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Environment Act: govt has not learned lesson


“I stood to debate this bill but the speaker was very selective to only [choose speakers] in support of the bill.”

THE PNG GOVERNMENT has gone on the defence against increasing public concerns regarding the infamous Environment Act amendment, and sadly has not come out to clearly explain its actions.

It seems the National Alliance-led coalition has not learnt its lesson about unpopular rushed decision making, which saw the nation stand up to denounce the Maladina bill amendment a couple of months ago.

There is increasing public pressure, especially from resource owners around the nation, to the Environment Act which was voted for by 73 MPs and against by 10 MPs on 28 May  in the last parliamentary sitting.

According to Environment and Conservation Minister, Benny Allan, these changes outlaw third party lawsuits against resource developers.

Third party groups, in the government's view, are special interest groups who are not direct stakeholders in resource developments.

It is interesting to note that the minister forgot that apart from NGOs and special interest groups campaigning against the amendment, there are genuine resource owners and landowners involved who. from day one. have made their stance known that they will suffer from environmental damage.

Nine days after the passage of this act, Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare expressed that the public, especially resource owners, were confused and have misinterpreted the changes in this law, which he claimed have not lowered the standards of environment protection.

The public's opinion that the government is protecting the interest of foreign investors was later confirmed by the PM where he was quoted in the press as saying “'it would be irresponsible for the government not to protect the interest of the developers that have complied with our environment regulations and have been issued permits.”

The following day Sir Michael blasted the media, NGOs and the judiciary, for misinforming the public.

He admitted the rushed amendment was because of the delay in the courts regarding Ramu Nickel, and that time was running out as the stakeholders (government and developer) have targets to meet.

He feared the nation would lose a lot if the investors were not happy, especially the Chinese developer undertaking a massive US$800 million investment.

According to Sir Michael, deep sea tailings is the best option available and supported by advice from the 'three best brains': two departmental secretaries and the Scottish Association of Marine Science.

However, apart from the latter, how genuine and respectable are senior government bureaucrats when it comes to scientific research matters?

Resource owners from the concerned areas have made known that not all options of waste disposal methods have been exhausted.

However it is sad to note that Rai Coast MP, James Gau, the newly-elected leader of the very people who are calling out for help against damages to their land and sea, has called on his people to focus on the “development aspect of the project”.

It is very dangerous to imply that we should continue ahead and see development, and then deal with damage to the people and the natural environment later.

The politicians who voted for the amendment, including Sir Michael Somare, Benny Allen and James Gau, have forgotten that the local communities are the rightful landowners and have the right to decide on their land without being influenced, controlled or bullied politically.

This events on the floor of parliament are not a good precedent and will pave the way for foreign investors to corruptly exploit and profit at the people’s expense.

I stood to debate this bill but the speaker was very selective to only allow Luther Wenge and John Luke, with both governors speaking in support of the bill.

If I had been given the chance to speak and represent my affected communities, I was ready to remind MPs who represents resource-rich electorates that we all have a duty as representatives of those land owners and affected communities to protect their rights.

If I had supported the bill I would have done injustice to my people who are currently being affected in the Watut river communities.

On behalf of my people in Bulolo, I call on the MPs representing resource project areas from both the government and the opposition to come together and to support a private members bill to repeal this law for the good of our resource owners.

* This is an edited version of an article by Sam Basil, who is MP for Bulolo in the PNG Parliament. Spotter – Paul Oates


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Rait Man

Please follow this link to the ACT NOW! website to sign the online petition against the Environment Act amendments

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