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Environment – parliament betrays the people


THE PNG NEWSPAPERS report conflicting accounts of the government's action to change the PNG Environment Act.

Secretary for Justice and Attorney-General, Prof Lawrence Kalinoe, says the government's action are merely to "clear an ambiguity in the permit issue."

He maintains that people simply do not understand what is really being done by the government through this legislation.

And asserts cavalierly, "Wider consultations were a long and futile process".

Former Deputy Secretary 0f the Environment and Conservation Department, Gunther Joku, also tried to clear up confusion in a double act on a talk back radio show with Prof Kalinoe.

Clearly, both men have no conflict of interest in this matter in any way.

NCD Governor, Powes Parkop, a lawyer and human rights advocate, maintains that the government has taken absolute control to do whatever it wants with the land and environment in PNG [see his letter in Recent Comments].

Among other issues, Governor Parkop says the amendments to the Environment and Conservation Act allow investors to by-pass due process and obtain a certificate that is absolute proof of compliance with all environmental laws, process and standards.

"This, in effect, is absolute power vested in one person and is a big concern as the law also attempts to remove the powers of the court to review the exercise of such powers.

“As a parliamentarian, a lawyer by profession and as a person who has advocated for the rights of landowners and protection of our natural environment for the best part of my professional life prior to entering Parliament, I express my objection and deepest concerns," Governor Parkop says.

This is more than just a difference of professional opinion. Let’s examine the facts.

Fact 1. The local landowners didn't want poisonous mine tailings dumped into the marine environment and took the serious action of obtaining a court injunction to postpone the mining company's actions.

Fact 2. The Deputy Prime Minister and the Environment Minister were personally presented with the landowners’ petition requesting that the mine not dispose of the mining waste into the marine environment.

Fact 3. The landowners gave the Deputy Prime Minister a copy of the same environmental impact study commissioned by the government, which maintains the mining waste disposal system will damage the environment.

Fact 4. The government admitted it was caught flatfooted and it had to agree it had withheld the Environmental Impact Study when it approved the mine's operations.

Fact 5. The government was asked by the landowners to do something about the impasse.

Fact 6. Perversely, the government then introduced and passed legislation preventing any court action over any permit issued by the Secretary of the Department of Environment of Conservation, Dr Wari Iamo, to any mining or other company that wants to develop PNG's natural resources.

Fact 7. This government action was taken without a full debate in Parliament or any proper consideration of the matter by members before the vote. Ten Opposition members did vote against the Bill while 73 members voted for it. No one knows where the 26 other MPs were when the vote was called. Governor Parkop says he wasn't given any opportunity to read the Bill and was doing so outside the chamber when the vote was taken.

Their Parliament has once again most grievously betrayed the people of PNG.


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Paul Oates

THE Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare claims the amendment to the Environment Act has been confused and misinterpreted. Sir Michael said, “No landowner rights have been curtailed by the introduction of this recent amendment to the Environment Act of 2000 [Post-Courier]

Who was it that said, 'The bigger the lie, the more people believe it'? I think it was Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.

Well this one obviously isn't big enough!

Either Bertha and Michael Somare don't have a clue what they are talking about or they
expect others to simply trust them and not question what has gone on.

To me it suggests that MS has either lost his grip on reality and can't see truth from fiction or he actually thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the majority of the PNG people as he has so many times before.

Either way, he and his daughter and their line obviously have ceased to concern themselves with their own people.

Who will fund Tiffany's Constitutional challenge? Who will defend the amendment? The mine or the government or both?

If the judge awards damages and costs, it will be very interesting to see who ends up hearing the challenge. It all now depends on the PNG judicial system to defend the rights of the PNG people.

Paul Oates

The US President has just sent BP the clean up bill for the current disastrous oil spill. Apparently it's BP's responsibility to pay even though it was given permission to drill in US waters.

So if, as is likely, given the results of the PNG government's own environmental impact study and similar examples elsewhere (e.g New Caledonia), there is an environmental disaster from the Ramu nickel mine pumping millions of tons of toxic waste into the pristine sea off Madang, who would be held responsible?

Who could be sued by those who may end up poisoned and hungry when their marine food stocks are destroyed?

Who could wind up being responsible if the overland tailings pipe ruptures and spills toxic waste over farming ground and people's crops?

Clearly the owners of the Ramu mine would say that they were operating under the approved permit issued by the PNG government.

Clearly the PNG government would also say that they were not to blame as they were relying on their own appointed and responsible representative not to issue an approved permit unless there was no likelihood of there being any disaster.

So who would end up holding the parcel? Who might end up being held personally liable and sued by the mine's owners, the government and his own people for being directly responsible for untold misery and potential deaths in his own country.

It's all rather a big Wari .. er ..worry for any person who may have issued an ill-considered permit.

Paul Oates

Hi Phil - It looks like issues such as sunrise and sunset clauses, retrospectivity and legal precedence have simply ceased to exist in the eyes of the current PNG government.

Perhaps some people may not even be aware of them in the first place. Injunctions are, at best, only temporary measures anyway.

The modus operandi of the present government seems to be, if you don't like a law or a court order, simply change it and get the 'hired haus help' to simply agree without debate or consultation.

If that doesn't work, use public funds to hire lawyers to obfuscate and delay any action for years until everyone forgets what the issue was or the time runs out.

After all, the promise of more slush funds, sorry, members' trust fund deposits, of K2M each could be rolled out again if required and the impartial Speaker can merely call a quorum and pass a new law whenever he or the goverment likes.

The real question will be if the PNG courts and the country's legal system stand up for the separation of powers and protect the PNG people from this arbitary action which is tantamount to dictatorship.

If that happens it could well become the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Phil Fitzpatrick

How does retrospectivity work here, Paul? I'm not sure it's legal to create retrospective laws, although I know it has been done in Australia.

If this is true maybe the case of this particular mine has to be dealt with under the un-amended law.

When the Act was drafted it was seen as world's best practice legislation, far superior to Australian legislation. Ebi Olewale Arua would be turning in his grave.

Rait Man

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