughtful consultation with all of the affected parties and while reconciliation is yet glaringly incomplete runs the real risk of re-opening all of the old problems on the island and undoing the good work the ABG has done so far." "The ABG needs to continue to play smart. The rest of PNG and the people of Bougainville expect the ABG to play smart and not selling itself cheaply."That would be an insult to the people of Bougainville and the whole world would see ABG walking up the same old track to Panguna with Rio Tinto in 1972."


Business slowly returning to Panguna area

Postcourier

24th August 2006

BUSINESS is now prospering on a high note in Bougainville's so called restricted Panguna area with alluvial gold Mining now taking lead in it production by the locals. At the Jaba river, in the Kieta-Nagovis Border where once there was the pollution from the mining tailings of the Panguna mine, children from a very younb age to old people are now all engaged in alluvial gold mining. And people all the way from Siwai and Nagovis in south Bougainville have now set up and made camp in Jaba to mine for gold. Some camps are entire families, in which they mine to cater for school fees house hold Items and food. With no cash crops available in that remote rugged terrain and mountainous area of the Autonomous region of Bougainville, people have now entirely depended on alluvial Gold Mining to survive.

Local gold buyers are now frequenting the area to buy gold with hard cash of up to 50 to even a 100,000 which will be spent in only one day. Local shop owners have reported gold trade with miner in which they exchange or trade gold for clothes and food and other assorted items. Local landowners have now gone all the way to the extent of forming a miners association which comprises of a chairman and a committee. Prominent gold buyer and businessman in Jaba Dominic Bitson told the Post-Courier he himself and his other counter part business men are now struggling to bring services to the people in that area.

"Myself and the others are doing all we can to help these people engaged in alluvial mining by selling food and clothing to them," Mr Bitson said. "At the same time they are helping us by giving us gold dust in exchange." Mr Bitson sai a lot of these people were uneducated and illiterate and that was why other businessmen and himself were buying gold from them in order to help them. "The good thing is that this alluvial mining had helped us unite ourselves in reconciliation," he said.

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