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Mining big part of Bougainville economy: Tanis


FORMER BOUGAINVILLE PRESIDENT, James Tanis, has said that the reopening of the Panguna copper and gold mine is important to Bougainville’s economic independence.

“The Panguna mine is an important part in enabling Bougainville to meet one of its conditions of the peace agreement,” said Mr Tanis, who was president from 2009 to 2010.

“That is, on meeting financial self-reliance to demonstrate that Bougainville can survive as a nation.”

Mr Tanis, also a former guerrilla commander in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and a key player in the 2001 peace agreement, said mining was already occurring on Bougainville without providing benefits to most of the people.

“I have come to notice that there is already mining on Bougainville,” he said.

“When the Panguna mine shut there are other mining activities happening on Bougainville.

“After the conflict people now know the value of the stone under the ground, so I even see small activities, panning tailings and even small interest groups doing bits and pieces.

“It has made me realise mining is an industry that will be an important part of the Bougainville economy.”

There are estimates that there around 1,000 alluvial miners in the Panguna area alone. Many of these people are not landowners and it is unlikely that any are paying tax.

“My observation in the last few years has been that there is a lot of money going in and out of Bougainville,” Mr Tanis continued.

“With scrap metal, with alluvial mining, with trade stories and even with vehicles - and the administration is not collecting taxes.”

While Mr Tanis sees the reopening of Panguna as crucial for financial independence, he believes the path towards a sovereign Bougainville must be separately managed.

“I am in favour of re-opening Panguna,” Mr Tanis said, “but again I come to the question of the process.”

“The process must be transparent, the process must take its time and all the stakeholders must be consulted and the people must be given a chance to debate.

“Bougainville independence should not be conditional on the opening of the mine.

“I hold the personal view that independence and the Panguna mine should not be mixed…. that the political process should follow its own path and the process in Panguna should follow its own path.”

Discussions on the future of mining on Bougainville have been held over the last few weeks prior to the renegotiation of the Bougainville Copper Agreement.


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